Greg and Sally Chappell have shown that pasture improvement using organic-based fertilisation together with carefully planned stock management can overcome significant weed problems and vastly improve productivity.



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12km east of Glen Innes, NSW Northern Tablelands

ENTERPRISE: Cattle. Angus bull breeding from high performance seed stock

PROPERTY SIZE: 1450 hectares


ELEVATION: 1000-1090 m


  • Drought, economic viability and gaining a deeper understanding of biological cycles


  • Organic fertilisation tailored to soil and plant nutrient requirements
  • No cultivation or herbicides
  • Managed grazing pressure
  • Innovations commenced: 2005


  • 30-35% reduction in production costs
  • 10% increase in production
  • 20% increase in bull and heifer weight gain
  • Rejuvenated pastures and weed control


Greg Chappell taught agricultural science at the Farrer Memorial Agricultural High School (FMAHS) for 13 years before taking up farming full-time. He and Sally then developed an Angus bull breeding business, initially at Willow Tree. When the business out-grew the farm they moved to a property at Moree and then, in 2001, to Shannon Vale Station. Although he had taught conventional agriculture at FMAHS, Greg’s experience on his original farm at Willow Tree made him realise that conventional methods weren’t sustainable, so he was already beginning to explore other methods of land management when faced with the weed challenge that emerged at Shannon Vale.

Weeds including African lovegrass (Eragrostis curvula), blackberry (Rubus fruticosus), nodding thistle (Carduus nutans), Chilean needle grass (Nassella neesiana), carpet grass (Axonopus spp.), rat’s tail fescue (Vulpia myuros), sorrel (Rumex acetosa) and St Johns wort (Hypericum perforatum) were proliferating under the previous management system at Shannon Vale, badly damaging productivity and profits. Using organic-based fertilisation targeted specifically to address soil nutritional deficiencies, Greg and Sally worked to create an environment that allowed pasture species to re-establish from dormant seed. The Chappells experienced productivity increases after only two years. Pastures now out-compete the weed species and are capable of sustaining growth rates in the bulls of around one kilogram a day all year round.



image of Shannon Vale Station
Shannon Vale Station

Shannon Vale Station is a gently undulating property with five kilometres of frontage to the Mann River. It is a remnant of a 250,000 hectare estate allocated in the 1820s to an officer of the New South Wales Corps, after whom the river was named. Following fragmentation and many changes of ownership and use, Greg and Sally Chappell acquired the property in 2001.

Due to the high elevation of around 1000 metres, summers at Shannon Vale are mild and winters cold; temperatures can drop down to minus 17 degrees Celsius and snow is common. Soils are transitional and weathered granite sand to sandy loams; these are poorly structured, highly erodible and have a high rate of leaching so that nutrients can be lost quickly.

Today, Shannon Vale Station comprises a total of 1450 hectares and is managed solely to breed Angus bulls. Bull breeding presents unique requirements for farm management. A high rate of weight gain must be maintained at all times so that bulls reach market weight within 24 months, while stocking rates must allow for the paddock space required to minimise interaction between the bulls.

However it was other challenges that the Chappells were initially up against upon taking ownership of Shannon Vale.



By the time the Greg and Sally bought the property it had been subject to many years of a conventional annual superphosphate and nitrogenous fertiliser program and regular pasture improvement. Pasture improvement consisted of using herbicide to eliminate all species already present, complete cultivation, addition of superphosphate and nitrogenous fertilisers and then sowing with preferred pasture species, which were mainly annuals. Set stocked grazing management was used. Some areas had been used to grow corn, potatoes and other crops, however the light granite soils of the property were not really suited to sustaining such high nutrient-requiring crops.

The initial efforts of Greg and Sally were focused, within the day-to-day management of the property, on improving measured carcase trait performance of their product lines, the Dulverton Angus and the Currawee crossbreds. The attempts to provide all-year-round nutrition to this seed stock enterprise were based on the standard agronomic approach to farming in that region: weed knock down chemicals, cultivation to prepare seed beds, application of nitrogenous and phosphatic fertilisers and use of annuals such as Italian rye, oats and soy beans in rotation.

