Stocking rate is a huge driver of production and profit, and a key element in maintaining your landscape. Stocking rate is a vital compromise between utilising the feed that’s grown and coping with the very significant year-to-year variation in rainfall and pasture production that many locations experience.
That may seem unachievable, but stocking rate has to be set somewhere. Knowing what stocking rate you actually have is always important as it enables comparison and informed adjustment. Looking across years, contrasting stocking rate and the productivity it yields with an assessment of the season can help guide changes in overall stocking rate policy.
Adjusting to achieve a sustainable stocking rate or carrying capacity is specific to the farm, its feed resources and what risks will be experienced or accepted. Carrying capacity can be optimised if there are tactics in place to quickly respond to threats or opportunities.
To be most useful, stocking rate should be seen as more than just a head count. This is because what we are really interested in is the need for feed, and livestock are not all the same, or the same all the time.
This is why stocking rate is usually measured in DSE’s (dry sheep equivalents), where the DSE simply provides us with a standard for energy requirement. In essence, we use stocking rate to describe the feed demand that we are running in total DSE. Or we might use DSE as an indication of what feed demand a pasture can supply: ‘This pasture will run 10 DSE per hectare’, for example.
A DSE does not necessarily equal one sheep, but specifically uses the feed requirement of a two-year-old 50 kg merino wether that is maintaining its weight, as a standard basis for comparison. Other livestock classes and breeds can be rated in terms of DSE and this enables an effective feed demand comparison to be made across years, enterprises, properties and regions.
DSE can be used in a couple of ways:
Both DSE calculations are valuable. You just need to be sure which one you’ve made to interpret your comparisons of stocking rates from season to season and year to year.
DSE is a handy way of measuring and comparing your feed demand.
Calculating your farm stocking rate
Farm stocking rate (DSE/ha) = number of stock of each class x DSE per head, all added up and the total divided by the number of hectares on the farm.