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Lag v Lead Indicators

Posted by Bestprac on Jun 15 2009

 

By Chelsea Muster, Rural Directions Pty Ltd

Which are you using, LEAD or LAG indicators?

 

When asking producers what tools they use to measure stock and land condition, and to help make critical decisions such as destocking or buying in sheep, the immediate reaction is 'my gut feel', 'knowledge', or 'what I've learnt over the years'.
When delving a little further, you soon find that there are a range of indicators that people use, either instinctively or deliberately, to help make these decisions. Some of these indicators include:

• Assessing ground cover
• Assessing animal condition (either by eye or through condition scoring)
• Quantifying the amount of water left in the dam
• Measuring the height of pastures
• Estimating potential rainfall in coming months
• Assessing the 'health' of bush
• Looking at pads around water troughs
• Looking at how much dirt is blowing across the paddock

But is it too late if you are using some of these indicators? Has the damage already been done, and should have a decision been made sooner rather than later. Of course, hind sight is a marvelous thing, and we can always say.....'we should have'..... but if you do use some of these tools as major indicators, it may already be too late.

We can classify these indicators into either LAG or LEAD indicators, that is, those that are showing us something as a result of something else, or those that will help us to predict what is going to happen next.

LAG indicators are those that are a result of a deficiency. They are indicators that follow a change that has already occurred in another part of the system. For instance, a decline in animal condition is a LAG indicator, as it could be a result of decreased food on offer. Like their human counterparts, if animals are not receiving their correct nutritional needs, their body condition (or condition score) will decline. For this to have happened though, paddock condition would have already declined, possibly months earlier. Therefore, in terms of making a decision, the impact on the natural resources has already occurred.

This is also true when looking at pads around water troughs and how much dirt is blowing across the paddock. If you can visibly see pads around the troughs for miles, and dirt blowing across the paddock, then the damage has already been done. These are LAG indicators, the main cause of the problem (over grazing) has already impacted.

In contrast, LEAD indicators is a predictive indicator that indicates that a change could occur as a result. For instance, rainfall is a lead indicator of potential Food on Offer. By measuring and monitoring rainfall, the land manager will be able to estimate the availability of Food on Offer in the coming months.

Actively assessing ground cover on a regular (3 month) basis, and grazing pressure relative to rainfall are LEAD indicators. If you are noticing a decline in ground cover, you can predict that animal cover may decline in coming months (depending upon the nutritional value of the species present). If grazing pressure relative to rainfall is increasing, you can predict that there will be little or no pasture growth in the coming months, and soon the paddock will be eaten out. You can then make the proactive decision to change stocking rates accordingly to ensure this will not occur.

Which are you using, LEAD or LAG indicators?

Last changed: Feb 16 2012

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