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Armidale, Australia

Shakhane L.M.,National University of Lesotho | Shakhane L.M.,University of New England of Australia | Scott J.M.,University of New England of Australia | Murison R.,University of New England of Australia | And 4 more authors.
Animal Production Science | Year: 2013

As part of the Cicerone Project's farmlet experiment, conducted on the Northern Tablelands of New South Wales, Australia, between July 2000 and December 2006, this study assessed the effects of varying soil fertility, pasture species and grazing management on the botanical composition of three 53-ha farmlets subjected to different management strategies. Starting with the same initial conditions, the farmlets were managed to reach different target levels of soil phosphorus (P) and sulfur (S); Farmlet A aimed at 60 mg/kg of Colwell P and 10 mg/kg S (KCl40) whereas Farmlets B and C both aimed at 20 and 6.5 mg/kg of P and S, respectively. Pastures were renovated on six out of eight paddocks on Farmlet A, but only one paddock of each of Farmlets B (typical management) and C (intensive rotational grazing) was renovated. Flexible rotational grazing was employed on Farmlets A and B (each of eight paddocks) while Farmlet C used intensive rotational grazing over its 17 major paddocks, which were further subdivided into 37 subpaddocks. This paper focuses on the botanical composition dynamics observed across all three farmlets and the explanatory variables associated with those changes. Eight assessments of botanical composition were carried out at approximately annual intervals across each of the 37 major paddocks distributed across the farmlets and the results for each of 49 species were aggregated into seven functional groups for analysis. The strongest correlation found was a negative curvilinear relationship between sown perennial grasses (SPG) and warm-season grasses (WSG). The most significant factors affecting the functional group changes were soil P, sowing phase, paddock and date. These factors led to significant increases in SPG and correspondingly lower levels of WSG on Farmlet A compared with Farmlet B. Farmlets B and C experienced similar, declining levels of SPG, and increasing levels of WSG suggesting that intensive rotational grazing did not lead to substantial changes in botanical composition, compared with flexible rotational grazing, in spite of the fact that intensive rotational grazing had much longer grazing rests and shorter graze periods than the other two farmlets. Soil P levels were also significantly associated with levels of cool-season annual grasses, legumes and herbs, especially on Farmlet A. In general, the largest differences in botanical composition were between Farmlet A and the other two farmlets; these differences were most closely associated with those plants categorised as sown, introduced, C3 pasture species. The levels of legume were generally low on all farmlets, due largely to the dry seasons experienced over most of the trial. Efforts to increase the legume composition on all farmlets were more successful on Farmlet A than on the other two farmlets due, presumably, to higher soil fertility on Farmlet A. Farmlet C, with its long rest periods and short graze periods, had a small proportion of legumes, due to the competitive effects of the accumulated tall grass herbage between grazings. The 'typical' management of Farmlet B also resulted in low levels of legume as well as increased 'patchiness' of the pastures and increased numbers of thistles. Source

Shakhane L.M.,National University of Lesotho | Shakhane L.M.,University of New England of Australia | Mulcahy C.,79 Beardy Street | Scott J.M.,University of New England of Australia | And 3 more authors.
Animal Production Science | Year: 2013

The effects of different whole-farm management systems were explored in a farmlet trial on the Northern Tablelands of New South Wales, Australia, between July 2000 and December 2006. The three systems examined were first, a moderate input farmlet with flexible grazing on eight paddocks considered 'typical' of the region (farmlet B), a second, also with flexible grazing on eight paddocks but with a high level of pasture renovation and increased soil fertility (farmlet A) and a third with the same moderate level of inputs as farmlet B but which practised intensive rotational grazing on 37 paddocks (farmlet C). The changes in herbage mass, herbage quality and pasture growth followed a seasonal pattern typical of the Northern Tablelands with generally higher levels recorded over spring-summer and lower levels in autumn-winter but with substantial differences between years due to the variable climate experienced. Over the first 18 months of the trial there were no significant differences between farmlets in total herbage mass. Although the climate was generally drier than average, the differences between farmlets in pasture herbage mass and quality became more evident over the duration of the experiment. After the farmlet treatments started to take effect, the levels of total and dead herbage mass became significantly lower on farmlet A compared with farmlets B and C. In contrast, the levels of green herbage were similar for all farmlets. Throughout most of the study period, pastures on farmlet A with its higher levels of pasture renovation and soil fertility, had significantly higher DM digestibility for both green and dead herbage components compared with pastures on either of the moderate input systems (B and C). Thus, when green herbage mass and quality were combined, farmlet A tended to have higher levels of green digestible herbage than either of the other farmlets, which had similar levels, suggesting that pasture renovation and soil fertility had more effect on the supply of quality pasture than did grazing management. This difference was observed in spite of the higher stocking rate supported by farmlet A after treatments took effect. Levels of legume herbage mass, while generally low due to the dry conditions, were significantly higher on farmlet A compared with the other two farmlets. While ground cover on farmlet A was found to be less than the other farmlets, this was largely associated with the higher level of pasture renovation. Generally, all three farmlets had ground cover levels well above 70% for the duration of the experiment, thus being above levels considered critical for prevention of erosion. A multivariate analysis showed that the main explanatory factors significantly linked (P < 0.01) with the supply of high quality herbage were, in decreasing order of importance, those related to season and weather, pasture renovation, grazing management and soil fertility. Measurements of net pasture growth conducted using a limited number of grazing exclosure cages on three paddocks per farmlet revealed clear seasonal trends but no significant (P > 0.05) differences between farmlets. However, post hoc estimates of potential pasture growth rate using remotely sensed MODIS satellite images of normalised difference vegetation index captured weekly from each farmlet revealed a significant (P < 0.001) relationship with the seasonal pattern observed in the measurements of pasture growth rate. Source

