Savanna Explorer > Gulf Country > Grazing > Sustainable Grazing Issues

Sustainable grazing issues for the Gulf

Management systems

There is much variation in management systems over the breadth of this region, from very efficient operations to those that are more traditional and less intensive. Even in the more fertile areas such as the base of the Gulf, the lack of phosphorous in the dry season is a major limitation. Productivity is greatly improved by supplementary feeding. Property sizes over the Gulf region tend to be very large and infrastructure fairly limited, although there are exceptions.

Cattle work must be undertaken in the dry, as it is too difficult to travel in the wet and too hot. Late rains will result in delayed start to the muster, while a poor rainy season will see producers moving early to sell cattle in good order and conserve feed. Schedule of management then is largely limited to the drier months. In general most properties have variable country, and use the better areas as bullock and weaner paddocks.


Adequate fencing continues to be a major management issue in the Gulf region. Given the low carrying capacity of much of the country, paddocks must be very large to contain a workable number of cattle.

The dilemma is how to control cattle distribution in paddocks of this size, and so protect areas of better pasture such as river frontages which may be vulnerable to degradation.

High costs of fencing

Improved paddock subdivision is one way to address the issue of herd distribution, and may also facitilate mustering. Fencing however is limited as a result of the high cost: around $2000 per kilometre, but there are other factors too. Generally areas of better-quality land are fragmented and so the efficacy of fencing them off is questionable. In addition, there are difficulties with construction and maintenance, especially during the wet season when flooding is common across much of the region.

Gulf pastures
Gulf pastures are dominated by Aristida-Bothriochloa (light green), Bluegrass-Browntop (orange), Mitchell grass (yellow) and Spinifex in the more arid areas (purple)

Pasture communities

The Gulf region has the most diverse range of pasture land communities in the tropical savannas. Its vast area supports nine communities with around 17 local pasture units (LPU) distributed in a complex mix. These are noted below and are detailed in Tothill, J. C. & Gillies, C. (1992).

Midgrass pastures

Midgrass pastures of Aristida pruinosa (three awn), in eucalypt open forest and woodland, are found in large patches along most of the central inland region and throughout an extensive area in the east. Small patches of hummock midgrass grasslands, on sands and skeletal soils, are scattered through the region's inland north and south-east with vast tracts located across the central zone. Curly spinifex (Plectrachne pungens), soft spinifex (Triodia pungens) and hard spinifex (Triodia spp.), with an acacia and eucalypt component make up the four LPU of the region.

Bluegrass-browntop pasture on coastal black soil plains near Burketown 

Monsoon annual tallgrass

Monsoon annual tallgrass pasture communities are confined to patchy areas mainly in the region's western sectors of the Northern Territory. Annual sorghums (Sorghum intrans, S. stipoideum) are the dominant grass species in the LPU with golden beardgrass (Chrysopogon) mixed in with the far western units. In a large area, extending south, from Burketown and Normanton to the Flinders Highway and north, along the west coast of the Cape York Peninsula, lies the region's bluegrass pasture lands. LPU include tropical bluegrass (Dicanthium fecundum), browntop (Eulalia aurea) and bluegrass - golden beardgrass (Chrysopogon fallax ) exist on clay soils.

Tussock grasslands

Tussock grasslands, of Mitchell grass (Astrebla spp.), growing on clay soils are commonly found in fragmented patches along the southern boundary across most of the region. LPU include northern rolling downs, plains Mitchell grass, and inferior Mitchell grass.

North-west sectors

Wiregrass/firegrass under eucalypts near Boroloola in the North-west Gulf 

The Gulf region's north-west coastal sectors, along with the watercourses associated with the Gilbert and Mitchell rivers on Cape York Peninsula, support communities of monsoon annual tallgrass pastures dominated by fire grass (Schizachyrium spp). Tropical/subtropical perennial tallgrass pasture lands of ribbongrasss (Chrysopogon spp.) are found slightly inland, along the central Gulf coast and in pockets further in land to the west. Saltwater couch (Sporobolus spp.) without top feed, of perennial, shortgrass pasture land communities, is found in an almost continuous band along the coastline. An isolated community of Queensland bluegrass (Dicanthium sericeum), growing on clay soils, is located in the region's north-west.