Embracing native groundcover on the Monaro

LLS advice helps pinpoint when native cover can be cleared


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Cooma LLS senior land services officer David Eddy discussing native groundcover with Coolringdon trust managing director Howard Charles.

Cooma LLS senior land services officer David Eddy discussing native groundcover with Coolringdon trust managing director Howard Charles.

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Pasture rotations on Coolringdon gives it edge I Video

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Coolringdon is steeped in history. It's also steeped or stepped in native groundcover.

As one of the oldest continuously run sheep properties on the Monaro, with farm buildings dating back to the mid-19th century, the property, just south-west of Cooma, is also boosting agricultural practice in modern times.

The property was transformed from the time a research trust was set-up by its former owners John and Betty Casey, to be maintained as a working farm with profits going to fund research at the University of Sydney's Faculty of Agriculture and Environment, focused mostly, but not entirely on improving and sustaining Monaro pastures.

The 3400ha farm has delivered nearly $800,000 to research in the last two years. But the size of the contribution during tough seasonal conditions is for a reason. It's profitability is down to pasture management and especially respect for native groundcover, working on the maxim, 'if you get the property right, you'll get your stock right'.

The launch of the restorative regime at Coolringdon was started by former Trust managing director James Litchfield, whose pioneering work has been taken forward by new managing director Howard Charles and his team working the 10,000-14,000 Merinos at Coolringdon.

It's a regime of rotational grazing, but not intensive rotational grazing. The property operates on a 4 to 5 DSE system, with smaller paddocks about 25ha. When a paddock has had its run the sheep are moved into holding pens and hand fed for some time until there is pasture recovery.

Coolringdon is 40 per cent sown to improved pasture, 10 per cent lucerne and 50 percent native groundcover (also part of the sown pastures).

At lambing time, the ewes are paddocked close to wooded areas (there is about 350ha of bush), and then moved before marking is conducted in October, when those lambing paddocks are rested. The grazing ewes and lambs are then moved to the lucerne paddock flats, with about 8cm of growth to feed on, and larger stocking rates possible.

Howard Charles says the system has enabled Coolringdon to boost profits without the need to lift flock sizes. "The priority is the property and making it able to withstand drought, as soon as the feed starts to run low we move the sheep on to grain in containment feedlots until the pasture is much healthier. That's the key to what we do."

Despite a tough two years and now with a reasonable season since March, the pastures have "recovered pretty well". At a recent field day, 30 people attended to see what Coolringdon and the LLS were doing at first hand.

David Eddy, Senior Land Services Officer, based in Cooma, said "some of the biggest challenges on the Monaro are about native groundcover, including grasses, and how it is treated under the Land Management Framework".

Mr Eddy said native groundcover is classified as 'High, Moderate or Low Conservation Value', depending on how modified it is from its original natural state. He said the state of the native groundcover determines whether a landholder can self-assess it to be cleared, or whether an approval from Local Land Services is needed, but Mr Eddy said there are "complexities on the ground".

A great rotation system for pastures on Coolringdon.

A great rotation system for pastures on Coolringdon.

"Native groundcover on the Monaro varies widely in condition, largely as a result of the way it has been grazed, fertilised or cleared since European settlement," Mr Eddy said. "Landholders may be unaware of these regulations or how to assess the condition of native groundcover to inform decision making," he said.

He visited Coolringdon a number of times and conducted on-ground plot assessments, including species identification when Coolringdon wanted advice to develop additional paddocks with improved pasture. He determined that the 40ha area assessed was of a significantly degraded quality, due to past factors including grazing practices dating back to the 1800s. These areas, classed as Category 1 - Exempt land under the Land Management Framework are allowed to be cleared without approval.

Landholders can find out more about their native groundcover options at the Cooma Quarterly Forum on Thursday, 13 June at the Alpine Hotel from 10-12pm. There will also be information about support for African Lovegrass management and Monaro specific solutions under the Land Management Framework.

David Eddy on Coolringdon.

David Eddy on Coolringdon.

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