Behrendt K.,Charles Sturt University | Scott J.M.,University of New England of Australia | Mackay D.F.,3 Jayne Close | Murison R.,University of New England of Australia
Animal Production Science | Year: 2013

Farming systems research conducted under dryland conditions is subject to the vagaries of the climate during the experimental period. Whether such an experiment experiences a representative series of climatic years must be examined in relation to the longer term climatic record. The Cicerone Project's farmlet experiment was conducted on the Northern Tablelands of New South Wales, Australia, to investigate the profitability and sustainability of three different management systems: one managed under typical, moderate-input conditions (farmlet B); a second which employed a higher level of pasture inputs and soil fertility (farmlet A); and a third which focussed on the use of moderate inputs and intensive rotational grazing (farmlet C). The climate experienced during the 6.5-year experimental period was compared with the 118-year climatic record, using a biophysical simulation model of grazed systems. The model utilised the long-term daily climate data as inputs and provided outputs that allowed comparison of parameters known to affect grazed pastures. Modelled soil-available water, the number of soil moisture stress days (SMSDs) limiting pasture growth, and growth indices over the experimental period (2000-06) were compared with data over the climatic record from 1890 to 2007. SMSDs were defined as when the modelled available soil moisture to a depth of 300 mm was <17% of water-holding capacity. In addition, minimum temperatures and, in particular, the frequency of frosts, were compared with medium-term (1981-2011) temperature records. Wavelet transforms of rainfall and modelled available soil water data were used to separate profile features of these parameters from the noise components of the data. Over the experimental period, both rainfall and available soil water were more commonly significantly below than above the 95% confidence intervals of both parameters. In addition, there was an increased frequency of severe frosting during the dry winters experienced over the 6.5-year period. These dry and cold conditions were likely to have limited the responses to the pasture and grazing management treatments imposed on the three farmlets. In particular, lower than average levels of available soil water were likely to have constrained pasture production, threatened pasture persistence, and reduced the response of the pasture to available soil nutrients and, as a consequence, livestock production and economic outcomes. Ideally, dryland field experimentation should be conducted over a representative range of climatic conditions, including soil moisture conditions both drier and wetter than average. The drier than average conditions, combined with a higher than normal frequency of severe frosts, mean that the results from the Cicerone Project's farmlet experiment need to be viewed in the context of the climate experienced over this 6.5-year period. Source

Hinch G.N.,University of New England of Australia | Lollback M.,Formerly NSW DPI | Hatcher S.,NSW DPI | Hoad J.,University of New England of Australia | And 3 more authors.
Animal Production Science | Year: 2013

