Livestock comparisons for estimating grazing pressure in the rangelands

Page last updated: Monday, 10 September 2018 - 11:38am

Managing grazing pressure is a major factor in sustainable pastoralism. To estimate total grazing pressure, managers need to know the number and type of grazers present (stocking rate) and the feed on offer at any period. The information in these tables can be used to estimate total stocking rates.

Livestock comparisons

For sustainable pastoralism, stocking rate must be less than the seasonal carrying capacity of the pasture. Stocking rate can be calculated from the number and type of grazing livestock: the stocking rate figure is usually given as dry sheep equivalent (DSE) or cattle unit (CU).

Different classes of livestock have significant differences in the amount of forage they consume, and this must be accounted for in calculating the stocking rate.

Forage consumption varies with:

  • gender
  • age
  • pregnancy/lactation status
  • condition and body weight
  • quality of feed
  • density and quantity of feed
  • water supply and quality
  • seasonal conditions.

How the comparisons are calculated

The tables below are a guide to converting all livestock classes to a single stocking rate unit. Where possible, the conversions are based on the metabolisable energy of feed intake to maintain an animal from one season to the next.

We recommend using DSEs for small livestock (sheep and goats).

We do not recommend using DSEs for cattle and other large livestock: the accepted conversion of 7DSE=1CU can lead to errors. Brahman and European breeds of cattle have quite different energy requirements, and a single conversion is not accurate.

The units used for conversion rates are DSE and CU:

  • One DSE is the feed energy required by a 45 kilogram Merino wether to maintain its liveweight. The metabolisable energy intake for maintenance is about 8.1–8.7 megajoules of metabolisable energy per head per day (MJME/head/day).
    Note: some definitions of a DSE – especially in high rainfall areas of southern Australia – are based on a 50kg Merino wether.
  • One CU is the feed energy required by a 400 kilogram dry cow or steer to maintain its liveweight. The metabolisable energy intake for maintenance is about 50MJME/head/day.

Note: these figures are a guide; the actual value may vary in different situations. In pastoral areas with significant walking distances, add at least 10% to the rating and energy requirements.

Livestock equivalents used in the southern rangelands

Table 1 Livestock equivalents used in the southern rangelands

Stock type

Stock class

DSE

Sheep

Ram

1.5

Sheep

Mated ewe or maiden: includes lamb

1.3/1.41

Sheep

Marked lambs under 1 year Not rated2

Sheep

Ewe (nonbreeding)

1.0

Sheep

Wether (~45kg)

1.0

Sheep

Maiden ewe (nonbreeding)

0.9

Sheep

Weaner

0.7/1.01

Goats

Buck

1.0

Goats

Mated doe or maiden: includes kid

1.0

Goats

Marked kids under 1 year Not rated2

Goats

Nonbreeding doe or maiden

0.7

Goats

Wether

0.7

   

CU

Cattle

Bull

1.5

Cattle

Breeder: includes calf (including mated heifer)

1.4

Cattle

Branded calves under 1 year Not rated2

Cattle

Spayed breeder

1.0

Cattle

Steer/bullock (~400kg)

1.0

Cattle

Heifer (nonbreeding)

0.9

Cattle

Weaner cattle

0.6

1 The values are for Merino sheep first, then meat breed sheep (Merino/meat breeds).
2 The classes that are not rated are disregarded and have an effective multiplier of zero: these classes are included in the breeder value.

Livestock equivalents for breeding ewes

Table 2 Livestock equivalents for breeding ewes

Livestock class (small stock)

Merino / Goat
(DSE)

Meat sheep breeds (DSE)

Female in breeder flock <50% lambing

1.3

1.4

Female in breeder flock 50–60% lambing

1.4

1.5

Female in breeder flock 60–80% lambing

1.5

1.6

Female in breeder flock 80–100% lambing

1.6

1.7

Female in breeder flock 100–120% lambing

1.7

1.8

Livestock equivalents for cattle in the northern rangelands

Table 3 Livestock equivalents for cattle in the northern rangelands

Livestock class (cattle)

Cattle unit (CU)

Average liveweight (kg)
male/female

Weaner steer/heifer
(6–8 months)

0.5

201/200

1-year-old steer/heifer
(8–18 months)

0.7

275/265

2-year-old steer/heifer
(18–30 months)

0.9 405/370

3-year-old bullock
(30–42 months)

1.2

545

Steer (adult)

1.0 400

Breeder bull

1.5

650+

Dry cow (>30 months)

1.0 400

Cow in breeder herd <50% calving

1.4

 

Cow in breeder herd 50–60% calving

1.5

 

Cow in breeder herd 60–80% calving

1.6

 

Cow in breeder herd >80% calving

1.7

 

Livestock equivalents for other grazers and browsers

Table 4 Livestock equivalents for other grazers and browsers

Other grazers

Annualised DSE

Annualised CU

Horses and camels: small (450kg)

11.0

1.6

Horses and camels: large (635kg)

14.0

2.0

Donkey

7.0

1.0

Kangaroo

0.7

0.1

Contact information

Kathryn Ryan
+61 (0)8 9166 4015