IN EARLY September, on the downward slope of a long cold winter in the Snowy Mountains, most of the land around Berridale was grazed close to the ground.
But not “Murlingbung”.
Since 1994, Stewart Reid has been practising rotational grazing on his 1800-hectare property.
A good proportion of that time coincided with some of the hardest spells of drought in the region’s history, and while he wasn’t going backwards, progress was sometimes hard to discern.
But persistence has paid off.
Mr Reid produced so much feed in the wet seasons of the past two years that in September, he still had paddocks not grazed since the previous spring.
“This last couple of years is the best I’ve ever seen it, the most grass I’ve ever grown,” he said.
For Mr Reid, this reflects one of the primary benefits of the planned grazing process: the ability to accurately budget ahead the pasture required by his 4500 sheep and 200 breeding cows.
“The grazing chart was really important during the drought,” Mr Reid said, referring to the grazing planning chart produced by Resource Consulting Services.
“An agent thought I was panicking when I sold off a lot of stock at one time, but I’d just worked through my grazing chart and worked out how much feed I’d get if it rained. It wasn’t going to work. The agent later said I’d got it right.”
Mr Reid set off on the rotational grazing path in 1994, after a decade of struggling to overcome the lingering effects of the 1979-83 drought.
Like many in the high country, he had begun pasture improvement programs fed by bigger doses of superphosphate.
This promoted the growth of sub-clover, which died off in summer leaving large patches of bare ground – ideal breeding ground for wingless grasshoppers, in some seasons a scourge as severe as drought, and for weed propogation.
Seeking better answers, in 1994 Mr Reid spent a week in Queanbeyan at one of the last Grazing for Profit courses given by Stan Parsons in Australia.
He returned fired with enthusiasm and began running up to 2000 sheep and 100 head of cattle boxed together.
“That was fine until you had a water problem,” he recalls.
He quickly learned that good grazing needed good infrastructure.
Until then, he had relied on creeks and springs for water.
In country notorious for having little groundwater, he pushed down a couple of bores that gave 3800 litres an hour between them, and set about the long process of fencing the place into 130 properly-watered paddocks.
An immediate effect of the fencing was better pasture utilisation.
In his old large paddocks, in winter, stock abandoned the cold south faces of the hillsides and flogged out the warmer northern faces.
Fencing along the ridgelines meant that Mr Reid could utilise the southern faces better.
In summer, stock would hang around damper areas, also the preferred habitat of liver fluke.
Strategic fencelines have allowed him to keep stock out of flukey country, with big benefits to animal health.
“I have a lot less problems with fluke, and last summer was the first year I had problems with barbers pole for 15 years. We’ve been getting away with two drenches a year.
“When I was set stocked we were having barbers pole in sheep at this time of the year, which isn’t supposed to happen.”
One of his primary goals, to improve groundcover, has been met, with rewards of its own.
He’s recently noted a few large old serrated tussock plants that obviously took hold on patches of bare ground during the last drought.
“If we hadn’t watched our groundcover there could potentially be a lot more.”
Mr Reid’s biggest problems are with kangaroos – “they like rested country as much as anything else” – and with kangaroo grass and poa tussock.