CASE STUDY GLENALPINE

Stock impact effectively treats gully erosion

The three-year (2013-16) Building Resilience in the Burdekin Grazing Industry project is funded through the Queensland Government’s Regional NRM Investment Program.

Who

Barry and Leanne O’Sullivan, sons Wayde, Luke and Daniel.

Location

Glenalpine Station, Strathalbyn Road, 80km south west of Bowen.

Property Size 23,374ha

Basin

Bowen Broken Bogie

Average annual rainfall 720mm

Rainfall average 2013-16 362mm

Family History Glenalpine is a family property held by the O’Sullivans since 2003. Prior to this, Barry and Leanne had worked in Western Australia for a number of years. In 2010, to maintain a profitable business while allowing the pastures on Glenalpine to rehabilitate, they took up a grazing lease in fattening country, 500km south of the property. This enabled them to reduce the number of cattle grazing on Glenalpine, whilst maintaining the required stocking rates for their business operations.

In 2013, Barry and Leanne joined NQ Dry Tropics’ Building Resilience in the Burdekin Grazing Industry project, which involved trialling a Holistic Management approach on Glenalpine. The Holistic Management approach involves developing a decision making framework that carefully considers economic, environmental and social factors to help graziers improve their performance. Crucially, it advocates practical, natural, cost-effective and innovative approaches to managing and restoring land. Barry and Leanne felt the Holistic Management approach suited their ideology, and gave them an opportunity to sustainably manage their property, while maintaining their quality of life. “As Glenalpine has a range of land types and topography, it is representative of many areas of North Queensland, and therefore suitable for trialling how the Holistic Management approach could work for a wide cross section of the industry,” said Leanne. After completing their Holistic Management plan, Barry and Leanne were keen to test the logistics of the approach and to better appreciate the labour requirements of their grazing plan at a commercial scale.

They implemented a trial of holistically planned ultra high-density grazing in a degraded paddock close to the homestead. This involved using livestock as a tool to rehabiliatate land.

Challenge The paddock was dominated by Indian couch with scattered tussocks of native pasture and some Buffel. In one corner of the 300ha paddock there was an actively eroding gully, with four hectares of the gully catchment area contained in the trial area. NQ Dry Tropics had selected the eroded area to investigate whether livestock impact could stabilise a gully system. Barry said: “The gully is on good soil and it had good grass cover the whole way up to the head and throughout the catchment. I thought we were doing almost as good a job as we could, and we were just waiting for it to get better, but the gully was still moving and it was surprising.”

“Prior to the trial, it was definitely moving at least a metre per year, it is black soil and very fragile but fertile country,” he said.

Trial “With Holistic Management, you go through a series of decisions, to try and achieve certain results. And with this process, we decided that we wanted to try and fix this gully head and stop it eroding any more,” said Barry. Barry and Leanne implemented holistically planned, ultra high-density grazing by setting up daily temporary paddocks within the larger paddock. They used an electric fencing system mounted on a quad bike that was quick and easy to set up and dismantle. The cattle accessed water through a narrow laneway. They grazed a single mob of 1200 head over a six-week period at the end of the dry season across the 300ha trial area. The cattle responded well to the daily movement and, with a molasses mix as supplement, performed well from a production perspective. “To treat the gully, we decided to camp some cattle up on the head for six nights in a 25mx25m night pen... and then wait for the wet season to come and grow some feed on it,” said Barry. “Our water point is about a kilometre away. As the cattle were coming in for their last drink of water in the afternoon, we had a small poly electric

