All creatures great and small

Location: Charters Towers

Enterprise: Breeding and fattening

Producer: John and Ronda and Michael and Michelle Lyons

Soil type: Loams on teh Campaspe River frontage to grey cracking clays to light sand ridges

Pasture type: Mostly native pastures augmented with introduced pastures of Urochloa and buffel plus introduced legumes of stylos and desmanthus.

Wambiana has been in the family since 1912. Today it is owned by John and Ronda Lyons and managed by their son Michael and his wife Michelle, who have four young children. 

“Our focus on grass production is critical as it determines how many cattle we can run,” Michael said. 

“In good years, we increase our cattle numbers to utilise the abundant feed, but the trick is to reduce the numbers quickly when the dry times come.” 

For 15 years, Wambiana has been at the centre of a 1,000ha grazing trial, which is testament to the family’s long-term commitment to sustainable agriculture. New research by James Cook University (JCU) offers the opportunity to value-add to the grazing trial, and build a better picture of how production affects the landscape. 

“We try to manage land sustainably and were interested to see the range of animals on our property, as well as animal populations, under the different grazing treatments,” Michael said. 

While Michael believes all native animals have a role to play in the ecosystem and doesn’t want to see any species disappear, he maintains a realistic approach. The Lyons manage the population size of pests and predators of their cattle such as dingos, and control feral pigs that damage riparian areas and reduce biodiversity. 

Looking after more than just cattle 

Herd management at Wambiana has developed to preserve and promote biodiversity by: 

  • managing stock to maintain a high level of groundcover, which promotes soil health for plant and animal biodiversity 
  • maintaining pastures dominated by perennial grasses for reliable stock feed and to provide cover and food for native fauna 
  • rotationally grazing pastures to generate a rest period to replenish plants and provide greater food for all animals 
  • introducing animal biodiversity in the form of camels as a successful biological control for the woody weed, Parkinsonia. 

The Lyons use pasture budgeting at the end of the wet season to match cattle to available grass, and rely on the Southern Oscillation Index to guide selling decisions. 

Michael hopes the impact grazing for biodiversity has on business profitability and productivity will become evident by looking at the results from the grazing trial together with the JCU trial results. 

“Results from the first ten years of the grazing trial show management that maximises long-term profitability also gives the best biodiversity outcomes,” he said. 

“The JCU project will test whether this indeed holds in the longer term.” 

The Lyons showcase their sustainable practices through the Target 100 initiative, and open Wambiana to up to 1,000 school and university students (local and international) each year. They invested in catering and accommodation facilities to diversify income and give visitors the opportunity to experience day-to-day life on a working property. 

“It puts a human face to the grazing industry, and when the students graduate and go out in the world we hope they will have a better understanding of and empathy for land managers,” Michael said. 

The Lyons family were awarded the national MLA On farm Sustainability Award at Beef Australia 2012.

Charters Towers
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