18 September, 2020
Five ways to graze in a super-charged recovery
WHAT DO a regenerative grazing pioneer, a Mount Isa cameleer, and a member of Australia's oldest bull-catching team all have in common?
On Wednesday of last week this unique group led the brains trust of pasture and erosion recovery at Desert Channels Queensland’s flagship field day, Supercharging Recovery.
Resource Consulting Services Director, Dr Terry McCosker, camel breeder Paul Keegan, and erosion control specialist and “man of many hats”, Darryl Hill, were in the 20-strong line-up of presenters at the expo held at Hexham, north of Winton.
Discussing new ideas including innovative grazing systems, the use of camels for invasive weed control, and earthworks for soil erosion control, the men agreed it was high time graziers looked into their country, rather than across it.
“Ultimately, there are five ways to graze,” Dr McCosker said. “There are continuous, rotational, cell, time control and spell grazing strategies.
“But if you’re looking to completely destroy your perennials, continuous grazing — or that constant exposure of the plant to the grazing animal — is the prime way to go about it.”
Dr McCosker said graziers should carefully match pasture rest periods to plant growth cycles, and stocking rate to carrying capacity.
“Even the father of all modern rotational grazing systems, Andrew Voisin, said calendar-based grazing can land you in trouble,” Dr McCosker said.
“Ours is a brittle ecosystem in Outback Queensland and producers should plan grazes based on what is available in the paddock rather than what hangs on the wall.
“This is about doing our upmost to increase the proportion of Phase 2 leaf in the paddocks.”
“This will allow pastures to recover after grazing, as opposed to remaining in Phase 1 leaf with minimal yield and shallow root systems.”
Dr McCosker said it was appalling the terms stocking rate and carrying capacity were also used interchangeably, when in fact the two were diametrically opposed.
“Critically, stocking rate is the number of animals utilising an area of land at any one time,” Dr McCosker said.
“Carrying capacity is the capacity of a land to support grazing animals. It is determined by what grows up in response to thinks like moisture and temperature.
“Many grazing businesses are designed to fail as their management attitude is based on average rainfall and subjectively guessing carrying capacity from season to season and year to year.
“Miscalculating carrying capacities can cause severe droughts and subsequent drought feeding which, in turn, causes intense economic strains and ecological destruction.
“A common characteristic of regenerative grazing is the proactive changes made to stocking rate as seasonal conditions change actual carrying capacity, so ground cover and plant and soil health is always maintained regardless of the seasonal conditions.”
Darryl Hill also said past thinking on soil erosion was incorrect.
“Soil erosion is not the problem. It is the effect of past practice,” Mr Hill said.
“Two hundred years of building roads, and 200 years of droving cattle up the Diamantina and the Cooper. What does that do? Lake Eyre is being silted right up.
“Currently we are sacrificing Lake Eyre to the Great Barrier Reef.”
Mr Hill is highly regarded throughout the nation for his experience using graders and other earthmoving machinery for gully remediation and erosion control works.
For more than 40 years Mr Hill studied soil erosion as a ringer, head stockman, property owner, manager and then as Landcare officer.
Mr Hill said past soil erosion could not be treated, but future erosion events could be prevented.
“No matter how much money we throw at it, nothing we do can put the soil back into the ground,” Mr Hill said.
“But we must reconsider our waterflows and our road-making to prevent this in the future.”
Ringrose Button Chartered Accountants Partner, Bill Ringrose, told graziers that the 400 per cent growth rate in Western Queensland land values within the past 30 years would give them great strength to negotiate.
“Queensland maintains a solid five-year average annual growth rate of 4.9 per cent,” Mr Ringrose said. “In terms of dollars per acre, properties were fetching $30 in the past compared to $120 and $130, and up to $160 today.
“Producers should not be scared of debt where it will provide a return. Queensland’s rural debt has increased by 10.75 per cent in the past two years, with crippling drought and the 2019 monsoonal floods being contributing factors.
“Yet infrastructure, and investment in that infrastructure, will drive profit-making change in the future.”