It is often difficult to know (i) the actual, current nutritional status of livestock grazing large paddocks with diverse vegetation and (ii) when and where supplementation would be cost effective.
Cattle have preferred grazing areas that change over time but, importantly, we have behaviour- and nutrition-based management options to influence grazing patterns. A ‘missing link’ to transform the management and productivity of the feed base in the rangelands is to have near-real-time information on the nutrient profile of different areas within paddocks, together with information on what the animals are actually eating.
With this information, combined with rangeland monitoring using our newly developed Monitoring App, we can target management decisions to shape grazing patterns and increase the productivity of individual animals and our landscapes.
We will test the use of DNA barcoding of dung samples to identify the plants selected in the diet of rangeland cattle. DNA barcoding has been used successfully to assess diet selection of wildlife, but it has not been applied innovatively to make better management decisions in extensive livestock production.
1. Test and validate ‘DNA metabarcoding’ to determine the diet composition of livestock grazing a diverse mixture of plants that includes grasses and shrubs.
2. Increase our understanding of the diversity of nutrient profiles in rangeland plants, how this affects livestock performance, and how strategic supplementation can help.
Achieving these goals will mean a better match between stocking rates, profitability and landscape management.
We will be working collaboratively with the University of Western Australia and a world-leading laboratory in France.