The Accidental Graziers
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The Accidental Graziers

After Craig and Leslie Hanson’s Brisbane cabinet making and building business of 37 years, Hanson Cabinetmaking and Registered Builder, was flooded in 2011, they felt it would be too heartbreaking to rebuild and decided to move into grazing.

Despite coming to the industry later in their working lives, the pair have taken to grazing like ducks to water.

In the six years since moving full time to “Perseverance” in Upper Kandanga near Gympie, Craig and Leslie have transformed their property, with cell grazing and organic practices making all the difference to the soil and water health.

They both credit the success of their operation to “never getting sick of learning”.

The Hansons heard about Grazing BMP at field days and decided to complete the five modules at a workshop in Gympie in 2015, which they then followed up with accreditation in 2017.

When they applied for Reef Rescue Funding through the Reef Trust Phase III Program to fence off the creek that runs along the bottom of their property to help improve sediment flows, they found one of the pre-requisites of applying is the successful completion of Grazing BMP.

Leslie was delighted to advise that not only had they completed Grazing BMP, they were an accredited property!

Craig could not emphasise enough that developing networks through programs like Grazing BMP and attending field days and workshops were so important for their learning journey.

It is this idea of continuous improvement that Craig and Leslie hope to instil in the younger generation like their grandchildren Max and Poppy – for whom the workplace and health safety focus of the BMP program has been paramount.

When asked about the cell grazing they use, Craig and Leslie are quick to say that they have developed a system that suits them and their property, and in the future envisage using drones to check troughs and automatic gates to move the cattle.

The Hansons also delight in sharing information with their neighbours, particularly downstream users of the creek. Leslie regularly posts photos to the Facebook group so that others can see the depth and condition of the creek, and they visit other farmers and dairies down lower to discuss the water levels.

Interestingly, Craig struggles to read and write due to dyslexia, so Leslie records the business practices, writes up the diaries and makes sure the paperwork is up to date – something she says “comes easily to her after 42 years of marriage!”

The Hansons’ success story is another reminder that the grazing business is truly a “choose your own adventure” and that Grazing BMP can help expose you to networks, information and research so that you can truly end up in a piece of paradise like “Perservance”.

Low Stress Stockhandling – ticking boxes for Animal Welfare and Production
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Low Stress Stockhandling – ticking boxes for Animal Welfare and Production

Livestock producers work within a competitive space under  ever increasing scrutiny from both animal activist groups and  consumers. Cost of production can be prohibitive, but there  are certain things that can be done to improve the quality and  value of the product. LSS is one of them.  Production and  ultimately financial reward are key drivers behind the concepts  embraced through Low Stress Stockhandling Schools.

Research has shown that animals can lose as much as 6 % in  shrinkage and “dark cutters” are severely discounted if not  condemned.  Dark cutting beef (DCB) is largely linked with  stress and the mobilisation of muscle glycogen (energy  store)in the live animal prior to slaughter. Discounts of up to  $0.60/kg can be applied for each carcass determined to be a  dark cutter. This equates to a $150 discount for a 250kg  carcass. Shrinkage directly affects the income of all cattle producers. Shrinkage can be reduced through better handling techniques, attention to environment and diet, market planning and an appreciation of animal psychology.

Numerous trials conducted in the Northern Territory monitored weight loss in mobs of heifers on a particular property.  From paddock weight to weighing at a live export depot, 12% loss of body weight was normal. By working and transporting the animals using Low Stress Stock Handling Techniques, shrinkage was reduced to 8% . This equated to a difference of 14kg/head, @$1.60 = $22.40/hd, or $67,200 over the mob of 3000 head. A trial on young cattle (200-350kg) at Moree, saw 242 head fed for 47 days.  An average daily gain of 1.2kg /day for an intake of 3.25% of animal body weight was achieved. The second mob were handled with some particular LSS methods and consisted of 348 young cattle (200-350 kg) which were fed for an average of 59 days. They ate 3.5% of  their body weight and gained an average of 1.8 kg per day. This group ate 8% more feed and put on 50% more weight. For an extra 16c/day in feed costs they put on an extra 80c/day in value. Over the mob of 348 head, this equates to $278/day or approx. $15,400 increase in profit over the mob. The feed programme for both mobs was the same, and the cattle were similar. The difference in performance was due to the way the two mobs were handled.

Three Low Stress Stockhandling workshops have been held in the Burdekin region over the past twelve months. Organiser Lisa Hutchinson, the Burdekin Grazing BMP coordinator with NQ Dry Tropics, said  “ it is always rewarding to run events that you know will influence individuals, enterprises and ultimately the industry.  The Grazing BMP program exposes beef producers to practices that can help improve the long-term profitability of their enterprise and these schools ticked all the boxes for new knowledge and practical skills that can be implemented immediately. Low stress stock handling challenges everything your Dad taught you, so the schools were both stimulating and thought provoking. Enormous benefits for both animal welfare and production outcomes can be achieved by handling cattle quietly, and there was no-one better equipped to deliver these schools than the man who developed the concepts – Jim Lindsay.”

Grazing BMP provides a breath of fresh air for Monto grazier
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Grazing BMP provides a breath of fresh air for Monto grazier

Kapaldo grazier, Alison Gray, attended a 2 day Grazing BMP workshop in Eidsvold last year and found the Grazing BMP program to be a recipe of ‘just what the doctor ordered’.

Alison could have quite easily have found a reason to stay home and continued to help husband John to muster, draft and transport cattle between properties.  Like so many other landholders, Alison finds it difficult to afford the time to attend workshops, juggling the ever changing priorities and demands of the farm. It’s a big ask when there are horses to feed and water, cattle in the yards to tend to,  and then be expected to travel about an hour to get to the workshop venue and not do any ‘real work’ for the day.

