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Unit 5 - Sheep, cattle and conservation
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UNIT 5

Sheep, cattle and conservation

 

5.2  Issues for cattle

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Very little research has been undertaken on cattle grazing saltland pastures or on cattle fed saltland pasture diets in feeding pens – cattle are simply too large and expensive for this type of work when compared to sheep. There is plenty of evidence from other types of work however, that the nutritional issues for cattle grazing saltland pastures will be sufficiently similar to sheep issues to make reading important for those interested in how cattle might respond on saltland pastures.

Cattle have the additional benefit of being able to reach the leaves of saltland shrubs (such as saltbush) that sheep cannot. This greater reach of cattle is often used by farmers when saltbush tops grow above sheep grazing height – it is much cheaper and easier than having to slash to saltbush back to sheep grazing height. 

Anecdotally cattle in the Upper South East of SA can be run at comparatively higher stocking rates than sheep on equivalent country without the cattle baring out the areas that are prone to salt scald.

CRC Salinity research on ‘salty diets’ found that cattle performed comparably with sheep, although cattle probably have a different mechanism for coping with the higher salt load. Cattle appear to have a greater ability to digest poor quality feed and show relative immunity to the effects of high salt load on the digestive process. This is backed up by farmer experiences:

Cattle thrive on a saltbush diet

In one of the SGSL farmer trials, 14 steers grazed on 14 ha of saltbush and under-storey from 11 April to 18 July and gained about 25 kg per head. During the first 30 days, the cattle mainly ate the under-storey, including summer weeds. After that, they were given an occasional bale of barley straw as their only supplementation.

Although not a high quality feed, the barley straw would have helped the cattle keep down their total salt intake and would have acted as a complementary feed to the saltbush, allowing the cattle to gain more weight than would be expected just from a simple analysis of the quality of the feeds.

Analysis of faecal samples showed that the saltbush was making up about 30% of the diet for the steers. In this case, the saltbush, the under-storey and the supplement of barley straw provided a ration considerably above maintenance for the steers.

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