Close to 120 people attended the Resilience in Grazing Open Day held at Tom and Karen Murphy's Tabletop Station, Collinsville, on April 5 including 90 graziers from all over the state.
The Murphy’s along with daughter Nikki and her partner Harry Howard, have been involved with NQ Dry Tropics’ Building Resiliency in the Burdekin Grazing Industry Project which promotes the use of holistic management practices on property.
Tabletop is used as a breeder block, which runs 3000 Brahman and Brahman-cross cows and Brangus, Droughtmaster and Red Poll bulls on the 18,970ha block.
Mr Murphy said he was initially hesitant to get involved with the holistic management program even though it made perfect sense.
“It went against everything we have done and learnt in the past,” he said.
“But we thought it would be worth the change as it fit in with what we wanted to to at Tabletop.”
Holistic management involves a decision making framework to help graziers improve their performance, and supports practical, cost-effective and innovative approaches to land management and restoration issues.
Holistic land management was developed over 40 years ago by Allan Savory, a Rhodesian biologist, game ranger, politician, farmer, and rancher, who was searching for ways to save the beautiful savannah and its wildlife in southern Africa.
His son Rodger Savory (Director of Savory Grassland Management) has continued Allan’s practices and implemented the system successfully in highly variable country across the world.
The practices teach people about the relationship between large herds of wild herbivores and the grasslands and then helps people develop strategies for managing herds of domestic livestock to mimic those wild herds to heal the land.
The Murphy’s rotationally grazed adult females and followers around the property in one large mob, allowing them to practice wet season spelling. and to implement planned grazing strategies to encourage the ‘herding effect’ on soils and pastures.
The herding effect is stimulated by high numbers of cattle grazing for short periods of time to create the ideal conditions for improved soil health which leads to improved pasture production.
This is due to the herd disturbance of the soil surface, inputs of urine and dung distributed across the grazed area, and a period of rest to allow pasture plants and soil microbes to recover and respond to the recycled nutrients.
During each wet season the Murphy’s move cattle to the hill paddocks on natural waters. Each year the rotation will be varied, spelling at different phases of pasture recovery and growth.
The black soil areas of the property are strategically grazed throughout the dry season using an electric fencing system. Around 3,000 cows and heifers graze small 30-50ha paddocks on a daily basis using a central laneway back to water.
A mix of 22 grass and legume species will be introduced before the cattle graze each paddock. Supplement stations are also used to create herd impact and are moved weekly to distribute the impact across the landscape.
“Once we fully understand the logistics, particularly labour requirements of the management change we’ll consider moving larger herd sizes and run cattle in the hills in a grazing rotation following heavy rain.
“We’ll also use ultra high density grazing to establish fire breaks surrounding the property, to protect against future wildfire occurrences.”
Shane and Amanda Watts, Sonoma, Collinsville, along with Barry and Leanne O’Sullivan, Glenalpine, Collinsville, are also involved with the project with the O’Sullivans hosting the 2015 open day on-property.
They provided updates on the successes they've had and the challenges they faced since utilising holistic management practices in their operations during the day.
Mr Watts said during the 2014-15 wet season, the mobbing of the female herd at Sonoma has allowed them to rest 80 per cent of the property over the wet season.
The pasture response was excellent given the rainfall was well below average between early December and the end of February.
“Having one main breeder mob means we only need to monitor one herd of cattle, have one water point and one supplementation area, which makes our operation very easy to manage,” Mr Watts said.
“We’ve also installed Nutridose water medicators which has allowed us to put urea, minerals and vitamins into the supplementation which has cut out the expense of dry licks,” he said.
Mr O’Sullivan said the context of the holistic management framework includes everyone and everything around you that can be effected by your decisions.
“You need to have your own holistic context in place from the start which includes all your goals for the business, your family and on a personal level that you want to accomplish and how you plan to go about realising those goals,” he said.
“The trial has been a life changing experience, and I hope more graziers in the North get involved.”
Shane and Kylie Stretton, Clancella, Charters Towers, recently completed their holistic management training and said it was well worthwhile and completely shifted their farming mindset.
“We realise we can do so much more to improve our pastures, it’s not a one size fits all plan, you shape the business framework around what best suits you and your family,” Ms Stretton said.
“The best part of the workshops was bouncing ideas off the other participants, it really gets you excited to go and try things out when you get home,” she said.
NQ Dry Tropics' Sustainable Agriculture project officer Rod Kerr said it’s been exciting to see the amount of producers that have shown interest in holistic management practices and attended the workshops headed by Brian Wehlburg and Helen Lewis from Inside Outside Management.
“In the space of 18 months we’ve had close to 400 graziers attend events as part of the NQ Dry Tropics’ Resilience in Grazing Project, some of who have started applying the holistic strategy in their operations,” Mr Kerr said.
“At the open day last March people wanted to know what holistic management was, now they want to know about the nuts and bolts of how to apply the practices themselves.
“There is a lot of serious consideration among graziers in the state about needing to change the way they work, and they are educating themselves through these open days and workshops to get to a point where they can start doing that.”
The event was part of NQ Dry Tropics’ Building Resilience in the Burdekin Grazing Industry project, funded through the Queensland Government Regional NRM Investment Programme.