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Matching stocking rate to carrying capacity, and why it is important

Matching stocking rate to carrying capacity, and why it is important
Written by
Victoria Lawrance
May 5, 2023
May 5, 2023

Matching stocking rate to carrying capacity (SR:CC) is a crucial aspect of grazing management, and a major driver behind improving the production, profitability and soil carbon of any grazing enterprise. Before we explore the theory behind this principle, we first need to understand the metrics involved.

What is Carrying Capacity?

Carrying capacity refers to the average number of animals that a property has been able to comfortably and sustainably support over a long period of time. It depends on:

  • Land types
  • Current condition of these land types
  • Climate
  • Uniformity of grazing and animal impact
  • Feed accessibility, water availability and geography
  • Grazing strategy or method
  • Goals for animal production and land condition

Calculating the carrying capacity of a property provides an indication of past pasture performance, and creates a benchmark for projections, forecasting and ongoing management.Carrying capacity is expressed as a number of animal units (LSU/DSE/AU) per 100mm or 1 inch of rainfall, per hectare or acre. This gives it the flexibility to be extrapolated easily against current rainfall scenarios and stocking rates.MaiaGrazing is a tool to not only help you calculate your current carrying capacity, but also helps to refine and improve it over time as you collect, analyse and manage your grazing data.

What is Stocking Rate?

Stocking rate is a much more dynamic metric and is the number of animal units currently grazing on a particular area of land. Just like carrying capacity, this is expressed as the number of animal units (LSU/DSE/AU) per 100mm or 1 inch of rainfall per hectare or acre.

What does it mean to match Stocking Rate to Carrying Capacity?

Matching stocking rate to carrying capacity means ensuring the number of animals grazing on a particular area of land does not exceed the amount of forage that is available to adequately sustain them. With rainfall patterns becoming more variable and unpredictable, getting this balance right prevents pastures from being over or under grazed, resulting in improved productivity and ecology of the land simultaneously.Matching your stocking rate to carrying capacity is also critical in ensuring maximum production potential is reached in optimal seasons, by calculating how many additional livestock the property can carry when pasture is abundantly available.Collecting, analysing and interpreting grazing data is critical in giving livestock producers the confidence to know the true carrying capacity, and MaiaGrazing makes that process simpler.

Why matching stocking rate to carrying capacity is important

Livestock producers need to match their stocking rate to their carrying capacity for several important reasons:

  • Maximising productivity: By matching stocking rate to carrying capacity, livestock producers can help ensure their animals have access to enough food and water to reach their genetic potential. In turn, this helps to maximise productivity and profitability, while also reducing the need for expensive inputs like substitutional feed and supplements.
  • Improving the health of the land: Overgrazing can damage the soil and vegetation of a particular area of land, which can reduce its ability to regrow after grazing. This can lead to pasture degradation, soil erosion, nutrient depletion, and a loss of biodiversity. Conversely, by matching stocking rate to carrying capacity, soil health, such as soil carbon and water holding capacity, pasture health, and plant biodiversity increases.
  • Protecting the health of the animals: When the number of animals grazing on a piece of land exceeds its carrying capacity, there may not be enough forage to adequately sustain them. This can lead to malnutrition, dehydration, and disease, which can cause suffering and even death in the animals.

Overall, matching stocking rate to carrying capacity is important for the health and well-being of the animals and the land, and for the long-term sustainability of any livestock production business.

How does MaiaGrazing help you match stocking rate to carrying capacity?

Watch our 1-minute video to see we help you match stocking rate to carrying capacity

Matching stocking rate to carrying capacity can seem a daunting task, particularly when you are faced with manually calculating the different numbers and benchmarks for a property.

MaiaGrazing is a powerful tool that can assist livestock producers in matching stocking rate to carrying capacity. It helps you understand and manage the grazing data in real-time, which can guide you in making better decisions about your stocking rate.With MaiaGrazing, you can:

  • Monitor carrying capacity: MaiaGrazing helps you determine the carrying capacity of your land by recording pasture performance data such as grass growth and ground cover. This helps you understand the true carrying capacity of your land and make informed decisions about your stocking rate.
  • Set realistic stocking rates: By having access to accurate carrying capacity data, MaiaGrazing can help you set a realistic stocking rate that matches the current and future grazing conditions of your property.
  • Adjust stocking rates in real-time: MaiaGrazing helps you monitor the current stocking rate and make adjustments as needed. This means you can respond quickly to changes in feed availability, rainfall, and other factors that affect carrying capacity.
  • Improve pasture health: MaiaGrazing provides you with data to make better grazing decisions, which in turn promotes pasture health and productivity. By matching stocking rate to carrying capacity, you can protect the land and ensure that it continues to provide sufficient feed for your livestock.

MaiaGrazing makes the task as simple as possible, by providing real-time insights and decision support tools. In addition to the technological features within MaiaGrazing’s cloud-based platform, our Grazing Success Team, comprised of producers who understand the challenges of grazing management, and how to use data driven decisions to overcome them, are there to help every step of the way.Here are some of the ways that MaiaGrazing can help:

  • Understanding and calculating your carrying capacity. With 1-on-1 assistance from our dedicated team of Grazing Success Officers, learn how to calculate your true carrying capacity, and how to analyse and manage your grazing data to adjust it when necessary.
  • Understanding and calculating your grazing demand. Knowing how much grass your animals require, which varies depending on species, weights and stock classes, is crucial in determining accurate stocking rates. MaiaGrazing’s built-in animal unit calculator helps you know precisely how much pasture your livestock require, particularly as they move through breeding cycles.
  • Preparing grazing plans. MaiaGrazing’s growing season and non-growing season graze plans help you plan your mob moves in advance, meaning you can optimise forage utilisation and minimise over or under-grazing.
  • Monitoring forage availability. MaiaGrazing’s pasture inventory tool helps livestock producers monitor the amount of forage available on their grazing land. Pasture observations are easy to enter in the MaiaGrazing app whenever you take a drive through your paddocks; this information then contributes to your overall feed days available, and helps you make informed decisions about your optimum stocking rates.
  • Making data-driven stocking decisions. MaiaGrazing provides a range of decision support tools that help livestock producers to make informed decisions about their grazing operations. For example, you can use the platform to simulate multiple stocking rate scenarios and compare the results to determine the best course of action.

With the help of our knowledgeable Grazing Success Team, you’ll learn how to use and eventually master MaiaGrazing’s planning, analytical and forecasting tools, to ensure you’re always equipped with the data you need to match your stocking rate to your carrying capacity.As you can see, MaiaGrazing is a key item in your grazing management toolkit. Choose a time to speak to one of our product consultants to find out how you could apply MaiaGrazing to your business today:

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