While the principal enterprises are breeding and fattening Brahman-cross cattle, the property is strategically managed for environmental and production outcomes since current management took over operations in 1995.
2017 will mark one hundred years of Gordon family ownership of Mt Pleasant Station. Jamie Gordon and his sister Joan have been the decision makers since 1995, along with Jamie’s wife Garlone Moulin and children Georgia and Louis and Joan’s partner Bill Jardine.
The vision for the business is to develop a ‘multi gender, multi-generational run operation’ by establishing a number of small, low capital, low risk complementary enterprises involving on-farm manufacturing, processing and environmental tourism.
Up until 2000, the property ran around 2,130 head grazing moderately to heavily and burned regularly under a continuous grazing regime. This resulted in a dominance of Indian couch and large areas of C and D condition land, while parts of property were still under-utilised.
In 2000, Jaimie and Garlone attended a Resource Consulting Services Grazing for Profit School. “For the first time we believed that we could make a positive difference to the state of the landscape, our natural resource base and ultimately the long-term viability of the property,” said Jamie.
Following this, most of the herd was sold with only a small breeding herd retained and additional numbers were made up of agistment cattle to allow maximum flexibility in herd numbers.
Since the early 2000s, the family moved from continuous grazing to a mix of rotational and cell grazing, delivering benefits to the business and environment.
On the southern side of the property a herd of ~1,000 SLU spend between less than one day to max of three days in each of the 63~100ac paddocks. Each paddock receives a minimum of 60 days rest between each grazing and up to 180 days over the dry. The northern side of the property is still being developed.
Grazing is monitored to ensure rest is timed and controlled to achieve several rest periods throughout the year with an expectation of a minimum of 200-300 graze-free days per year. The target is to have 30 per cent residual after the final grazing with 100 per cent cover.
“We aim to have each species of grass reach its full growth potential at least once a year,” said Jamie.
Mt Pleasant has few weeds and no significant rubber vine or Chinee apple infestations due to the diligence and foresight of the previous generation.
This has become an ongoing, unrelenting weed control program.
The family believes maintaining a healthy pasture provides competition for the pest plant seedlings.
“We would spend a day pulling up goat head weeds around the house but now they are a rarity, only along the road to the yards,” said Bill.
Image: NQ Dry Topics staff with Garlone and Bill taking soil samples.
Motivators for change
Viewing themselves as the ‘conductors of the natural resource orchestra’ has allowed the families of Mt Pleasant Station to manage the health of the natural resource base for optimum vigour and maximum performance.
“The property was going backwards under continual grazing and I wanted to leave this property in a better state for my kids,” said Jamie.
Under the continual grazed system with limited infrastructure, Indian couch became the dominant pasture grass and large areas of the property were average (C) to poor (D) condition land; while parts of property were still under-utilised.
Impact of the changes
The grazing system, and its efficient nutrient and water cycling systems, has enabled the re-establishment of many grass and browse species though lost to the ecosystem.
“Despite the ongoing ‘dry conditions’ we are still enjoying the benefits of pasture improvements and the reestablishment of native tree species in areas where cattle had grazed them out before we made these improvements,” said Bill.
“This in turn has encouraged the native flora and fauna to return to the property. At Mt Pleasant the intricate relationships between environment, people, animals and community is recognised and the symbiotic relationships affecting the health vigour and resilience of each, is understood,” said Jamie.
Controlled grazing results in evenness of graze which in turn means better ground cover so less water runs off and therefore more water seeping into the soil.
When cell grazing was introduced 80 per cent of the pasture was Indian couch and ground cover levels were at best 60 per cent. Today more than 90 per cent ground cover is maintained and only 45 50 per cent of pasture is Indian couch.
Increased drought resilience through better water holding capacity of soils has allowed protein levels in grasses to be maintained longer.
Joan said the current herd is roughly 2,250 but this varies with the seasons and is adjusted during the year.
“We have a combination of our breeding, growing and fattening cattle, our trading cattle and agistment. The herd is now back to above previous numbers while performance has improved, with steers able to be turned off at two to three years of age,” said Joan.
A Profit Probe economic analysis shows that gross margin per animal has doubled from 1999 to 2014 based on three year averages. And while their profit per animal has doubled their carrying capacity has also increased by >35 per cent.
Garlone said: “With careful management we have been able to grow more grass with less rain.”
“We calculate stock days per hectare per 100mm rainfall [SDH/100mm] using average number of stock, total grazed hectares and average rainfall for a 12 month period. This figure is then used to do forward fodder budgets. We started with 9 SDH/100mm but currently run at 13 SDH/100mm,” she said.
“Our management has not produced miracles, particularly in the early stages of implementation, so with the outlook for this coming wet season looking like it will deliver our fourth lower than normal growing season, we will revisit this in April and may bring the benchmark down again if necessary to maintain good land health.”
Showcasing to broader community
The family is actively involved in sharing and learning with their community, and recently won the
Premiers Sustainability Rural Award that recognises the achievements of Queensland producers who have developed a sustainable and profitable agricultural business, while demonstrating improved environmental performance.
The family has been part of the Burdekin Dry Tropics Land Management Advisory Group and the Bowen representatives for the Burdekin-Bowen Integrated Floodplain Management Advisory Committee and Jamie is currently on the board for NQ Dry Tropics as a Community Director representative.
They have opened the gates of Mt Pleasant to share their experiences, hosting various field days including KIT (Keeping in Touch) days, and the highly successful NQ Dry Tropics Women in Grazing bus tour.
The family is also working with the NRM Spatial Hub Rangeland NRM alliance which is developing and testing programs using integrated property remote sensor systems.
Garlone said: “To be resilient in this environment – economically, socially and ecologically – we must diversify and value add to our business by using ‘spare capacity’.”
“We have demonstrated that you can not only stop the decline in pasture and land condition, but actually improve it as you run a profitable commercial enterprise – we will continue to build on that,” she said.
“The changes we have made to our grazing management have, and will continue to, provide the best level of drought tolerance possible. We estimate that continual monitoring of all aspects of the operation ensures that the operation is ‘purpose driven not profit driven’.”
“Profit Probe, landscape function analysis and Grazing BMP will continue to be used as part of a process of constant re-evaluation which will motivate change where necessary,” Garlone said.