If you fence it, they will eat it

Making cattle eat the right grass in the right place is a lot like forcing a child to eat their vegetables – it’s difficult. When cattle find a more desirable grass species in a level, shady spot, they stick around.

This was the problem that faced Phil and Deborah Reid, the owners of Limestone, a cattle property located at the base of the Peak Downs Ranges near Emerald, with spectacular Open Downs and Mountain Coolibah Woodland country.

Reef Rescue funding helped the Reids make simple changes to their farm infrastructure that allow them to better control cattle movement to achieve more even grazing pressure and reduce erosion.

“The improvements mean we can spell country more frequently and manage land types to their capabilities, improving overall land condition and ground cover,” Phil said.

Cattle naturally preferred to graze grass growing in the black soils of the flatter Open Downs country on Limestone, and would barely touch pasture growing in harder, hillier parts of the landscape.

The result was unevenly grazed paddocks with bare areas leading to erosion and sediment entering nearby Isaac River, while also providing the right conditions for parthenium weed to take hold.

Phil and Limestone’s manager, Dave knew the answer was moving cattle from the black soils to encourage growth of native pastures but it wasn’t until they discovered Reef Rescue incentives through Fitzroy Basin Association Inc. (FBA) that the work seemed possible.

“The incentives made the process of doing the work in a shorter time frame much easier,” Phil said.

In 2010 the Reids were funded to fence their waterway and improve the placement of water troughs to attract cattle to higher parts of the property, which dramatically improved ground cover.

“These waters, infrastructure and the combination of two great seasons has seen parthenium competitors explode – it has made the world of difference to these paddocks,” Phil said.

In 2011 a project was completed on Limestone to construct 15km of land type fencing and 7 km of riparian fencing, again separating Open Downs country from Mountain Coolibah.

The fencing enabled paddocks to be rested more often which encouraged growth of pastures.

After many years of parthenium infestation the property is now host to a diverse range of native species.

“In the five years leading up to our first FBA project, we probably spent the same amount of money on spraying out the parthenium as we’ve spent on recent infrastructure improvements,” he said.

“I believe that although the health of the catchment is a big winner in all of this, through the funding landholders like me are also value-adding to our properties,” he said.

More than 1 million hectares of land in Queensland is under improved management through Natural Resource Management groups across catchments flowing to the Great Barrier Reef.

With continued funding and support from the Australian and Queensland Governments for on ground projects, positive results like Phil and Deborah Reid have witnessed will continue to reduce the amount of sediment, nutrient and chemical entering local waterways and reaching the reef.