As part of the Cicerone Project's whole-farmlet experiment on the Northern Tablelands of New South Wales, Australia, the fat scores and reproductive performance of ewes were measured to assess the effect of different management systems on these important production parameters over time. The three farmlets (each of 53 ha) included one (farmlet B) subjected to 'typical' district management consisting of moderate levels of inputs and a target stocking rate of 7.5 dse/ha, with flexible grazing management across eight paddocks. A second farmlet (A) was managed in a similar fashion to farmlet B with respect to number of paddocks and grazing management, but modified by high rates of pasture renovation and higher levels of soil fertility, with a target stocking rate of 15 dse/ha. The third farmlet (C) was managed at the same level of moderate inputs as farmlet B but employed intensive rotational grazing over 37 paddocks and also had a high target stocking rate of 15 dse/ha. The experiment was conducted over 6.5 years from July 2000 to December 2006. In spite of the fact that target levels of stocking rate were chosen at the beginning of the experiment, stocking rate, together with fat scores and reproduction were treated as emergent properties of each farmlet system. Joining took place in April-May and lambing occurred in September-October of each year. Over the first 2 years of the experiment, there were few differences among farmlets in ewe fat scores or reproductive performance. From 2003 onwards, while the percentage of ewes pregnant was similar between farmlets, the average proportion of multiple births (ewes scanned in late July, with twins) was 30%, 16% and 12%, respectively, on farmlets A-C. However, lamb losses were greater on farmlet A, with average lamb mortalities recorded on farmlets A-C of 29%, 10% and 19%, respectively. Over the duration of the experiment, ewes on farmlets A and B were more often above a fat score level of 3, and less often below 2.5, than were ewes from farmlet C. Differences among farmlet ewes in fat score were found to be significant in 7 of the total of 13 assessments over the duration of the experiment. A generalised additive model applied to whole-farmlet data showed that green digestible herbage, legume herbage, stocking rate, the amount of supplement fed and especially the proportion of each farmlet grazed at any one time all influenced fat scores of ewes. While fat scores and conception rates tended to be highest on farmlet A, farmlet B had slightly better reproductive outcomes due to less lambing losses, whereas ewes on farmlet C tended to have somewhat lower fat scores and levels of reproduction. These farmlet-scale findings highlighted the importance for livestock managers to focus not only on grazing management, stocking rate and stock density during lambing, but also on the availability of sufficient green, and especially legume herbage, and the difficulty of overcoming a deficit in quality herbage with supplementation. Source

Walkden-Brown S.W.,University of New England of Australia | Colvin A.F.,University of New England of Australia | Hall E.,111 Margaret Street | Knox M.R.,CSIRO | And 2 more authors.
Animal Production Science | Year: 2013

Managing infections of sheep with gastrointestinal nematode parasites (worms) and problems of resistance to anthelmintic treatments continue to be major challenges for graziers on the Northern Tablelands of New South Wales, Australia. The whole-farmlet study of grazing enterprises undertaken by the Cicerone Project tested the broad hypotheses that compared with typical management (farmlet B), internal parasites can be more effectively managed with improved nutrition (farmlet A) or by intensive rotational grazing (farmlet C). Further aims were to identify the major sources of variation in faecal worm egg count (WEC) over the 6-year period and to examine the efficacy of the various anthelmintic treatments used during the experiment. This paper describes the management of sheep worms at the whole-farmlet level during the experiment, and analyses data from the routine WEC monitoring (5644 records) and larval differentiation tests (322 records) carried out on behalf of the Cicerone Management Board and by a doctoral candidate. It complements more detailed investigations published elsewhere. Over the period from July 2000 to December 2006, worm infections in ewes, lambs, hoggets and wethers were, with some exceptions, successfully controlled on the farmlets through a combination of regular monitoring of WEC, treatment with a wide array of anthelmintics and grazing management. Farmlet C had lower mean WEC (444 epg) and annual anthelmintic treatment frequency (3.1 treatments/year) over the whole experimental period than farmlets B (1122 epg, 4.3 treatments/year) or A (1374 epg, 4.7 treatments/year). The main factors influencing WEC were the time since the last anthelmintic treatment, and the anthelmintic used at that treatment. The magnitude of these effects dwarfed those of climatic and management factors that might be expected to influence the epidemiology of gastrointestinal nematode infections via environmental or host-mediated mechanisms. Nevertheless management factors associated with stocking rate and grazed proportion (proportion of each farmlet grazed at any one time), and climatic indicators of both temperature and moisture availability had significant effects on WEC. The results show that, in a region with Haemonchus contortus as the major sheep nematode, improved host nutrition in a higher input system (farmlet A) did not provide more effective control of gastrointestinal nematodes than typical management (farmlet B); however, it was observed that gastrointestinal nematode control was no worse on farmlet A than on farmlet B in spite of farmlet A supporting a 48% higher stocking rate by later in the trial period (2005). The study provided strong support for the proposition that intensive rotational grazing (farmlet C) provides more effective control of gastrointestinal nematodes than typical management (farmlet B) as evidenced by significantly lower WEC counts and anthelmintic treatment frequency. Tactical worm control based on routine monitoring of WEC provided adequate control of worms on all three farmlets for much of the experimental period but failed to prevent significant spikes in WEC to values associated with significant production loss on multiple occasions, and significant ewe mortality on farmlets A and B on one occasion. Source

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