Lifestyle becomes a living at Worona Station
GRAZIER Chris LeFeuvre (pictured) isn’t the type of bloke to shirk a challenge.
When he and wife Theresa purchased Worona Station 10 years ago, much of the land was in poor condition, and they were warned it would never be a viable business.
Chris was farming in Giru, growing mangoes and zucchinis, and raising cattle with brothers Peter and Paul.
He left that to buy Worona Station, a 6,400ha (16,000 acres) block at Reid River.
Chris said his accountant was dubious when he made the move.
“Okay, you’ve bought this place, what are you going to do for a job?” he asked Chris.
Advice from all quarters was that Chris and Theresa would never be able to make Worona commercially viable because it was simply too small to make a living.
A decade later, after plenty of hard work, Worona has been transformed.
Lush native pasture has replaced areas of bare scalded earth, stocking rates have more than doubled, and what was initially, a lifestyle, has become a thriving business.
“We’ve gone from 800 head to 2200 head through better grazing, land and water management, on some pretty ordinary country,” Chris said.
“Now we can make quite a comfortable living here. There’s a big difference in the number of cattle you can run if you apply some management.”
Chris turned Worona’s fortunes around by tackling eroded gullies, making use of every available drop of rainfall, and by using his cattle as a land regeneration tool.
Gullies occur when fast-flowing rainwater meets bare earth, gouging the land and causing valuable water and topsoil to wash away into creeks and then onto the Great Barrier Reef.
Chris has employed various methods to address erosion on Worona.
His most recent project involved constructing contour banks above a series of badly eroded gullies, to slow down, and redirect, flowing water.
Not only did this prevent further erosion, it also enabled the water to seep slowly into other parts of the paddock, rehydrating the landscape and promoting grass growth.
PICTURED: NQ Dry Tropics Grazing Field Officer Sam Skeat (left) with Worona Station grazier Chris LeFeuvre check on the success of the erosion control treatment.
He said the method was simple, inexpensive and achieved multiple benefits.
Standing at the head of a gully that empties into the Haughton River, Chris indicated a swathe of country that, before treatment, was scalded with little ground cover.
“The cattle used to camp here, and it was rapidly eroding,” he said.
“We put up a series of contour banks to take the water away from the head of the gully turning it in the opposite direction, and spreading it out across the flood plain.”
He said it took about three quarters of a day with the property’s D6 dozer and cost about $1000.
“The aim was to slow the water down and take the energy out of it, catch the sediment, infiltrate it into the soil, grow grass, and stop the erosion,” he said.
“That gully used to be bare, and now it’s filled in and growing grass again.
“That grass will catch all the fine sediment and then help to build a rich layer of topsoil in the bottom of the gully.”
It’s obviously working.
Making the rainy season last all year
“Even though it hasn’t rained for a few weeks, the water’s still trickling across the ground here and making its way through the landscape and spreading out all the way down,” Chris said.
“So that spreads your season out. The day the rain stops is not the day the water disappears.
“Before we did this work, we wouldn’t find any moisture here two days after the rain, it was all whoosh, straight down into the creek. “
Chris said previously three-quarters of the rain on the property was lost in run-off, a wasted resource.
“Everybody complains about there not being enough water,” he said.
“We get enough rain here every year, but we weren’t using it.
“Now, even in the dry years here, we can capture the water and not have any runoff. Some years when we only get 300 or 400ml, we can capture all that rainfall.”
Carefully managed stocking rates and movement of cattle around the property was key to the transformation on Worona.
Chris believes those management practices produced enough good quality pasture to carry them through some very dry years.
“In the past 10 years, we’ve had dry years and wetter years and we’ve had to drop our numbers a little bit, but we’ve never had to destock,” he said.
He said the most important management tool he had was being able to measure how much grass they had in the paddock, and knowing how much grass the cattle consumed each day.
“Then we can actually match the stocking rate with the amount of grass we’ve got,” he said.
The main tool he used to treat one of the worst series of gullies on the property was a mob of cattle.
After constructing contour banks, Chris used high-density short-term grazing around the gullies to improve the biology of the soil.
And he ensured the cattle didn’t simply graze where they could cause more erosion.
“We came through here with the cattle and locked them into little sections of about 40 acres for a day,” he said.
They ate the grass right down to ground level, but also laid down manure and urine throughout.
Indicating lush pasture, he said: “And that’s the sort of response you get.
“It’s amazing how that can change in one season. It’s phenomenal.”
Chris said putting cattle back on a set stocking regime would once again destroy the landscape.
“They will just hang around these wet patches, and as the year goes on, they will bring it back to the ground, make cattle pads through it, so it will turn into a dustbowl and we will be back where we started,” he said.
“We want them to eat it down to the ground, but we’ll leave the grass. All the grass roots will be there, so when it rains, the grass is already in place. We’re not coming back from seed.”
The aim was to maintain 100 per cent ground cover, even if the grass was short.
“You can’t infiltrate water into bare soil, you can only infiltrate where there is grass and life in it.
“That way we can capture the most amount of rain possible, and use it.”
NQ Dry Tropics Grazing Field Officer Sam Skeat said rather than simply fixing a gully through mechanical means, it was important to treat the cause, and cattle must be a part of the solution.
“This is about healing the entire landscape, not just an isolated gully,” he said.
“Without good grazing management, no intervention or structure we build will succeed in the long-term.
“We work very closely with landholders to support changes in grazing management to improve landscape function, build ground cover and land condition, and overall productivity of that landscape.
“The way we’re doing things is evolving, and we’re finding that when we look at the bigger picture and integrate remediation structures into the grazing management and the landscape, we’re getting really excellent results.”
Standing knee-high in healthy native pastures, Chris reflected on what has been achieved since he arrived.
“Before we did this grazing, and the contours, all this country was bare. It was all just water flowing over the top of it, no life in it,” he said.
“So you can take it from scalded ground to nearly 100 per cent ground cover.
“Just a little bit of grazing, a couple hours on a bulldozer, and you can turn the scalded area right around.”
This work on Worona Station was supported by the Reef Alliance – Growing a Great Barrier Reef project, funded by the Australian Government’s Reef Trust, through the Queensland Farmers Federation.
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