Keegan and Zilla Green have lived on Old Good Hope with their three daughters since it was purchased by Zilla’s dad, Greg Ashton, in 2015. In that time, Mr Ashton has been sharing the basics of regenerative farming, knowledge he learnt through RCS some decades ago.
Armed with plenty of ambition and bold ideas, the Green family have been tackling weeds, improving production and navigating their farm with confidence and strategic direction.
Mr Ashton first honed his regenerative agriculture skills through RCS courses back in the nineties. Keegan and Zilla, who now play an active management role in the business, have followed suit, attending GrazingforProfit® in 2017.
They have since refined their learnings with the support of the Grassroots Project (Grassroots), funded through the Queensland Government’s Reef Water Quality Program. This project aimed to reduce run-off to the Great Barrier Reef in the Fitzroy, Burnett-Mary and Mackay-Whitsunday regions while increasing grazing profitability.
After laying more than 20km of poly pipe to connect 25 new watering points on their 4,818-hectare Springsure operation, the Old Good Hope managers are reaping the rewards of a more strategic approach to stock management. The planned watering network laid the foundation for the application of rotational grazing methods that not only grew the productivity of the land through more even pasture utilisation but also helped wage war on parthenium weed.
“We would have easily reduced the parthenium by 75% in some areas,” Keegan said. “Allowing the country to rest properly, let the grass fight back through. There is certainly still parthenium here, but we know we are heading in the right direction with it.”
To help mitigate drought, they established feed pens in 2020, built to Meat and Livestock Association feedlot standards, to ensure their stock has a place to be fully backgrounded in dry times when the country needs rest, and allow them the opportunity to buy and sell regardless of turbulent market conditions.
“We use the MaiaGrazing app to monitor and log our rotations and to set up graze plans to ensure the stocking rate matches the carrying capacity. How often we shift cattle depends on the season, the rain we have had and the grass in the paddock. The app helps us easily work out if the amount of grass in the paddock is adequate for the stocking rate,” says Keegan.
Rotational grazing and the establishment of the new water network (which had funding support from the Fitzroy Basin Association and Central Highlands Regional Resources Use Planning Cooperative Limited) was first implemented in 2015. Since then, regenerative practices have helped Old Good Hope grow into a robust backgrounding operation.
Cattle are bought from sales as far north as Mareeba and graze between 14 paddocks across blade-ploughed softwood scrub, Brigalow, Blue Gum Creek flats and Cyprus pine country. From there, they benefit from 420ha of dryland forage crops and 60ha of irrigated silage crops watered by a centre pivot before being grown from 400kg to 480kg and sent to a Southern Queensland feedlot.
“We are turning off between 1,800 and 2,500 head per year, and it’s our goal to eventually reach 3000 head,” Keegan said.
Productivity gains are also achieved through supplementing stock through DIT AgTech technology, where urea is directly injected into their stock’s water, as opposed to supplementing through dry feed. Although the property should receive about 660mm of annual rainfall, totals have never reached more than 450mm since Keegan and Zilla arrived in 2015.
“Andrew’s profit analysis indicated our feed pens, which we have only just set up, are working well for us at the moment, but we learned we will need to keep an eye on market changes,” Zilla said.
Keegan agreed and said his takeaway from the RCS training was to ‘plan’ to be flexible. They now know they need to be proactive and constantly assess their business and adapt it where necessary. “Andrew and George were invaluable,” said Keegan. “It was worthwhile having another set of eyes from someone outside of the business who could be brutally honest with us.”
Keegan and Zilla have now enacted a natural sequence farming plan to take even stronger action to replenish Old Good Hope and guard against erosion challenges the property has succumbed to in the past.
Natural sequence farming is a practice of landscape regeneration that implements earthworks to restore the natural flow of water. For the Green family, this will mean pushing contour banks into their hilly country to slow the flow of rainwater. “We want to try to hold the water flow back into our country a little more as we have some rolling hills,” Keegan said.
“There are a lot of cattle pads, and whenever water gets into them, you can’t stop it getting a run on. That’s why we are doing little earthworks to get the country in a position where the water can flow naturally like it used to.”
While hopeful natural sequence farming will increase productivity, Zilla remains focused on what happens below the soil surface, as she knows this is key to the health of any grazing enterprise. They plan to create healthy soils, so the water can soak right down to the roots, increasing biodiversity and groundcover and reducing the run-off leaving their property.
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