Glossary of grazing terms

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Agistment - Some properties have areas set aside for agistment; others use the whole property. Graziers can pay to bring in a mob of cattle to be agisted on these areas. This may be necessary if feed on the herd's home property is poor, or if the graziers wants to fatten them more quickly to target a specific market.

Annual - plant which lives only one year. Of less value in pastoral context than perennials, which tend to be hardier.

Brahman - A breed of cattle widely used for cross breeding in northern Australia. They have a special tolerance to heat and drought and are also somewhat tick-resistant, unlike more temperate breeds.

Branding - process necessary to ascertain how many head of young cattle have been added to herd each year. In addition to marking animals with branding iron, castration and inoculation are also carried out at this time, as all new cattle are in yards.

Breeder - cow mature enough to be used for breeding.

CALM - Computer Aided Livestock Marketing System: Electronic auctioning system which details specifics of animals on the market. Allows producers to buy without having to go to market. Even more significantly for some of the remote producers in the savannas, it allow producers to sell without having to truck their stock to market before sales are certain. If cattle are not sold, it costs the producer nothing to take them off the market.

Fire management - The role of fire is very significant for the pastoral industry in the tropical savannas. It is used in managing woody plant distribution, maintaining pasture condition, managing grazing pressure, and increasing the amount of nutritious feed available to cattle. It can also have a role in aiding the establishment of improved pastures, controlling exotic weeds and maintaining biodiversity.

Forbs - non-woody broad leaved plants.

Green pick - the first green shoots (usually high in nitrogen/protein) that occur after a burning episode.

Growing season - season during which grasses are growing/gaining bulk. Coincides with time of available nitrogen/ protein since green growth indicates these nutrients. Also time during which cattle gain weight. Often period during which phosphorous supplement will be required in the areas of northern Australia lacking in it.

Hays off - When the standing matter dries out and turns to hay. Can be a positive thing, or negative, depending on the time of year in which it occurs, and the particular grass. When Mitchell grass hays off, the standing matter maintains its nutritive value. The majority of grasses in northern Australia however lose much of their nutritive value when dry.

Heifer - a cow that has not produced a calf and is under three years of age.

Hot burns - refers to high intensity fires, usually occurring later in the year, when dry fuel has accumulated.

Herbage - all non-woody plants in a pasture.

Herd management - This term refers to ways in which managers can manipulate the age/ sex structure of a herd. Via practices such as controlled mating, strategic weaning and pregnancy testing, the number of calves produced per year can be controlled and predicted. Without these practices, herd growth may be excessive and could result in overstocking which is good neither for the condition of the animals, nor of the land.

Herd composition - Refers to number of animals in each different category (eg. breeder, heifer, steer, weaner) Composition of the herd is altered by breeding, by buying and selling stock and by mortality rates. All of these can be strategically manipulated to maintain ultimate herd composition for production. Different enterprises will aim for different composition, depending on targeted markets.

Improved pastures - generally exotic species which have greater productive potential than native grasses in the same environment. However, also require more inputs of capital and labour, and may become pests outside of a pastoral environment. See: The value of improved pastures (NT DPIF); and the Pasture species sowing guide for the Top End (NT DPIF). Both are available as PDFs from the NTDPIF website, links at the end of the page.

Live export - many cattle which would normally have been turned off to be fattened on richer grazing country to the south and east, or to feedlots, are now exported and fattened in their country of destination. Some of the requirements of buyers of live cattle have necessitated more intensive management strategies. Major live export markets include Egypt, the Philippines and Indonesia.

Native/exotic weed - In the tropical savannas both native and exotic plants can be considered weeds in certain contexts. With changing fire regimes some areas have seen the density of native tree species increasing to unheard of levels. This can make mustering difficult, and shades out native grasses. Broader ecological impacts are not well understood. Exotic weeds are plants out of their original environment, although not all plants in this bracket become weeds, only those that cause trouble, either for production or for ecology.

Pasture availability - The amount of pasture available to be consumed over the dry season is what limits the number of animals to be run in paddock for that year. A generally accepted figure is that 25% of the pasture available at the end of the growing season can be utilised without causing detrimental changes in pasture health.

