Coolringdon, west of Cooma has deep roots in the pastoral history of the Monaro and it continues to be at the forefront of sustainable management in that region.
Betty Casey bequeathed Coolringdon to the Trustees of the John and Betty Casey Research Trust with a three-fold aim of firstly, running the grazing business on the property, to be a working example of best practice grazing management and sustainability; secondly, to the care and maintenance of the heritage homestead, garden and surrounding buildings and thirdly to Sydney University, through the trust to carry out research into the broad range of problems experienced on the Monaro..
The 3400-hectare property is the home to 5000 Hazeldean-blood Merino ewes, and as station manager Malcolm Pearce explained, these ewes are run with as many as 3000 wethers trade cattle when the opportunity allows.
This tradeable portion of the livestock created some flexibility in tighter seasons, which they had continued to experience into last year, despite the good season in most other parts of the state.
"We are very conscious of maintaining ground cover, so the wethers were sold last year," he said.
"And we put our core breeding ewes into a drought lot to relieve the stress on the land."
Because of the care for the land, Mr Pearce pointed out when rain did come the response was extraordinary.
"We are used to the quick recovery because we have been looking after our ground cover for a long time," he said.
Indeed, it was the vision of longtime trustee, the late James Litchfield to preserve the native and improved pasture through rotational grazing, careful stocking of the lucerne paddocks and native pasture regeneration, that has put Coolringdon in such a strong position through recent dry times.
Maintaining dense ground cover discourages weed growth and the associated proliferation of native perennial grass species like kangaroo grass, wallaby grass and microlena species is preserving soil carbon and therefore soil health.
To achieve those aims, the property has been subdivided into 80 paddocks where sheep graze for five to six days depending upon the season and the amount of time needed for the pasture to recover.
"Rest period is critical and I try have about 30 days rest before the pasture is grazed," Mr Pearce explained.
"We find 200DSE (dry sheep equivalebent) days/ha is optimum, and in good seasons that could go to 250-300DSE, while in dry periods we cut back to under 200DSE days/ha.
"If we go under 100DSE days/ha, the sheep are put into the feedlots to preserve existing ground cover and keep the condition on the sheep."
Mr Pearce acknowledged the yield decreases in the May-shorn fleeces due to straw and dust, but at the end of the day he is more concerned about looking after the country.
"Anyway, they would be getting just as dusty is left in the paddocks and fed," he pointed out.
"Preserving our perennial pastures is necessary because it is very expensive to replace them.
"They do recover, but we do have to look after them with our rotational grazing."
Grazing the lucerne paddocks is a lot different and as Mr Pearce explained, during the summer up to 500DSE days/ha is achieved with 25 days rest periods.
"We have eight years of data on hard drive and we can see which are the most productive paddocks, generally the lucerne paddocks," he said.
"But the most critical thing is the rest time."
Besides the Merino flock, Coolringdon is the base for research of great interest to landholders on the Monaro.
This research is led by the University of Sydney's senior lecturer in sustainable grassland management, Dr Lachlan Ingram, Cooma.
His research with the HighFire Project with some really important messages for bushfire mitigation in the future involves fuel reduction burns on the Monaro high country, along with eradication or control of African lovegrass and serrated tussock, each introduced species invading the natural grasslands on the Monaro.
Coolringdon is an amazing asset for the wider Monaro pastoral community and one of three trustees, Howard Charles, is conscious of it's importance.
"Coolringdon's role of leading the way and researching and demonstrating best farming practice is of critical importance to the future of the farming industry on the Monaro and to governments that need successful examples to highlight these messages," Mr Charles noted.
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