Meat & Livestock News

Strategic Stock Management in NSW Rangelands: Balancing Landscape Health and Profitability

Growth of new life on bokeh background

In the challenging environment of the New South Wales (NSW) rangelands, livestock producers face the critical task of making strategic decisions about stock management, especially during dry periods.

The Rangelands Living Skin (RLS) project, led by the NSW Department of Primary Industries and funded by Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA), is exploring how on-property strategies of producers can benefit soil, plants, animals, and people. Core RLS producers, including Graham and Cathy Finlayson, Glenn and Julie Humbert, and Angus and Kelly Whyte, share their approaches to strategic stock management.

Tools for Overcoming Challenges

Strategic stock management involves aligning the enterprise stocking rate with the land’s carrying capacity, which depends on available feed, ground cover, landscape conditions, and seasonal conditions. Producers can’t control the rain, but they can control their response to the conditions.

Dry periods are natural in the Australian landscape, and maintaining landscape integrity during these times ensures it can flourish when the rain returns.

The onset of a dry period can be gradual and deceptive, requiring flexible decision-making around the production system.

The RLS core producers manage this uncertainty through daily and weekly monitoring of the landscape and rain conditions, using grazing charts and monitoring the number of feed days ahead. This helps maintain the condition of both stock and land and manage the profitability and sustainability of the business.

Destocking Options and Early Decision-Making

Selling stock early when in good condition is a strategic business decision that can reduce risk and ‘lock in’ a return.

However, destocking involves considering various factors, including market shifts, business debt load, and risk appetite.

Reducing stock numbers through sales, agistment opportunities, or moving stock to other properties can be a sound strategy for landscape preservation, but deciding when to do so is the challenge. Success typically involves acting before market conditions deteriorate and maintaining sufficient ground cover as a dry spell begins.

Managing Mindset and Genetics

Mindset is crucial for managing stock numbers. For example, Angus and Kelly Whyte view dry periods as a normal part of the cycle to be managed, rather than as ‘tough times’. They aim to destock/restock in chunks, always identifying the next truckload of stock to sell. Diversifying livestock species and classes can make destocking decisions easier.

Another consideration is the genetic capital of an enterprise. Producers in the RLS project are developing livestock genetics adapted to harsh rangeland conditions. While destocking can set back years of genetic development, strategies like retaining a portion of the genetic base and agisting select stock on other properties can help manage this process.

Opportunities in Destocking

Reducing stock numbers can provide opportunities for on-farm development, such as intensive rotational grazing, infrastructure improvements, and landscape interventions. These actions can set up a property for success when the rain returns.

Additional quality fencing can also reduce unwanted grazing pressure from feral animals.

Being Prepared for the Unexpected

RLS project lead, Sarah McDonald from NSW DPI, emphasises the importance of having a plan as ‘a way to get most things right most of the time’. While unexpected factors can challenge the plan, having a reference point for decisions can be invaluable.

In summary, strategic stock management in the NSW rangelands is a complex balance of maintaining landscape health and business profitability. Producers must navigate variable environmental conditions, market uncertainties, and the need for early and informed decision-making to ensure the sustainability of both their land and livestock.