Over utilisation can lead to:

  • less perennial grasses
  • less opport to burn
  • more annual forbs and grasses
  • more soil erosion

Under utilisation can lead to:

  • uneven patch grazing
  • accumulation of unpalatable rank pasture
  • wildfire hazards if left unburnt

Pasture condition - The complex distribution of native pasture communities, across the savannas, is primarily dependent on the region's local climate, rainfall, soils, geology and hydrology. However, management strategies implemented can modify native pasture lands through grazing pressure, fire regimes, land clearing, introduction of exotic pasture species and weed invasion. Assessment of their condition is, therefore, important in their sustainability.

It is considered that the vegetative composition of pasture lands may be a key indicator of their condition (Wheaton, T. 1994). Therefore, the presence or density of particular plant species, in specific pasture communities, can suggest their overall condition. Generally, in evaluating the state of pasture lands, a combination of vegetation condition, soil condition and management capabilities are assessed. From this they may be ranked as either pristine, deteriorating or degraded in relation to the degree of damage.

Pasture grass communities - The term 'pasture' refers to the mixture of all grasses growing in a certain area. Tothill and Gillies (1992) have broken them up into three simple brackets:

  • Short grass
  • midgrass
  • tall grass

Perennial - pasture grasses that last longer than one year. These grasses tend to be more stable under grazing. Perennials such as mitchell grass can provide valuable feed over the dry season.

Selective grazing - Cattle have preferences when grazing. Under extensive conditions, they will return to previously grazed patches, and ignore areas of rank mature pasture. Repeated grazing of these patches can lead to a lessening of plant yield, death of desirable species and development of bare areas.

Steer - castrated male bullock

Stocking rate - Measured in terms of either number of beasts per hectare, or hectares required per animal. It is probably the single most important factor in grazing management. It will influence the long and short term land condition and the live weight gain per animal and per hectare. Set stocking rates, which do not account for seasonal fluctuations, are still common. Because of the annual variations in pasture quantity and quality, stocking rates should be adjusted on a seasonal basis. While this would be conducive to improved pasture and animal performance it is often difficult in terms of cattle management.

Store cattle - this refers to cattle which are sold off to be fattened elsewhere. 'Store' cattle can also refer to live export market since these tend to be fattened by feedlot at destination. During lean times, this is a way of controlling herd growth and managing impact. During good seasons, or if the price is low, stores can be bought to be fattened or to make up herd numbers. Store cattle markets include:

  • live cattle exports
  • grass fatteners
  • feedlots
  • restockers
  • bull buyers

Supplementary feeding - very important development for the pastoral industry in the tropical savannas. Certain nutrients, which are severely lacking in pastures at certain times of the year, can be supplied via blocks or licks to tide herds over. To generalise, phosphorous is severely limited in higher rainfall areas, whereas nitrogen/ protein more important for inland areas, especially during dry season and/ or droughts. There are many regions where both must supplied, depending on the season and condition of the pasture.

These can supply protein, energy and trace elements which may be lacking in the pasture. Examples include molasses, urea (which can be toxic if not fed correctly) and grains.

Tillering - as the plant grows tillers emerge. These are new leaves which emerge from the root or bottom of the original stalk.

Turkey nests - raised earth dams for watering cattle.

Top feed - shrubs, bushes and trees which are palatable.

Turn off - refers to numbers of cattle either sold or agisted from a given property. Numbers from any given property will fluctuate from year to year depending on market factors, seasonal fluctuations, herd composition and so forth.

Vectors - in this context, an insect or other organism which transmits agents of disease. Feral pigs for example have the potential to harbour diseases which would be disastrous to the cattle industry such as foot and mouth. Mosquitos are another example.

Weaner management - important because it reduces the stress on breeders, and has a major influence on the future temperament and productivity of the animals. Early weaning reduces cow mortality and increases calving rates. Also, weaners need to be "educated". That is, well handled cattle are easier to muster and handle, and will be less stressed when transported and marketed. Animals with a calmer temperament also sell more easily on the live cattle market.

Weaner - young cattle only recently weaned off their mothers.

Woody weed - Tree or shrub which is growing outside of its normal habitat. Can be introduced or native.