IT WAS a slow and agonising wait for Phil Orchard, Belmont Research Station manager at Rockhampton, as he watched the river slowly rise in the aftermath of tropical cyclone Debbie.
Mr Orchard has been at Belmont for 12 years and said he knew exactly how much damage to expect from the flood, which saw the river rise to 12.1m and covered 1250 hectares of grazing land.
Belmont, owned by AgForce, runs about 1200 head plus calves on 3260 hectares. The cattle are predominantly Belmont Reds and Senepols and belong to Geoff Maynard, Maynard Cattle Co, Jambin, who has the current lease.
But Mr Orchard said those numbers would drop in the near future with cattle to be trucked out due to lack of grass.
“We’ve got no grass because we had (1250ha) under water in the recent floods,” he said.
“We’re not going to lose as much grass as we did in 2011 because it wasn’t under for as long.
“It’s still going to be three months before we can put cattle out there because it’s so wet and there’s nothing for them to eat.”
He said the more pressing issue was the 20 kilometres of fencing which needed to be repaired.
Most of the fences on Belmont are six or seven strand barb, still in place from when CSIRO owned the property and were running a single-sire mating operation.
After the 2015 cyclone came through Rockhampton as a category four, Belmont has had a lot of timber lying in the paddocks and the floodwaters from Debbie came through and picked up the trees – which resulted in the extensive fence damage.
“I knew it was going to happen and there was nothing we could do about it,” Mr Orchard said.
After hiring a helicopter to see the full extent of the flooding, Mr Orchard said he was able to find a few positives from the floods.
“We saw pigs on a few islands so took the boats out and cleaned them up,” he said.
“It’s a good time to control feral animals when they’re confined to a small space.”
But the major advantage heading into the last flood was the notice with five days to prepare and move cattle to avoid any possible livestock losses.
Two riverside breeding paddocks of 495ha and 444ha were the first to be mustered.
Mr Orchard said he arranged contractors to be on the farm from late this week to help repair fences and property infrastructure.
Mr Orchard began working at Belmont 12 years ago as a beef cattle technician with CSIRO and became the manager when AgForce took over in 2013.
Now it is a family affair, after Mr Orchard’s son Luke began a fulltime position at Belmont in September.
It is education that is the key driver for Belmont and Mr Orchard said alliances with CQUniversisty and the Rockhampton Grammar School kept him very busy.
Three times every week about 20 students from the Grammar school (years 10, 11, and 12) are on-property completing certificate work while the university’s Bachelor of Agriculture students are also frequently out to undertake studies.
Because of the heavy education commitments, as well as trial work and the everyday running of the property, Mr Orchard said he weans once and brands once each year.
“We don’t wean until mid-May and we only do the one weaning then,” he said.
“It’s the same with branding - we brand pretty late in February that way there’s only the one brand.”
To keep on top of the herd, Mr Orchard said from August until February he does daily checks and catches, tags and weighs every calf born within 24 hours.
Belmont was purchased by AgForce in 2000 from CSIRO who had owned it since 1953.
CSIRO purchased the property to breed cattle for the northern part of Australia.
“There were a lot of trials done with tick and fertility,” Mr Orchard said.
“Since I’ve been here we’ve done other trials with castration trying to find out the best methods with less stress to the animal - the knife is best for both.
“There’s still about 90 of the original CSIRO Brahman herd here as well.”