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Beyond the Bale : September 2012
28 28 September 2010 Beyond the Bale 28 on-farm aPhD thesis by AWI scholarship recipient Felicity Cox, with support from the EverGraze proof site near Orange, NSW has helped build up knowledge about what sheep grazing native pastures, within the high rainfall zone of south-eastern Australia, eat and the quality of their diet. “Producers commonly implement some form of rotational grazing system, but only limited objective information has existed as to the effect of grazing systems on the quality of the diet and grazing behaviour as well as the management of animals,” s aid Ms Cox. “Unless rotational grazing systems take grazing behaviour and diet selection into account they can depress sheep live weight and body condition score as a result of restricting the animal’s ability to select forage and optimally use the landscape. The grazing practices used also affect the sustainability of grasslands.” Ms Cox received a scholarship from AWI for the past three years to assist her in her PhD studies at Charles Sturt University. The studies into grazing native pastures, to better manage production and natural resource outcomes, were undertaken in a series of experiments at the Central Tablelands EverGraze proof site at Panuara, near Orange, NSW, from October 2009 to December 2011. The studies explored the diet selection of sheep in terms of plant species, plant parts and seasonal variation. This is important in the development of more efficient grazing systems and increased production. The project also investigated the diet quality of sheep grazing within different management systems (continuous grazing and high-intensity rotational grazing) and the effect on livestock production parameters (live weight, body condition score, wool fibre length and fibre diameter). Diet quality (metabolisable energy and organic matter digestibility) was determined using chemistry analyses of faecal samples, using calibration equations developed specifically for the native pasture at the site. Additionally, the project investigated the grazing location of animals within a landscape by tracking the animals using GPS collars. “ The experience of being dedicated to the research and understanding of sheep grazing in native pastures for the past three years of my PhD candidature has been a unique experience, a great privilege and a considerable challenge,” Ms Cox says. “ One of the challenges of seeking to understand the diet selection, quality and intake of grazing sheep was the lack of available non-invasive methods. Our development and use of relatively simple, low cost and non-invasive methods has expanded the knowledge of sheep nutrition within the region. This additional knowledge can assist livestock producers to make more objective decisions regarding the management of livestock within grazing systems and native pastures.” Ms Cox determined that ewes consistently selected the green vegetative forage from within a pasture that was of higher quality than the average pasture. “A possible mechanism underlying the selectivity of grazing animals that was identified is the ratio of green: dead dry matter of a species, where the animals consumed greater quantities of green herbage of a species as the ratio of green: dead dry matter increased. At times the relationship was independent to the pasture species and the quality of the species.” The studies also found that grazing location of ewes within a continuous grazing system was influenced by the landscape together with the presence or absence of particular pasture species. “Animals preferentially grazed areas grazing in native pastures fasT faCTs l With the help of a scholarship provided by AWI, Felicity Cox has completed her PhD thesis on sheep grazing in native pastures to enable better management of production and natural resource outcomes. l The study examined the effect of grazing systems on the quality of the diet, grazing behaviour and animal performance. l The research was undertaken in a series of experiments at the Central Tablelands EverGraze proof site at Panuara, near Orange, NSW. September 2012 Beyond the Bale felicity Cox has completed her phD study of sheep grazing in native pastures, with the help of a scholarship provided by awi. CreDiT: Bernadette York, nsw Dpi