Livestock equivalents for estimating stocking rates in the rangelands of Western Australia

Page last updated: Thursday, 28 March 2024 - 12:05pm

Information on this page can be used by pastoralists to estimate stocking rates using standard units. Managers can compare estimated stocking rates to the recommended current carrying capacity for their lease, and vary stocking rate according to seasonal conditions that affect pasture production.

The Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) provides this information to support pastoralists managing livestock for sustainable and profitable pastoralism.

Livestock equivalents

This page provides the values used by DPIRD, the Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage and the Pastoral Lands Board (PLB) for converting types and classes of stock to standard stock units. For sheep and other small stock we use dry sheep equivalents (DSEs); for cattle and other herbivores we use cattle units (CUs).

  • We recommend using DSEs for small stock (sheep, goats, kangaroos) in the northern and southern rangelands.
  • We use CU for large stock (cattle, horses, camels) in the northern and southern rangelands.

Please note: DPIRD is moving to use the nationally accepted and scientifically supported AE livestock unit. The definition of a CU has become inconsistent over time, is not based on livestock energy requirements, and can underestimate actual energy and feed requirements. See the references below for more information.

Using the livestock class equivalence tables

Use these equivalence values with caution:

  • The values vary with size of the animals, growth rates, and reproductive rates. Higher growth rates and higher reproductive rates will have higher equivalence values.
  • CUs in the northern rangelands and in the review by Petty et al (2018) are based on a 450 kg steer, and in the southern rangelands is generally based on a 400 kg steer.
  • Carrying capacity in the southern rangelands not covered by Petty et al (2018) were determined in DSEs, and have been converted to CUs using 7DSEs = 1CU. There could be 2 problems with this – there is no sound research to show that this conversion is right, and there is limited data for cattle grazing values on southern rangeland pastures.

Livestock classes in standard units

Table 1: Cattle classes and average cattle unit equivalents
Class of stock Cattle units
Herd/Breeder Bulls (>2 years) 1.5
Breeder cows (>2 years) 1.4
Steers and spayed cows (>2 years) 1
Steers and heifers (1 to 2 years) 0.86
Weaners (<1 year) 0.6
Calves at foot 01

1 Calves at foot are included in the Breeder cow class

Table 2: Sheep classes and average dry sheep equivalents
Class of stock Dry sheep equivalent  
  Merino Meat breeds
Rams 1.5 1.5
Ewes (breeder flock) 1.3 1.4
Wethers/non-breeding ewes 1 1
Weaners 0.8 0.8
Lambs at foot 0 01

1 Lambs at foot are included in the Ewes (breeder flock) class

Table 3: Goat classes and average dry sheep equivalents
Class of stock Dry sheep equivalent
Bucks 1
Does 1
Wethers/non-breeding does 0.7
Kids at foot 01

1 Kids at foot are included in the Does class

Using livestock equivalents

Managers can use the estimated stocking rate in livestock equivalents in several ways:

  • Comparisons with the current carrying capacity (CCC) of the lease – the long-term carrying capacity in the current pasture conditions, estimated by DPIRD and supplied by PLB.
  • Short term comparison with the estimated seasonal feed on offer.

To maintain or improve pasture condition, the stocking rate must be less than the seasonal carrying capacity of the pasture. In other words, livestock removal of forage must be less than the sustainable amount of food on offer (allowing for utilisation levels and recovery needs). Stocking above the CCC for extended periods is likely to reduce productivity of the most valuable pastures.

Short-term feed budgeting requires detailed information of the business enterprise, stock types, stock classes, feed quality and amount on offer, safe utilisation rates and the intended liveweight gain of the stock.

We recommend using local and specialist advice to support your estimates of stocking rate and grazing pressure.