Bloss seeks balance for ecosystem success

Bloss Hickson pursues accredited organic beef herd at Rolleston

Beef
Contentment: With the Expedition Range in the background, Bloss Hickson's Rolleston Brangus herd is enjoying some good buffel grass at last. Pictures: Sally Gall.

Contentment: With the Expedition Range in the background, Bloss Hickson's Rolleston Brangus herd is enjoying some good buffel grass at last. Pictures: Sally Gall.

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Being better, not bigger, is part of the philosophy that drives Rolleston organic beef producer Bloss Hickson.

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"I don't want to get bigger, just better."

That's part of the philosophy that drives Rolleston organic beef producer Bloss Hickson, who grew up at Melinda Downs north of Cloncurry.

Drawing a 5260ha brigalow block in the last land development scheme on offer, in 1987, Ms Hickson's thoughts have always been somewhat of an aberration in a region known for land clearing.

Her Huntly block had been pulled in the 1960s and had a lot of regrowth when the Hickson family partnership took over, and she received a lot of advice by peers, along with government encouragement, to continue the practice when she began as owner/manager.

A strong believer in the value of trees in the landscape, she decided, against the odds, to keep both brigalow trees and others, notably the remnant rainforest ooline trees, in strategic belts, describing them as the legumes replacing the nutrients leached out by buffel grass.

"They are also shade, habitats, windbreaks, nutrient and water recyclers and carbon sequesterers," she said.

"Trees keep the ground cooler. When it's denuded, the ground gets a crust and water won't penetrate.

"I'm sure dieback is a symptom of an ecosystem that's out of balance."

She does blade plough in strips.

Stocked initially by the family's Droughtmaster/Charbray-cross steers and used as the fattening block, Ms Hickson said she was happier when she bought her first pen of Brangus cows from the Roma saleyards 20 years ago.

"Why Brangus - they lose that long hair, they're more adaptable to the heat," she said.

Bloss Hickson says ticks aren't causing any problems in her accredited organic Brangus herd.

Bloss Hickson says ticks aren't causing any problems in her accredited organic Brangus herd.

The next big decision was to pursue her desire for organic certification, which meant the end of the family partnership and a halving of the land available.

Now, she runs around 350 cows and 1000 head all up in a good season and sells progeny at 24 months, at 500 to 550kg, to OBE Organics and Australian Organic Meats.

"The nice thing about organics is that I don't have to get them to Jap Ox weight," Ms Hickson said. "Black cattle are amazing, they're like little meat nuggets."

Although Queensland's tick line is on Bloss Hickson's southern boundary, she says her cattle don't appear to be troubled by them despite not having any chemical defence.

"I rotational graze, which I think helps with tick cycles," she said.

"Someone said you've got to spell your country for 78 days to break the cycle.

"I'm not sure about that but all I know is, I don't have a problem - it's all about balance."

She knows she was thought of as a tree-hugging hippy when she first arrived, and says she has no idea whether that's still the case.

Everything in balance is Bloss Hickson's motto for her Rolleston cattle property.

Everything in balance is Bloss Hickson's motto for her Rolleston cattle property.

"My goal, right at the beginning, was a healthy ecological property - I wanted something for the long-term," she said.

"I've had my share of debt, improving my land and paying out my brothers, but organics was never about the premium for me.

"I've never been driven by money. I don't want to get bigger, just better."

Carbon offsets

Another of the characteristics of Bloss Hickson's Rolleston property that sets it apart from most in the district is the acreage of brigalow trees set aside as a carbon offset for the Clermont mine.

She explained that when the mine's owners approached the state government with expansion plans that would encroach on a brigalow forest, they were told it would be approved if they could offset it with something five times the size.

"I was lucky to secure that, for $1000 an acre, better than the land value at the time," she said. "It was a handsome deal that protects my trees in perpetuity and monitors the flora and fauna annually."

Among the 33-year property development Ms Hickson has undertaken is a watering system she describes as "almost opulent" in its scale.

Every paddock has two different surface water sources, all inter-connected.

The 625mm average rainfall country has been feeling the pinch as much as any in the last few years, but 150mm in September 2018 and the same amount again in March 2019 meant there was a body of grass of some sort.

That meant she didn't have to source organic feed.

Huntly retains brigalow trees in the landscape, backing onto the Expedition Range.

Huntly retains brigalow trees in the landscape, backing onto the Expedition Range.

The story Bloss seeks balance for ecosystem success first appeared on Queensland Country Life.

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