by Roger Landsberg, Trafalgar Station
From Savanna Burning — Understanding and Using Fire in
Northern Australia , Tropical Savannas CRC, Darwin 2001
Trafalgar Station near Charters Towers is a 32,000 hectare
property with a carrying capacity of about 3200 adult
Pasture management and fire
I aim to "spell" 15–20% of the property each year to allow
the grass to strengthen and drop seed; the build-up of pasture
gives us an option to burn.
Inspecting the result of an intense prescribed
burn at Trafalgar Station. Photo: Jeremy Russell-Smith
If the season is poor, I may keep the grass for drought feed or
burn later. However, paddocks that have been locked up after
clearing virgin scrub are always burnt and allowed a full growing
season before being grazed.
The pasture is usually burned in October–November when the
weather is hot, slightly humid and the winds are fairly light,
preferably from the north. Hot, dry winds tend to push the fire
along too quickly, burning the grass but not the weeds or fallen
The conditions must be right before I burn. Having gone to the
trouble of planning the burn, spelling the paddock, spending money
on fire preparations, getting experienced people in the right
numbers and the right equipment for any emergencies, I’m not
going to waste the fuel and the benefit by burning in the wrong
conditions—an overcast sky, the winds in the wrong quarter or
winds too light.
After the fire, stock should be excluded until ground cover is
well established, preferably after good rain. Our standard practice
at Trafalgar is to sow stylos and grasses into the ash bed
3–4 weeks after the fire and before the first rains.
Fire for woody control
Fire is very effective against some weeds. Currant bush
(Carissa ovata) burns well once started, even without much
grass fuel. Although the adult plant may not be killed it is
controlled so that grass will re-establish.
Dense and light infestations of rubber vine in the paddock are
effectively controlled. With a heavy grass fuel load, a light wind
and slightly moist ground and atmosphere, fire will kill up to 80%
of rubber vine plants, especially if they are small. It can carry a
fire without additional fuel if conditions are extremely hot and
the sap very active in the plant.
Fire is used to control rubber vine invasion on
Trafalgar Station. Photo: Jeremy Russell-Smith
Fire plays a significant part in the control of eucalypt
seedlings or suckers in open forest when it is used regularly. But
in cleared country after the initial burn, burning in later years
is a waste of grass as the suckers tend to regrow within two weeks
of the fire.
Cost of burning
Fire is often quoted as a cheap option for pasture and land
management. The direct costs of setting up firebreaks, getting the
right equipment and personnel, and the actual burning may be quite
small on a per hectare basis, but locking up a paddock and burning
it is definitely not cheap as production is foregone.
Costs that would arise from not burning include clearing
regrowth, controlling weeds or timber, and lost grass growth from
competition with woody regrowth.
Good pasture management means stocking conservatively, spelling
paddocks and burning for a purpose when it is sensible to do
Landsberg, R.(1997) 'The use of fire as a management tool in the semi-arid tropics: a producer's perspective.' In Bushfire '97. (Eds B. J. McKaige, R. J. Williams and W. M. Waggitt.) CSIRO,Darwin. pp.