The Western Australian beef industry

Page last updated: Wednesday, 17 November 2021 - 11:49am

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Pastoral production systems

The Rangelands (pastoral region) of WA are divided into five regions with the majority of the cattle located in the Kimberley and Pilbara regions.

Table 1 Number and size of pastoral stations by region in Western Australia (source: PLB, 2014)
Region Number of stations Average station area (hectares) Maximum station area (hectares)
Kimberley 93 230 406 480 859
Pilbara 57 229 831 431 180
Carnarvon-Gascoyne 80 149 405 398 389
Murchison 125 176 602 406 489
Goldfields-Nullarbor 89 207 851 595 322

There are a total of 444 pastoral stations in WA as of July 2015 with an average area of 196 000ha and a carrying capacity of almost 2600 cattle units (a standard cattle unit is equivalent to a  2.25-year-old, 450 kg B. taurus steer maintaining W and walking 7 km/day. Using the existing NRDR (2007) equations, the energy requirement of this standard animal at zero weight change is 73 MJ ME/day. A diet energy density of 7.75 MJ/kg DM (equivalent to 55% DMD) is assumed. McLennan, McLean & Paton (2020).).

Most rangeland grazing properties are managed as pastoral leases on government-owned (crown) land.

The administration of WA’s pastoral leases is the joint responsibility of the Pastoral Lands Board (PLB) and the Minister for Lands.

The Kimberley region has some of the largest pastoral stations and herd sizes due to its relatively reliable rainfall and sustainable native pasture base.

The productivity of pastures and variety of land types differs greatly in the pastoral region and as a result properties are much larger in size than southern beef properties which have more intensive pasture systems and higher stocking rates.

Cattle in the north of the state have been selected to suit the environmental and climatic conditions and the majority of herd have some degree of Bos indicus genetics.

Cattle breeds range from pure Brahman herds to Bos indicus infused breeds such as Droughtmaster and Santa Gertrudis to predominantly Shorthorn and Hereford herds.

In the Kimberley and Pilbara, traditionally the most popular cattle breed has been the Brahman cross. Recently there has been increasing interest in transitioning to composite breeds or Bos Indicus cross content in order to improve carcase traits and increase market access options.

The main mustering period in the Kimberley and Pilbara regions is between April and October (dry season) due to seasonal conditions.

Wet weather during the summer months (November to March) can restrict road access to properties making cattle movement difficult and restricting market access.

With adequate prior planning cattle can be supplied all year round by moving cattle to readily accessible locations throughout the state through backgrounding and integrating turn-off between the northern and southern production regions.

The Northern Agricultural region is one area that is used to background pastoral cattle in preparation for export during the spring and summer months of the year.

Some pastoralists are exploring the use of centre pivot irrigation to grow improved tropical pastures such as sorghum and cowpea on short rotations for production of hay or haylage to fill feed gaps.

Stand and graze pastures under irrigation are also being considered.

These new production systems require government approvals on leasehold land.

Contact information

Rebecca Butcher
+61 (0)8 9651 0540
Trevor Price
+61 (0)8 9166 4026