Making More from Sheep Australian Wool Innovation Limited Meat & Livestock Australia
MODULE 6 : Healthy Soils
Tool 6.2
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Measuring groundcover is easy. Either visualise a 50 cm by 50 cm square or make one out of wire. Stand over this area, look directly down onto the pasture and estimate the amount of ground that is covered by plants, litter and dung. Even without any training you will be reasonably close to the right number and photos may help improve your estimate. For each paddock, record groundcover at about 30 random locations, look at the variation (highest and lowest values) and calculate the average.

You can also look for more visual signs of erosion and soil loss such as gullies, rills and tunnelling, washing of soil, dung and litter along fence lines and around plants, muddy and silted dams and muddy streams with high sediment loads. Monitor groundcover and grazing activity regularly to assess progress. You will be amazed how quickly you can make an impact. Be particularly careful in dry or drought periods. Select ‘sacrifice’ paddocks or construct containment areas for hand feeding, to retain groundcover or build it up in the rested paddocks over time.

Source: Greg Lodge, NSW DPI

At 20% groundcover
  • Run-off water loss = 160mm per year
  • Soil loss = 8.5mm per year
  • Poor plant production and sustainability
  • Low green leaf and plant vigour
  • Low water infiltration
  • Plants exposed to temperature extremes
  • Low litter
  • Low microbial activity
  • Poor organic matter content
  • Poor soil structure and surface sealing of soil
At 40% groundcover
  • Still too low
  • Run-off water loss = 90mm per year
  • Soil loss = 4mm per year
  • Poor pasture and soil health


At 70% groundcover
  • Run-off water loss = 10mm per year
  • Soil loss = 0.3mm per year
  • Good plant production and sustainability
  • High green leaf and plant vigour
  • High water infiltration
  • Plant bases protected from temperature extremes
  • High litter levels
  • Good microbial activity
  • High organic matter content
  • Good soil structure and soil surface
At 90% groundcover
  • Reduced run-off water and soil loss
  • On slopes, groundcover should target 100% to retain top soil, nutrients and to promote stable pasture conditions
  • Weed colonisation will be reduced when bare ground is removed