Grazing in native vegetation and revegetation on farms – Western Australia

Page last updated: Thursday, 18 March 2021 - 5:40pm

Please note: This content may be out of date and is currently under review.

Grazing or feeding in native vegetation in the south-west of Western Australia should not be done except as a last resort. Feed values are low, and degradation of the native ecosystem is immediate and long-term. Resource conservation values are nearly always higher than the short-term grazing values of native vegetation remnants on farms. Grazing roadside vegetation and cutting and removing vegetation from reserves or Crown land is illegal without a permit.

Grazing native vegetation on farms in the agricultural areas of Western Australia is not recommended

There is very little remaining healthy native vegetation on farms in the grainbelt of Western Australia, and there are many reasons for protecting what we have.

It is tempting to use native vegetation (remnant vegetation or bush) as a source of roughage when paddock feed is limited – especially in very dry seasons – but the benefits are minimal and the damage is long term and cumulative.

The nutritional value of native vegetation is very low, unless there is significant invasion by pasture species. Grazing native vegetation will reduce its ability to regenerate and increase the risk of weed invasion.

Before grazing, check if there are legal restrictions on the use of or damage to the area of native vegetation.

Native vegetation as a source of roughage may be marginally useful in periods of serious feed shortage, but any benefit gained is likely to be greatly overshadowed by the long-term degradation of the native species and loss of resource conservation values.

Covenants, biodiversity retention and obligations to funders, exclude some farmers from using native vegetation or revegetation sites for grazing.

Reasons why grazing native vegetation is not recommended

  • The social and environmental value of bush on farms is generally higher than any commercial value.
  • Grazing in bush remnants always increases weediness of the site, and this is very hard to reverse.
  • Grazing prevents regeneration of native plants.
  • The total amount of accessible feed per hectare is likely to be very low.
  • The digestibility of most native plants is low to very low, and fibre content is high.
  • Several native plant species contain highly toxic compounds (e.g. fluroacetate, or '1080') which can kill livestock.

Native vegetation should never be used for shelter or grazing

In situations where: 

  • poison plants are present or are likely to be present
  • rare or endangered plants are present
  • there is a covenant or other agreement excluding livestock
  • long-term bush protection is an objective.

Native vegetation can provide benefits while excluding livestock

Bush can provide shelter on the lee side in adjoining pasture paddocks. This shelter area can be used to reduce exposure to extreme events that could cause livestock deaths (usually of off-shears sheep and lambs), and provide a stable area not susceptible to wind erosion. This may be especially important for short-term feedlotting.

In wildfire-prone areas, we do not recommend having confinement feeding areas close to bush. Confinement feeding areas can be used to protect livestock from fire if the surrounds have low fire fuel.

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Where grazing or sheltering in native vegetation is unavoidable

There are conditions when sheltering or feeding sheep in native vegetation could be a good livestock management decision, if vegetation damage can be minimised:

  • post-lambing when other shelter is not available and cold, wet, windy conditions are forecast
  • post-shearing (in the first 7 to 10 days) when other shelter is not available and cold, wet, windy conditions are forecast.

Minimising damage to native vegetation

Where using native vegetation for livestock is unavoidable, you can minimise damage by following these guidelines:

  • Use the area for as little time as possible.
  • Use as small an area as possible (use electric or temporary fencing to contain livestock).
  • Leave plenty of time between uses to allow recovery.
  • Use areas that are already degraded by pasture grasses and weeds.
  • Feed cereal straw or hay in contained areas; do not leave long grain-feeding trails.
  • Do not put feedlots or confined feeding sytems in bush blocks (which would be an environmental and fire hazard).

Choosing the right native vegetation when grazing is unavoidable

Some native vegetation has higher feed value, and may also suffer less from livestock disturbance:

  • Dense areas of Acacia saligna — digestibility of the foliage of this species can be above 60%, but it is highly variable.
  • Young accessible growth of casuarinas and allocasuarinas — palatability is often high, though digestibility is very low.
  • Extensive areas of native grass — total digestible dry matter is likely to be low, except where extra nutrients are available, but digestibility of some species is good (more than 55%).
  • Where weed invasion by pasture species is extensive.

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Grazing in plantation and revegetation areas

Grazing in young, single species tree plantations can be valuable, but the animals must be removed before tree damage becomes significant. This option mainly applies to the high rainfall south-west of Western Australia.

Grazing in mixed native-species revegetation areas will cause significant damage to small and palatable plants, and reduce the long-term biodiversity and environmental value of those plantings.

Young plantations may provide significant grazing, because the soil nutritional levels are higher than in bush and there is usually plenty of pasture growing between the tree rows. However, the feed value reduces rapidly as the trees mature. Heavy grazing pressure can damage the trees, and this can reduce longer-term financial returns. Younger stock (lambs and weaners) usually cause less damage to young trees and livestock should be removed before the trees are seriously damaged.


In addition to feed value:

  • grazing can reduce fire risk by removing the fuel load
  • grazing may reduce weed competition with the trees.


Damage to young trees is common, especially if grazing is heavy or over a long period. Young sheep cause fewer problems than older sheep, and rams and lactating ewes may be worst. Foliage loss causes temporary setback to plants, but damage to the trunk or main branches is more serious. Depending on the species and the objective of the plantation, this damage may cause serious commercial loss.

Soil disturbance and livestock droppings from heavy grazing may increase the weediness of the site, and increase competition with the plantation.

In plantations of mixed species (environmental and nature conservation plantings), livestock will often preferentially graze some of the trees and shrubs (e.g. acacias, casuarinas, allocasuarinas, quandongs and sandalwood). This will change the long-term mix of species.

Contact information

David Bicknell
+61 (0)8 9881 0228