The Mitchell grass region is the only one in the
tropical savannas to graze significant numbers of sheep. The main
factor here is that the southern reaches of the Mitchell grass
region are the least humid and wet of the savannas. While in the
past there were significant numbers of properties grazing sheep
south of the Flinders Highway between Mount Isa and Townsville, at
present there are very few north of Winton. On average properties
grazing sheep are smaller than those grazing cattle, largely
because proportionately sheep require an eighth the land of
Sheep do well on Mitchell grass pasture, particularly in years
when rainfall patterns promote additional forb growth between grass
tussocks. High protein forbs such as lamb's tongue (Plantago
lanceolata) and wild carrot (Daucus carrota) provide a
good level of nutrition in such years. In drier years, the sheep
can be maintained on the Mitchell grass which provides a
maintenance diet while its colour is golden. Its feed value can be
downgraded significantly by small falls of winter rain, heavy dews
or fogs, or by frosts. After these events Mitchell grass become
grey or blackened and may be infested by moulds or smuts.
Sheep production in this region differs significantly from that
occurring in more temperate areas. The summer wet season means that
feed is available for a relatively short time. Toward the end of
the year, before the rains come, protein levels plummet to a level
where the sheep may start losing weight. Management of the herd
then requires that timing of good feed must coincide with that of
greatest nutrient requirements in the sheep lifecycle.
Sheep suffer much more from heat stress than cattle and so shade
trees are provided by many enterprises in the region. Lamb losses
from attack by dingo, feral cat and fox can be significant in some
areas. In addition, kangaroos compete very successfully with sheep
for water and pasture.
Three kangaroos eat as much as two sheep and generally select
similar kinds of grasses. They confound attempts at managing
stocking rates such as spelling or strategic burning because their
mobility is not limited by fences.
CRC for Sheep Industry Innovation
The CRC for Sheep Industry Innovation supports industry to transform wool, meat and the sheep that produce them in an exciting seven-year program of research, development, extension and education. It provides innovative new technologies, practices and products to advance the profitability and sustainability of the Australian sheep industry.