Doing things differently paying dividends for John and Jane McLaughlin – KIT Day wrap up

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The verandah at “Mounefontein” was overflowing at the RCS KIT Day last Wednesday when nearly 45 people joined John and Jane McLaughlin and Terry McCosker for an engaging day of learning and sharing among the community.

The topics for discussion were:

  • Improving pasture condition using grazing management
  • Recovery of pastures and finances after drought
  • Animal behavior and stress in the mob
  • Legumes
  • Reproduction and cattle fertility
  • People
  • Foreign Investment and the China Live Export

With so much covered, the take-homes were endless, though there were three standouts:

1. You get what you focus on

When the McLaughlins moved from rotational grazing to cell grazing in 1998, John says, “the biggest shift was to focus on the grass not the cattle”.

At the beginning of the discussion on improving pasture condition using grazing management, Terry stated, “you get what you focus on, that applies to ecology, that applies to life.”

Over infestation with undesirable grass species such as Wire Grass, Pitted Blue Grass and Barbed Wire Grass has proven troublesome for John and Jane but their management and focus using tools such as the “6 RCS Principles of Regenerative Grazing Management” is continually phasing these species out and moving toward paddocks abundant with higher successional plants such as Black Spear Grass, Scented Top, Forest Blue Grass, Queensland Blue Grass and Kangaroo Grass.

Terry summed the discussion up perfectly, “Focus on Wiregrass and you get more Wiregrass. You have to ignore the undesirables and manage your grazing to promote the desirables – that’s what John and Jane have done.”

2. Strategies after drought – knowing when it’s “actually” over and once it is, keeping the cash-flow healthy

The McLaughlins like many in Queensland are currently in drought. Through diligent application of the grazing management principles mentioned above, their country is doing well and their breeders are averaging a body condition score 3. With mating coming up, this BCS will be conducive to maximised reproduction rates.

Even though they’re managing their circumstances well now, John and Jane are always looking ahead. They posed the question to Terry: “What strategies can we apply once the drought is over?”

Pastures – “The biggest challenge is actually knowing when the drought is over” said Terry. “Just because you get some rain, does not mean the drought is over… the drought is not over until your rolling rainfall has exceeded your yearly average”.

“The grazing chart is the only tool I know that can predict a drought. You are ahead of the game if you’ve got that warning. Using the rolling (total rainfall over the last 12 months) you can determine whether the moisture you’ve received is just a ‘claytons break’ versus a point where the drought is actually over.”

Finances – Terry emphasised that “the cashflow drought starts after the drought is finished”. Once the drought is over, the best strategy you can apply is to get into enterprises with quick turnover, e.g. trading and agistment.

3. Be open to extra income through sources such as timber

John and Jane have been managing some of their forest country for timber growth for sale. Bob Baldwin who initially helped the McLaughlin’s determine their timber resource and its management strategy, spoke on the potential of trees as extra income. John said that the figures on his property have shown the gross margin from timber is $60/ha per annum (this is not annual income, it’s lumpy). Terry put that into perspective by adding that the average gross margin for cattle in the area is $20-$30/ha.

Shane Joyce added that the role of trees in the grazing and cropping industry is mostly always overlooked. He said, “when we went about removing and clearing trees, we wrecked the mineral cycle and we wrecked the water cycle. If you flew over Queensland now with the view that we’d set out to create a desert, you’d say we’ve been really effective. We need to get deep rooted plants back into the landscape.”

Some of the benefits John mentioned when discussing trees were:

  • Additional cashflow
  • Resilience – doesn’t die in drought
  • Value on timber
  • Long term investment
  • Biodiversity credits and carbon credits through both soil and tress were also discussed as extra sources of income off the land.

Hard work and tough decisions paying off

John and Jane have demonstrated, in a very bad season, what can be achived for the land, the pasture, the livestock and the business by having a vision, seeking advice and making the tough decisions.

By Kate Murfet
Product Development and Marketing