Grazing management tools

Leader: Neil Macdonald

NT Dept Primary Industries, Fisheries & Mining

Full title: Improved savanna condition through the development of grazing management tools (Project 2.1.1 )

Objectives | Grazing issues in the savannas | Outcomes | OutputsMonitoring systems | What is MODIS? | Project team | More information |

CattleThis project is developing and promoting the use of long term and short term carrying capacity as a tool for sustainable management and structural adjustment across the tropical savannas of Northern Australia, through four related activities:

  1. Customising methods of estimating safe carrying capacity in regions across North Australia in which the underlying parameters have not been measured. This activity has expanded into the Barkly Tablelands and Central Australia, funded by Meat & Livestock Australia. Although the Arid Zone is outside the geographical limits of TS–CRC, activities in that region will still be channeled through TS–CRC.

  2. Developing a property-scale decision support and risk management tool, by integrating the functions of the NT “Stocking Rate Calculator” and the Qld “Paddock GRASP”.

  3. Establishing a scientific basis for the use of MODIS satellite data for paddock scale monitoring. MODIS has the potential to provide data on a timescale that will allow managers to act on the information—“what is happening now, rather than what happened last season”. This part of the project will be finished by June 2005. Early in 2005-06 Kate Richardson will give a seminar on the results of her study leading to plans for incorporation the use of MODIS data into practical land management.

  4. Demonstrating and promoting the role of safe carrying capacity for on-property decision making as a part of good grazing land management and regional land administration. Carrying capacity is an important component of the Grazing Land Management education package. The emphasis this year will be on completing practical tools and adoption.

To download a brochure about the development of a model for long-term carrying capacity in the Desert Uplands, go to the end of the page.


  1. To customise methods of estimating long and short term safe carrying capacity to areas across the North Australian savannas and further develop techniques in areas where the current methodology proves inadequate.

  2. To develop a property scale decision support and risk management tool for grazing land management.

  3. To establish a scientific basis for the use of MODIS satellite data for timely paddock-scale monitoring.

  4. To promote the use of the concept of safe carrying capacity within the wider context of grazing land management education and regional land administration.

Grazing issues in the savannas

Grazing management is a key issue for the health of tropical savannas. There is a trend for higher levels of property development in more geographically extensive regions in an effort to increase carrying capacity and, on the other hand, a greater interest in grazing strategies within more developed regions to maintain carrying capacity.

Recent research has confirmed that sustainable grazing of the tropical savannas is primarily dependent on the management of pasture use, especially in relation to the level of use and its timing.

To implement sustainable grazing practices, decision support tools to help managers need to address two key issues:

  • Long-term carrying capacity: the number of animals that a particular paddock or property can be expected to sustainably carry, on average, given the climate, land types, land condition, infrastructure, and management system.

  • Short-term carrying capacity: the number of animals that can be sustainably carried at a specific time and for a specified period given the current pasture standing crop and the likelihood of additional pasture growth.

Long-term carrying capacity is the most difficult to calculate reliably given the number of variables to account for. However, it is a critical starting point for planning grazing management and provides a tool for assessing the physical, ecological and financial impacts of various development options (eg, extra watering points, adopting a different grazing strategy). As such, it is a fundamental component of the Grazing Land Management (GLM) education program, which is being developed and rolled out across northern Australia as the major vehicle for adoption of sustainable grazing.


The principle outcome of this project will be enhanced Natural Resource Management—in particular:

Activity 1
  • Pastoralists and planners will be able to use objective methods for estimating carrying capacity in most pastoral areas of north Australia, with the confidence of knowing that the methods have been tested and customised for each area.

Activity 2

Pastoralists and researchers across North Australia will have access to a risk management tool that allows them to:

  • systematically and quantitatively assess the impact of management decisions, in terms of both production and resource condition, and the risk associated with these decisions.

  • match stock numbers with short term and long term forage production within the constraints of safe utilisation levels at the paddock and property scale.

Activity 3
  • Land managers and researchers across North Australia will be aware of the attributes and limitations of the new generation MODIS satellite data for monitoring land condition at the paddock scale.

  • If the satellite lives up to expectations, they will be receptive to the incorporation of MODIS data into their pastoral land management.

Activity 4
  • Pastoralists across northern Australia will be aware of the benefits of using the long term carrying capacity procedure, with significant numbers using output from the procedure.

  • Pastoralists will understand the differences between long and short term carrying capacity and strategies for using each one.

  • Regional NRM, land administration and policy groups will use output from the long and short term carrying capacity procedures to aid decision-making.

  • Grazing lands will be utilised on a more sustainable basis, with additional actions in place to conserve biodiversity and minimise ecological risk.

