Technical information - General

Groundbreaking on-property project delivers results


One of Australia’s largest and most comprehensive on-property R&D projects hosted its final field day on 8 August.

The Pigeon Hole Project, a joint Meat & Livestock Australia and Heytesbury Beef initiative, will be wrapped up with an on-property field day. The Heytesbury Beef-owned Pigeon Hole Station is a 180,000 ha property located in the Victoria River district of the Northern Territory, about 300km south west of Katherine.

The five-year $6.4 million Pigeon Hole Project was set up to develop grazing and infrastructure guidelines with the goal of improving economic performance whilst maintaining the condition of the land and minimising any impacts on biodiversity.

The Pigeon Hole Project focussed on five key research areas:

  • Rates of pasture utilisation in large commercial paddocks.
  • Paddock design to cost effectively reduce uneven pasture use and to increase pasture utilisation.
  • Alternative grazing systems to promote more even pasture use.
  • The impact of pasture utilisation rates on biodiversity.
  • The impact of conservation areas on the preservation of biodiversity on commercial properties.

MLA’s northern production research manager Dr Wayne Hall said the Pigeon Hole Project was a groundbreaking research project that would produce ongoing benefit for Australia’s cattle industry.

“The Pigeon Hole Project will provide a blueprint for northern Australian cattle production systems and has really broken new ground in a number of areas including cell grazing, telemetry, water medication and sustainable grazing,” Dr Hall said.

Some of the key outcomes of the project include:

  • There is potential to significantly increase and in many cases double the sustainable stocking rates of some areas in the region using the intensification principles developed in the project.
  • Optimum levels of development have been defined for the region that maximise the pasture utilisation levels and minimise the cost of development.
  • Recommendations have been developed on the use of more intensive grazing systems, including rotational wet season spelling and cell grazing in this environment.
  • The cost of production of the intensified system has been maintained at a low level through the implementation of a range of more efficient management strategies, such as telemetry, water medication and efficient infrastructure design.
  • More intensive development does not appear to have a significant negative impact on biodiversity in the short to medium term, but more data is required.
  • The implementation of the intensification principles developed in this project has the capacity to significantly improve the efficiency, productivity and profitability of the far northern pastoral industry.

Heytesbury Beef’s Pigeon Hole Project manager Dr Steve Petty said that the project had been successful because it was conducted on a commercial scale under commercial conditions and the outcomes could be easily transferred to other large-scale production systems.

“The Project has played an important part in helping solve some of the major challenges facing northern pastoralists today,” Dr Petty said.

“Outcomes such as the calculation of optimal forage utilisation and ideal paddock size are pretty easy to get your head around and can be utilized by anyone running an extensive operation.”

The Pigeon Hole Project is jointly run by Heytesbury Beef and MLA through MLA’s Partners in Innovation program. Heytesbury Beef and MLA (through Federal Government funds only – no producer levies were used) evenly split the $6.4 million in funding for the project.

Agencies supporting the project and undertaking research include the NT Department of Primary Industries Fisheries and Mines, the NT Department of Natural Resources, Environment and the Arts, CSIRO, The University of Queensland, Victoria River District Conservation Association and the CRC for Tropical Savannas.