Of droughts and flooding rains

Location: Karratha, WA

Enterprise: Beef cattle for the south-west WA feedlot system

Producer: Robyn, Tony and Jamie Richardson

Pasture type: Native grasses such as Mitchell grass of floodplain and spinifex on the rises

Fewer animals may well hold the key to long-term sustainability for this northern cattle enterprise, but Robyn Richardson doesn’t rely on a business plan based just on numbers.

Robyn said, “It’s also about overall profitability and sustainability – you need to achieve those key indicators.”

“Cattle are the means by which we get an income off the land but if we don’t look after the country – we don’t get the income. Higher productivity from fewer animals is our ultimate goal.”

Robyn, who runs Mt Florance with her husband Tony and son Jamie, was a member of the steering committee that helped develop the pilot Pilbara GLM program.

“Overall, management in the Pilbara is not a lot different from elsewhere in northern Australia, but we needed to use specific examples that relate to the Pilbara – descriptions of the landscape in this region and forage produced specific to the land systems,” she said.

“I think there’s value in anything that gives people information to sustainably manage their operations.”

The Richardsons made a decision 20 years ago to focus on alleviating the constant impact of dry seasons and improve the Mitchell grass pastures, which had been severely affected by cattle in parts. This started with more water points and improved fencing.

A good flood

Mt Florance is a long thin property that follows the ephemeral Fortescue River. A large portion of the station is on a floodplain.

“The river runs through the centre of the property, and most years we get a ‘local run’. A full run from right up the top of the catchment happens maybe about one in every five to seven years.

“There’s Mitchell grass on the floodplain and the cattle flog it if we let them – we need to be careful how we manage it. It’s the first thing to come up after rain and we need to allow it to go to seed before being grazed.

“If it wasn’t for our fencing, the cattle would hang around on the country they like. We move the cattle off the floodplain and on to the spinifex to spell the native grasses,” Robyn said.

“It’s not just the wet seasons that need management.

“The dry seasons are always a problem,” she said. “Now, if we get a dry summer, we take calves off the cows and truck the cattle south but keep the breeders.”

In 1998, the Richardsons decided to move out of sheep to focus on one sustainable enterprise.

“The country is pretty healthy now and it’ll get better,” Robyn said.

Lessons learned

  • GLM involves working with the sustainability and carrying capacity of the country in different seasons.
  • Fencing around different land condition classifications is a useful tool to manage over-grazing.
Karratha, WA
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