Leucaena learning at Thangool

Location: Thangool, QLD

Enterprise: Droughtmaster with some terminal crossbreeding to Senepol bulls

Producer: Stuart Barrett

Soil type: Mostly light forest loam in open rangeland with black soil clay flats on ‘Drumburle’,and self-cracking,black clay scrubsoils at ‘Lawgi’

Pasture type: Mixture of native and improved pasture with native bluegrass and black speargrass, Seca stylo, sirato, buffel, creeping bluegrass and purple pigeon grass.

Stuart Barrett has been growing leucaena for the past six years on ‘Drumburle’ and ‘Lawgi Station’ near Thangool, in Central Queensland. He says it’s difficult to get going, but worth the trouble once established. 

In mid-2008 he joined forces with the Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (QDAFF) Senior Pasture Agronomist Stuart Buck to set up a PDS that tested the benefits of ripping or not ripping soil prior to planting leucaena. 

“We have always used deep ripping for pasture renovation and have seen big results, so I expected much the same on the leucaena,” Stuart said. 

“That didn’t eventuate on both soil types, which was a surprise.” 

The trial found a short-term establishment benefit from ripping on loam soils, but no benefit from ripping clay soils. 

I have found it is always easier to establish leucaena on the black cracking clay soils, and I have a terrible time getting it right on the lighter loams, so I’ll consider anything that will lead to a higher success rate when planting into that type of soil,” Stuart said. 

The PDS also tested the practice of removing all grass versus removing grass in strips, prior to planting. The results were inconclusive due to inadequate establishment on plots at one site and the limited time frame of the trial. 

“I’d love to know whether it would be worth the extra cost in completely removing the grass,” Stuart said. 

“I currently strip cultivate a seed bed and then spray the grass between. I don’t have the resources – time, dollars and equipment – to cultivate a 40ha area when I can strip cultivate a seed bed less than one-third of that area for the same outcome, even if it does take a bit longer to establish.”

Stuart introduced leucaena in order to gain protein and nitrogen where he needed it most – in the forest country – and add to the pasture mix on the scrub soils. 

“I like the fact it’s a fodder crop that, unlike oats or sorghum, doesn’t need to be re-planted every year,” he said. 

“It does go right back to sticks in the winter when it’s frosted, but grows back from the base in spring. It’s packed full of protein, has a taproot and fixes nitrogen. 

“At this stage, I’m achieving additional weight gains of 0.15–0.20kg/head/day. Weaning onto leucaena can also see weaners hold onto more weight than on native pasture alone, and in times of need I’m able to sell off dry stock and open it up to breeding cattle.” 

Lessons learned

  • Talk to as many people as possible who have experience with leucaena. 
  • Plan for additional labour requirements during establishment.
  • Be aware that it takes cattle time to get used to leucaena and really get going.
  • Lock up the paddock for a year during establishment, which gives all the pasture a very long break. 
  • Monitoring is important, as you need to leave 10–20% leaf on the leucaena for regrowth, so the grass gets that break as well.
Thangool, QLD
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