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Pasture consumption by rabbits in the central highlands of Victoria

T. Morgan and P.E. Quigley

Department of Agriculture, Municipal Offices, Vincent Street, Ararat VIC 3377
Department of Agriculture, Pastoral Research Institute, Private Bag 105, Hamilton VIC 3300

In the Central Highlands of Victoria, rabbits are an important factor affecting the availability of pasture. However, we believe the impact that they have on pasture is generally under estimated. Measurement of the amount of pasture consumed by rabbits was made at one site at Bulgana, 16 km north east of Ararat. The site was between a creek (dry for most of the year) and a road. Duplex soils there were developed from Tertiary alluvium. The pasture was dominated by Romulea rosea (36% of total DM) and Erodium botrys (29%), with Holcus lanatus and Dactylis glomerata the next most common species. The local Land Protection Officer inspected the site in mid-December and assessed the rabbit population density to be slight to moderate, that is, approximately 7 rabbits/ha.


There were 20 enclosure cages (80 cm diam.) which prevented grazing by cattle and sheep but not rabbits, distributed over an area of approximately 40x50 m. Over the same area there were 18 cages which prevented grazing by all 3 groups of animals. Pasture availability and growth were measured using a falling plate pasture meter. This meter was calibrated with cut herbage samples at each time of measurement.

Results and discussion

Domestic stock and rabbits consumed about equal amounts of pasture, except for the middle period of measurement when rabbits ate about twice as much (Table 1). From the pasture consumption we estimated that the stocking rate was 3.5 dry sheep equivalents/ha for domestic stock and 30 rabbits/ha. This is based on an allowance of 1.5 kg DM/DSE/day and 7-8 rabbits are equivalent to 1 DSE. Chronic infestation with rabbits would partly justify the relatively low stocking rate. Failure to take into account rabbits travelling along the roadsides and their transitory visitation to this site probably resulted in errors in visual assessment of the rabbit density.

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