13 - Animal liveweights
This paper reports changes in livestock weights recorded in a whole-farmlet experiment, which aimed to examine the profitability and sustainability of three different pasture and grazing management strategies. The assessment of liveweights was considered a key component of measuring the integrated effects of the farmlet-scale treatments. The three farmlets comprised a typical management regime, which employed flexible rotational grazing over eight paddocks with moderate soil fertility (farmlet B), a system based on the same grazing management and paddock number but with higher levels of sown pasture and soil fertility (farmlet A) and a farmlet with moderate soil fertility and intensive rotational grazing over 37 paddocks (farmlet C).
Early in the experimental period, there were no significant differences between farmlets in the liveweight of any class of livestock. However, from the second year onwards, as the pasture renovation, soil fertility and grazing management treatments took effect, differences in liveweight between farmlets became more apparent and significant. The stocking rate, which was treated as an emergent property of each farmlet, reached a maximum annual average value after 5 years of 12.6, 8.5 and 7.7 dry sheep equivalents (dse)/ha on farmlets A, B and C representing 84, 113 and 51% of their respective target stocking rates which were 15, 7.5 and 15 dse/ha.
The liveweights of ewes, both before joining and during pregnancy, varied with year and farmlet with those on farmlets A and B tending to be significantly heavier than those on farmlet C. From 2003 to 2006, liveweights were significantly (P < 0.001) affected by a wide array of factors and their interactions including: date, ewe age, green digestible herbage, legume herbage mass, proportion of farmlet grazed, stocking rate and level of supplementary feeding.
The weights of lambs/weaners/hoggets, both pre- and post-weaning, were at times also higher on farmlets A and B compared with those on farmlet C and were affected by a similar range of factors to those which affected ewe weights. Similar relative differences also applied to the liveweights of the other livestock run on the farmlets, namely wethers and non-reproductive cattle.
The results suggest that stocking rate was able to be increased towards the higher target of farmlet A due to the higher level of pasture renovation and soil fertility on that farmlet, which led to high liveweights per head as well as the higher stocking rate. However, as the stocking rate increased on farmlet A, the differences between farmlets in liveweight per head diminished and the need for supplementary feeding increased. In contrast, the intensive rotational grazing practised on farmlet C did not allow the farmlet to increase its stocking rate towards its higher target. It appears that the higher proportion of each of farmlets A and B grazed at any one time allowed all classes of livestock to reach higher liveweights per head than on farmlet C, due presumably to the greater proportion of those two farmlets grazed at any one time.
Livestock weights in response to three whole-farmlet management systems
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