fence laneway coming up and into the night pen and they were packed tight. “They were content just milling around, they were full and were let out at daylight,” he said. They treated the gully system by locking the mob onto the gully until the headcut and the sides were thoroughly broken down, and a layer of manure and urine slurry about an inch thick was spread across the gully system. This is known as ‘Biological Carpeting’. They removed the cattle prior to the start of the wet, which began with showers in mid-December and delivered good rainfall through January. Despite being in a 720mm rainfall region, this area had only received around 350 mm per year over the four preceding seasons. “The purpose of the slurry in the gully is to feed the microbes in the soil and grow fungi and bind the soil together, which it did,” said Barry. “And then in turn you’re keeping the soil together and so when it rains it’s not eroding as bad, and because of the microbes and fungi and all that life you’re growing a lot more cover to stop the water running off and the roots grow deeper,” he said. Leanne said: “Prior to doing this, the gully wouldn’t really grow much cover even though it was good quality soil.” Barry added: “It was mainly Indian Couch country. We’d been giving it a wet season spell for three or four years

before doing this, but the process is just so slow trying to get perennials and natives to come back and grow, it just takes so long. But this happened pretty much overnight, in one season and the results are incredible.” “Quite amazingly, we didn’t put any seed out here at all, so the diversity in plant species went from three species up to around 17. The manure and urine has just triggered something in the soil and allowed all of this to happen.” “Since camping the cattle here and allowing it to recover, we’ve been able to come over this area as part of the normal grazing system three times despite this being our fourth very bad wet season in a row.” “The buffel grass and the bluegrasses and native species that have come up have been green all year, even though we’ve had very little rain. The kangaroos have camped on this spot all year and even though it’s been grazed that much, it just keeps shooting. Everything that’s happened has just gone straight into that soil and it just stays there,” Barry said. Barry and Leanne admit that the trial has dramatically changed their plans. They had planned to gradually change their practices, but now intend to accelerate the process across the property. “Producing that much pasture in one season is a compelling and very convincing argument. We need to capitalise on this approach and take advantage of the cattle production possibilities of holistically planned, ultra high-density grazing,” he said.

Monitoring As part of this trial, NQ Dry Tropics staff monitored pasture health by conducting three 100m transects. They used quadrats to measure the density and frequency of pasture species, and pasture yield at the end of the wet season. They assessed residual pasture at the end of the dry season. They established photo monitoring sites, one of which was a remote monitoring camera with a weather station that provided daily updates looking down the length of the gully. A second photo point monitoring site looked at the gully head from the side. NQ Dry Tropics staff also monitored soil health, as part of a collaboration with NQ Dry Tropics’ Sustainable Soils for the Burdekin project, funded by the Australian Government National Landcare Programme. This monitoring focused on infiltration rates, soil composition including both labile (active), organic and total carbon, and microbial activity. Barry and Leanne maintain meticulous forage budgeting and grazing records, and continually assess stock-days per-hectare, before and after grazing. Leanne also undertakes photo monitoring across their property. She said she has been coming down and taking photos before and after grazing, so that they can get a picture of what the gully is doing. “I’ve managed to get a photo after the cattle came out, and then after a deluge, two inches in half an hour

including hail. Everything had just stuck together and the gully seemed to be filling up and smoothed off even though nothing has come from the head,” she said.

Results Barry and Leanne have seen an extraordinary pasture response to their holistically planned, ultra highdensity grazing trial, with a massive germination and growth of a range of grass and legume species. At a March 2014 field day Barry noted: “Today, the gully system is now unrecognisable. Although there are still a few bare areas, the gully itself is covered in dense tall pasture plants and the gully sides are difficult to find.” “The catchment area above the gully, where once bare, is a dense sward of pasture with 100 per cent ground cover. The pasture growth in the highdensity grazed areas is phenomenal. I could not have imagined that pasture would respond so well,” Barry said. “On rested country next to the treated paddock the grass has recovered ok from the dry season, and last year I would have said it was looking good, but it doesn’t compare to where the ultra high-density grazing occurred.” “The pasture in the treated areas is very dense, up over the bonnet of the ute and is very green and healthy. My estimate is that some areas have produced five to six times the biomass compared to the untreated paddocks,” he said. Monitoring carried out by NQ Dry

