Raising leucaena

Location: Dingo Qld

Enterprise: Beef cattle

Producer: Hugh and Katie Rea

When all the components needed to plant a leucaena crop aligned, Hugh and Katie Rea embarked on a trial to find out if it was a worthwhile investment. 

Two years down the track, everything is going to plan and significant cattle weight benefits have encouraged them to commit to sowing more leucaena every second year. 

Hugh and Katie live at ‘Rubina’, 30km north of Dingo in Central Queensland, with their three young children. 

Running Droughtmaster cattle over four properties, they fatten bullocks to turn off as three-year-olds for the Japan ox market. 

Having planted 97ha of leucaena at ‘Meekatharra’ in February 2012 and a further 251ha at Rubina this year, they use it to underpin a production goal of 300kg gains in the cattle at a younger age. 

“We put number three weaners (at 290– 300kgs) on the leucaena in late July last year. When we weighed them at the start of May this year at 16–18 months old, they averaged 463kg,” Hugh said. 

“We are going to achieve more than 600kg easily in two years.” 

The 251ha of leucaena has cost more than $70,000 to establish. 

“That accounts for ploughing, planting, spraying, fertilising, labour and our own machinery, valued at contract rates,” Hugh said. 

“I didn’t include the cost of locking the paddock up for nine months.” 

“It is hard to estimate the return on investment. However, roughly if we can get 140 head to bullock stage at two years of age instead of three years, and taking into account light stocking for the first two years, the paddock should pay for itself in four years” Hugh said. 

Before planting leucaena, Hugh burnt the selected paddock to remove buffel grass, as it poses a problem when trying to achieve a fine seed bed. 

“After we burn, we go through with a hydraulic release plough to break up the ground and allow the offset discs to go in, then we power harrow to get that fine seed bed,” he said. 

“We planted double rows 900mm apart on 12-metre centres, but I think we’ll bring them a little closer for future plantings, because I can see us running out of leucaena before grass.” 

Hugh sprayed a six-metre strip with herbicide prior to planting and then, with a full profile of moisture, planted seed in five-centimetre intervals. 

“We also took soil samples and applied fertiliser at planting to correct any soil deficiencies. A 2.5-metre strip is sprayed with a residual herbicide to stop the grass coming back into the strips and taking moisture,” he said. 

A bait for predator insects was also applied. The Reas’ steers graze leucaena year-round. 

“In the early part of the wet season, when the grass is more palatable, the leucaena really comes away,” Hugh said. 

“As the weather cools down and the grass dries off, the growth slows and you can see the cattle getting on top of it. I aim to have the leucaena just about stripped before the wet season to prevent it from turning into trees. 

“Then I’m going to try to hedge some of it early with a mulcher instead of a cutting blade, to smash the stem tops off, so instead of growing straight back up from the cut they sucker from below the smashed area. 

“In future, my plan is to do some early, low trimming and next time lift it 10–15cm to encourage it to shrub. I don’t see the advantage of letting leucaena grow to a four-metre tree and then having to turn it back into a hedge.” 

Lessons learned

  • Graze to keep leucaena down and, if that fails, trim.
  • It’s a big investment, so it’s important to do everything right from the start.
  • A fine seed bed is important to set up.
  • Moisture is needed before planting.
  • Good weed and pest management is vital.
Dingo Qld
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