At the beginning of day one of the workshop, Alison was feeling tired, drained, and wondering why she continues to do what she does.  When asked what she hoped to get out of the workshop, Alison responded “I would just like to know that there is some positivity out there”.

Alison and husband John have 4 properties within the Kapaldo, Gin Gin and Mt Perry districts running a 350 breeder and fattening business.  Both have worked hard all of their lives to develop and expand their holdings.  Their children have all grown up and left the farm to pursue their own interests, and do not wish to return to take on the family farm.  The light at the end of the tunnel can at times be hard to see by aging eyes in times of drought.

The Grazing BMP workshops are designed to inspire the participants through presentations by guest speakers, and facilitate discussions between producers to learn from each other’s experiences.  The aim is to deliver information in a manner in which participants can return home and adapt to their business.

Alison was so motivated by day one of the workshop, she returned home and convinced husband John to come with her to day 2.  “Everything came together, and it all made sense.  This morning I had a spring in my step as I fed the animals before I came to the workshop” Alison said.

The Grazing BMP program offers a comprehensive health check for any grazing business.  The program provides the medium for graziers to ‘have a good look’ at every aspect of their enterprise, including people and business, soil health, grazing land management, animal health and welfare and animal production.  It allows landholders to assess how they are currently operating their business against a set of standards developed by the grazing industry for the grazing industry.
The Grazing BMP program was developed by Fitzroy Basin Association (FBA), Agforce Queensland and the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF), supported by Department of Environment and Heritage Protection (DEHP).

BMRG is committed to the protection and enhancement of the agricultural and natural environment of the Burnett Mary region.  If you are a grazier within the Burnett or Mary River Catchments and wish to complete the BMP self-assessment or undertake the audit process, please contact Sue Burt (Grazing Land Management Officer) on 4169 0720 or 0499545627.

Animal modules improve awareness in industry
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Animal modules improve awareness in industry

Animal modules within the Grazing BMP program have been delivered in workshops within the Fitzroy, Burnett Mary and Burdekin basins over the past three years.

Feedback results collected from 266 participants indicate that the workshops have enabled producers to identify areas within their beef business that require improvement through innovative management.

Participants reported increased awareness of the standards presented in the Animal Production and Animal Health and Welfare modules since attending the workshop. The top four were these:

  • role of bull breeding analysis and selecting bulls for genetic improvement
  • management of heifers to improve breeder performance
  • implementing a health management program
  • planning for biosecurity and quarantine.

Bull breeding analysis and selecting bulls for genetic improvement

Bull breeding analysis is a tool that can be used by cattle producers when purchasing bulls.

It is now summarised as Bull Check, which is a comprehensive analysis of the bull performed by a vet. The analysis assesses all aspects of the animal’s structure, which is given a score out of 10.

Semen morphology is also assessed to identify any defects that may be occurring that can affect the ability of the bull to get calves. The complementary tool to Bull Check, Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs), should be used as an estimation of the genetic gain that the bull can offer to the herd of cows he is joined to. More information about Bull Check and EBVs can be found on the FutureBeef website www.futurebeef.com.

Participants at the accelerated grazing best management practise workshop in Emerald. 

Management of heifers to improve breeder performance

Many producers who attend the Animal workshops having trouble getting their maiden heifers back in calf for the second time.

Keeping heifers in a separate mob and not boxing them with the main breeder herd until they calve out for the second time is a tool that can be used to improve reproductive efficiency within first calf heifers.

Heifers can then be able to be managed more intensively. Practices such as early weaning of calves and supplementary feeding of the heifers to maintain body condition during lactation can lead to improved conception rates.

 Of course this strategy depends on how practical it is to keep the heifers separate. More information about heifer management can be found on the FutureBeef website www.futurebeef.com.

Implementing a health management program

Vaccination of cattle can be compared to insurance cover, it can cost money but it can save producers huge economic returns in protection against diseases that decimate calving percentages and production gains.

Some producers vaccinate their cattle for a wide range of diseases, while others don’t vaccinate for any diseases. The aim of the workshop is to provide producers with a guide on which vaccinations that should be given to bulls, breeders and calves. Vaccination protects herds who are naïve to disease. More information about cattle diseases can be found on the FutureBeef website.

Planning for biosecurity & quarantine

Biosecurity is an important issue for the wider industry and individual beef businesses. Farm biosecurity covers disease, pests and weeds.

A farm biosecurity plan is a document that lists procedures that protect the farm from biosecurity issues. It enables the producer to negotiate with mining companies and set standards for all visitors to prevent weed infestation and spread.

A strategy to minimise disease is quarantining new animals entering the property. The quarantine area needs to be a place where animals can be monitored to ensure that they are in good health and don’t spread weeds through faeces. Animals should be quarantined for a minimum of seven days.

 Any unusual disease symptoms observed in livestock should be reported to the relevant authorities, it is imperative that Australia keeps its disease free status for market access. More information about farm biosecurity can be found on www.farmbiosecurity.com.au.

 Standards within the animal modules enable producers to assess where they stand in comparison to industry standards.

 The animal modules enable the industry to demonstrate to the wider community that they take animal welfare seriously and they are willing to embrace new ideas to increase productivity through sustainable management pathways.

 The program has reached a wide audience of producers from many different areas who are passionate about promoting their industry and improving their bottom line.

 The program links directly to extension and producers are encouraged to work with DAF staff to further investigate avenues to improve their management.

Matt Brown
Beef Extension (FutureBeef)
DAF Rockhampton
07 4923 6211