Tropics Staff has seen a significant rise in pasture diversity and density over the marked transects, with three species being located in the baseline data and 17 species in the first year post-treatment. Fifteen species were recorded the second year post-treatment, as two annual species were not present at the end of wet monitoring. Standing biomass yield has increased by 728 per cent in the first year and 840 per cent in the second year, when compared to a conventionallymanaged control site on similar soils and a similar gully. In August 2014, prior to ultra high-density grazing on the gully catchment, soil organic carbon levels for the 0 -10cm sample were 2.1 per cent. In May 2016, this had risen to 2.3 per cent. In 2015, monitoring was modified to sample at finer intervals. In February 2015, soil organic carbon for the 0-3cm sample was 2.8 per cent after the first wet. This is an extraordinary result by industry standards. The microbial activity testing also trended up in similar fashion, supporting these numbers. “The country is really trying to heal itself, all we’ve done is put a few goodies there, some nutrients and some manure, and it’s really busting trying to heal itself, it’s amazing,” said Barry.

May 2014 End of below average wet season pre-trial monitoring photo. This paddock received a full wet season spell and a very low stocking for eight days. Despite moderate to high groundcover, the Barry and Leanne had observed continuing advancement of the gully head.

April 2015 “The slurry in the gully feeds the microbes in the soil and grows fungi binding the soil together. When it rains, it’s not eroding as bad, and because all that life, the roots grow deeper. You are also growing a lot more cover to stop the water running off.” Barry O’Sullivan

January 2016 Following one and a half inches of December rain, they grazed their cattle at ultra-high denisty for one day across this site. They then removed the cattle and rested the site as per their grazing plan.

April 2016 End of below average wet season monitoring photo, following four months of holistically planned cattle exclusion. Despite significant localised macropod grazing pressure, the gully site is barely visible in the grazing landscape.

November 2014 “The water-point is about a kilometre away. As the cattle were coming in for their last drink of water in the afternoon, they came into the night pen through a small poly electric fence laneway and were packed tight to achieve the correct herd effect. The cattle were content, they were full and were let out at daylight.” Barry O’Sullivan

December 2014 The headcut and the sides were thoroughly broken down and a layer of manure and urine slurry about an inch thick, was spread across the gully system, known as ‘Biological Carpeting’. They removed the cattle prior to showers in midDecember.

January 2015 “It was mainly Indian Couch country. We’d been giving it a wet season spell for three or four years before this. The process to get perennials and natives to come back takes so long. This has happened in one season, the results are incredible” Barry O’Sullivan

January 2016 Following one and a half inches of December rain, they grazed their cattle at ultra-high denisty for one day across this site. They then removed the cattle and rested the site as per their grazing plan.

FIELD DAY 2014

FIELD DAY 2015

Who are we?

NQ Dry Tropics is an independent, not-for-profit, nongovernmental organisation that supports the Burdekin Dry Tropics community to sustainably manage its land and water. As the leading Natural Resource Management body for the 146,000km² Burdekin Dry Tropics region, NQ Dry Tropics views innovation as crucial to the future of the agriculture sector.

The Programme

The NQ Dry Tropics Sustainable Agriculture programme offers information, training and support to assist agricultural producers to use best management practices for resilient landscapes and productive enterprises.

The Projects

The Building Resilience in the Burdekin Grazing Industry project is funded through the Queensland Government Regional NRM Investment Program. The project involves a group of three landholders (managing over 56,000ha between them) trialling the Holistic Management approach to improve their economic, social and environmental performance. The project demonstrated this approach in the priority Bowen Broken Bogie (BBB) basin to improve land condition, water resources and other environmental assets. The Australian Government National Landcare Programme Sustainable Soils for the Burdekin project supports landholders to better understand soil health and management, as well as share knowledge and undertake strategic on-ground management activities.

For more information NQ DRY TROPICS I TEL 07 4724 3544 I 12 WILLS STREET TOWNSVILLE CITY I WWW.NQDRYTROPICS.COM.AU

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Page 1 of 6. The three-year (2013-16) Building Resilience in the Burdekin Grazing Industry project is funded through. the Queensland Government's Regional NRM Investment Program. CASE STUDY. GLENALPINE. Stock impact effectively treats gully erosion. (right). Who. Barry and Leanne O'Sullivan, sons. Wayde, Luke ...

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