Monitoring systems

The other requirement for improved grazing management is a monitoring system that is sufficiently timely and inexpensive for land managers to use on a paddock scale at the time that the changes are occurring.

It is generally accepted that satellite monitoring has the best chance of providing a consistent and cost-effective method of comparing the response of vegetation to seasonal and grazing impacts across large northern Australian pastoral properties.

This project will test out the capability of the new MODIS sensor to provide such a service. Its advantages over the usual LANDSAT products are its high daily resolution, and low cost (currently it is free).

Its disadvantage is its coarser spatial resolution: each pixel in the MODIS images covers 250 metres on the ground, while pixels in LANDSAT’s images cover 30 metres.

It is hoped that MODIS will be able to alert land managers to possible problems in large paddocks as they arise, giving the manager time to fully investigate on the ground and then do something about it. This is particularly topical at present with the current trend towards intensification. The other feature of MODIS that is inspiring great interest is its potential to monitor biomass as well as cover/condition. This will also be investigated

What is MODIS?

The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer is an instrument on board two NASA satellites. Unlike older equipment, it can detect fires and hotspots during the day as well as at night. Previously, fires were detected by satellite mainly at night because they confused fires with heated ground surfaces such as sunlit rocks. The instrument can also detect the blackened scars left by fires at a finer scale—down to a few hundred square metres in size. You can link to a Savanna Links article about MODIS below.


Activity 1

Long-term carrying capacity procedures, tested and customised to a wide variety of pastoral land types across the tropical savannas of Queensland and the NT. Enhanced methods for estimating carrying capacity in areas of high rainfall where a substantial proportion of the biomass is of low digestibility for cattle.

Activity 2
  • An integrated property scale decision support and risk management tool for grazing land management

  • A report of the evaluation of the tool on properties across north Australian savannas.

Activity 3
  • Multi-scale satellite time-series data sets.

  • Final report and scientific publication evaluating MODIS vs Landsat in terms of ground condition assessment within intensified and non-intensified management regimes and over variable landscapes.

Activity 4
  • Twelve documented case studies of the use of long term carrying capacity in property management and business planning, six from Queensland and six from NT.

  • Four documented case studies demonstrating its value in administering property build-up.

  • Presentations, workshops and field days showing the benefits of the safe carrying capacity procedure, and recognising the contribution of pastoralists to its development and implementation

  • Incorporation in development of regional versions of the GLM education program.

  • Evaluation of on-property changes resulting from the project.

Outputs from linkages
  • Introductory workshop to compare and contrast approaches to carrying capacity across north Australia.

  • Report of key issues and agreed protocols.

  • Communication strategy for project.

  • Annual team meetings.

  • Workshop to review progress and integrate methodology developed during this project into future grazing land management procedures.

  • Final report

Project Team

Paul Jones, QDPI
Jill Aisthorpe, QDPI
Kev Shaw, QDPI
Jim Kernot, QDPI
Joe Rolfe, QDPI
Diana Bryce, NT DPIF&M
Caroline Smith, NT DPIF&M
Genevieve Nash, NT DPIF&M
Robyn Cowley, NT DPIF&M
Andrew Bubb, NT DPIF&M
Ruth Allan, NT DPIF&M
Alison Kennedy, NT DPIF&M
Doug Wilson, NT DPIF&M
Coral Allan, NT DPIF&M
Sally Leigo, NT DPIF&M
Neil MacDonald, NT DPIF&M
Trudi Oxley, NT DPIF&M
Paul Novelly, DAWA

Grazing terms

Terms on this page

Carrying capacity: The optimal number of stock a property can carry sustainably.

GIS: Geographic Information System

*GRASP: Computer simulation model that calculates the growth of northern Australia’s native pastures. Developed by Queensland Dept. Natural Resources & Mines.

*Stocking rate calculator: GIS/database computer program that enables land managers to test the effects of development decisions, such as changed stocking rates, new fences or waters. Developed by the NT Dept. Business, Industry & Resource Development.

* Both these computer programs are being further developed through this project.

Watering points: can be natural (waterholes) or artificial features (troughs and dams) where animals can access water.

Pixel: Basic unit of the composition of an image on a television screen or computer monitor. It is usually a single-coloured dot.


Mr Paul Jones
Scientist (Rangelands)
Dept Primary Industries & Mining
Tel: 07 4983 7415

Fax: 07 4983 7459


Mr Neil MacDonald
NT Dept Primary Industry, Fisheries & Mines
Tel: 08 8973 9746

Fax: 08 8973 9777

PO Box 1346

Mr Kev Shaw
Tel: 07 4048 4600

Fax: 07 4092 3593

PO Box 1054


Developing long-term carrying capacity models for the Desert Uplands
Optimising productivity for your country [pdf 853.5 kb]