Drought proofing while maintaining feed in NQ


Jerona Station is bordered on two sides by the East and West arms of the Barratta creeks, between Ayr and Townsville, with the idyllic Great Barrier Reef hugging the coastline a short distance as the crow flies. Its 15,500 acres is open forest, marine salt couch flats and home to many endangered species – and its fair share of weeds such as Chinee apple (chonky) tree and rubber vine.


For Malcolm Searle and his sons, Graham, Jeffrey and Adrian it is ideal brahman cattle country but to truly make the most of its potential, it needs a lot of persistent work and care to get the land at its best.


Malcolm first leased the property twenty years ago to run cattle but was limited to what could be improved. The opportunity six years ago to buy the property has given he and his sons the freedom to seriously get to work on clearing the weeds, protect native bushland and develop dryland permanent pasture and irrigation systems. The aim ultimately is to run more cattle and improve weight gain for the beef trade.


The first task for the dryland pasture areas was clearing area for pasture, and eradicating weeds. With government overlays for native bushland preservation under the Property Reports and Vegetation Mapping system (PMAVs) system, paddocks follow the contours outlined by the mapping coordinates, creating irregular shapes and sizes. Electric fencing around the 300 acres into four paddocks under the PMAV has not only helped protect the native bushland, but also kept the healthy wallaby population at bay from the pasture.


The first of the paddocks to undergo improvement was four years ago, requiring two years of slashing, discing and levelling with light grazing to get the weeds under control. The first planting was a custom mix of Rhodes Callide and Endura grasses and 10% bambatsii. The first season, the rain delivered 10mm – not enough to germinate the pasture mix. The following year has seen the Rhodes grasses in particular take off with decent rain.


“The aim is to lightly graze the pasture for a couple of months, while it is still establishing,” says Graham.


“We don’t take it any lower than a third, so that the pasture can still recover so the cattle will be in the paddock around 4-6 weeks. The dryland paddocks are prone to pugging in the wet season, so while the pasture is helping to improve the soil, we take the cattle off before it gets too wet.”


Taking advantage of water

The water licenses from the Barrattas allows the family to run irrigation systems for crop growth. Currently, 40 ha of ground has been laser levelled into bays to trial different grasses as individual plots to see which has the better results. Currently, Malcolm and Graham have Mariner Rhodes, Splenda Setaria and bambatsii.


By planting in individual bays, Graham says he can keep on top of the weeds more while providing a quicker turnaround of feed for the cattle, compared to the dryland pasture zones.


“Ideally we are looking to get a quicker turnover of the cattle but still get to around 570kg liveweight. The irrigation bays means that we can drought proof a large part of the property and potentially run a greater number head of cattle.


“So far the trials on the different grasses has shown that the Rhodes varieties give us soil improvement as well giving us a crop or pasture in the following year. It is still early days, but we are happy with the progress we are making.”


Barenbrug Territory Manager for FNQ, Greg Forsyth says that when they approached him they were looking to try a few different varieties that might work for their dryland permanent pasture, but the irrigation bays would give them a better idea.


“The irrigation bays to start with are designed to give an indication of how viable each variety is in a commercial setting. So far, everything has performed as I would have expected, especially the Splenda setaria and Mariner Rhodes – and the Bambatsii paddock, so I would expect that Malcolm and his sons will keep going with those in the dryland pasture and in the irrigation bays.”