An international research collaboration focusing on the metrics of forage behaviour is looking at ways to help graziers better understand their livestock management.
Two leading researchers from the US are visiting Australia as part of an international research collaboration program, looking to share their insights with the local livestock industry.
Research ecologist Dr David Augustine of the US Department of Agriculture, Colorado, and wildlife biologist Dr Kate Schoenecker of Fort Collins Science Centre, Colorado, recently attended the Australian Association of Animal Scientists meeting in Cairns.
Both researchers also gave a presentation to staff and PhD students at the Central Queensland Innovation and Research Precinct (CQIRP) on Tuesday.
Dr Augustine studied the management of livestock in rangelands and is focused on developing strategies for livestock management.
He said it's been really interesting hearing about all the advances that Australian rangelands scientists and animal scientists are generating.
"I'm interested in the same questions they're asking about what kind of data sensors can we put on livestock to help guide our management in a way that is truly useful," Dr Augustine told the Queensland Country Life.
"The idea has been around for a long time and we're learning how to make it logistically realistic and useful.
"A lot of different companies are trying various approaches. Our approach to monitor bite radius, that's just new work that we've started.
"We're not sure exactly how useful it will be to the producers but it is useful to us as scientists to really understand mechanisms of foraging behavior and how it relates to animal growth."
Dr Augustine does his research on a 6000ha rangelands property alongside the Crow Valley Livestock Cooperative.
Using cattle collars to collect metric data, Dr Augustine's research has found that the steers that graze in a more linear line (strip grazing), maintain a reduced diet, whereas cattle which are left to roam freely in the paddock, tend to put more weight on.
Dr Augustine said calculating the jaw movement of livestock, using specialised halters, allows the grazier to record their daily foraging behaviour.
"When we work with graziers, there is a lot of uncertainty in how well the cattle are doing," he said.
"When it's green, and you have a lot of rain, you know everybody's doing well, but then as your property starts to dry out, there's a lot of uncertainty and when the cattle are starting to really decline in their performance, you'll know when to address that.
"I'm interested in helping graziers detect where their animals are as the rangelands decline in forage availability,"
Dr Augustine said there are a couple of key metrics about an animal when it's out grazing on free ranging rangelands, that are native grasslands.
"Some of those species of grass are good forage and some are not so good and the way the animal is moving through the grassland can really be a good indicator of how much of the good forage it's getting and how well it's able to avoid," he said.
"What we're finding is the key indicators are the velocity of the animal while it's grazing, not walking, the duration of it's grazing, how long does it graze continuously and the tortuosity of the grazing pathway."
Dr Augustine said those metrics are indicative of an animal's performance.
Dr Kate Schoenecker is a research wildlife biologist at the Fort Collins Science Centre in Colorado, focusing on wild horses, bison and burros.
She has conducted ungulate ecology research for over 20 years, and currently leads a wild equine research program at the United States Geological Survey and conducts research supporting bison conservation.
Dr Schoenecker said it was fascinating to compare Australia's approach to managing feral horses to the US.
"The same dynamics are happening here as are happening in the United States with a lot of social pressure on management," she said.
"The people who really love these horses and are considered horse activists really want them to be left alone and yet the science community can look at the situation and say, well this doesn't seem sustainable.
"When we look at the degradation of the landscape, and we have very different ecosystems, similar things are happening in both places.
"When you couple that with the fact that we know these are descendants of a domesticated species, and we see these differences between domesticated animals and the native wild progenitors of these domesticated species."
Dr Schoenecker wrote a research paper on the comparison of aerial thermal infrared imagery and helicopter surveys of bison in Grand Canyon National Park.
She said there were a lot of comparisons to that study with their ongoing management of the feral horse population.
Dr Schoenecker said the brumby's higher reproductive rate is one of the key things that makes them so much harder to manage.
"A lot of my research is very focused on counting them, getting accurate population estimates, tracking them to find out where are they going, what is their ecology, what ecosystems are they using, and also we are very focused on their effects on other wildlife," she said.
"We're trying to do a lot of research now on how wild horses interact in these ecosystems with other species, is there competition and how are they interacting with predators."
Dr Schoenecker is also studying the impact mountain Lions are having on the feral horse population in the US.
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