The use of the standard agronomic approach and a decade of drought resulted in the seed stock not realising their full genetic potential in regard to growth to sale weight over time to maturity and the expected 90% weaning rate of the cows. It became apparent to Greg and Sally that their pastures were not delivering adequate protein and energy and that digestibility was poor.

Besides the production issues, the combined effect of pasture management, cropping practices and climate led to large tracts of the property becoming completely dominated by weeds. As Greg and Sally say, “The weeds won”.

…we were in a cycle of dependence on inputs to sustain and prop up the production that was not economically viable.

The most problematic of the weeds was African lovegrass, which has negligible nutritional value and which effectively shuts down production of palatable pasture species by blocking sunlight and access to nutrients and moisture. This grass was so pervasive that 80-100% of each paddock would return to African lovegrass after pasture sowing. The pastures were lasting two to two and a half years after each conventional pasture renovation cycle but it was taking three to three and a half years to recoup the cost of renovation. The Chappells explain, “It became necessary to spray out [with herbicide] and start again before the economics made it pay. Hence we were in a cycle of dependence on inputs to sustain and prop up the production that was not economically viable”.

Topsoil was being lost to sheet erosion caused by rainfall on bare soils across the property, and river banks were eroding due to cattle traffic. Organic carbon levels were falling, which reduced water-holding capacity and increased sensitivity to drought. The property had become dependent on high cost inputs of fertilisers and other chemicals, and in addition, grain that cost $500 a tonne was needed to sustain weight gain on the bulls.

Despite all the costly inputs, the weeds were taking over, productivity was declining and the business was going under. Greg recalls, “The majority of gross margin achieved in the sale of production was consumed in the maintenance of pasture production”.

At this point, Greg and Sally came to the realisation that weeds flourish in poor soils and that the structure, chemistry and biology of the soil, and soil health in general, needed attention.

Greg recalls, “The decade of drought made it increasingly obvious that the production system overlaying our landscape was brittle. It was not sustainable beyond short term props from seed, chemical, drench, fertiliser, drugs! In 13 years as an Ag Teacher and 20 years as a grazier we came to acknowledge the importance of the biological and physical components of the system in addition to the chemistry”.

In terms of the decision to change, Greg notes, “[It was] drought and economic viability primarily, with deeper understanding of biological cycles, role of floral succession, potential for beneficial grazing impact on landscape. Reappraisal of practices and enterprise viability led to a decision to act”.



From 2005, the traditional pasture renovation program based on synthetic fertilisers, herbicide and cultivation was totally abandoned and replaced with one based on planned grazing, use of organic fertilisers and no soil disturbance. Greg and Sally sought advice from local consultants on pasture management and nutrition and compost production.

Greg describes, “We have, since 2006, embraced the biological approach. We are rebuilding soil structure by increasing the organic and carbon content of the soil. Our research has indicated that for each additional 1% of carbon stored in the soil, we are able to improve the water holding capacity by 144,000 litres per hectare on an annual basis. To date we have increased our soil organic carbon content across our 11 monitored sites. This increase equates to an additional water holding capacity of 120,000 to 150,000 litres per hectare, on an annual basis.”

Additional water holding capacity is important. Although annual rainfall averages between 750-850mm, in recent years it has ranged from 544.5mm in 2002 to 1078.5mm in 2011.


Soil Organic Carbon1.00%1.46%1.44%1.47%
Phosphorus [Colwell]31ppm34.5ppm32.2ppm40ppm
pH Range4.7 – 5.35.1 – 5.75.85 – 6.435.84 – 7.16
Average pH55.46.56.47

Greg and Sally point out that soil health underpins their whole operation. “We have embarked on a course of putting emphasis on soil health and, in doing so, improving our pasture productivity. However, we don’t compromise our animals. Our business success depends on those animals achieving the key performance indicators for growth to maturity.”

image of pasture
Lush pastures have returned to Shannon Vale, assisted by the improved soil health.

In the rejuvenation of their soils and pastures, the Chappells use techniques that include:

  • applying compost
  • mulching existing pasture stubble
  • rotational grazing
  • sod seed/direct drill seed
  • strategically timed foliar nutrition sprays to increase feed quality or quantity



“Other than for spraying blackberry patches, no herbicides have been used on Shannon Vale for approximately six years. Basically, we changed from synthetic fertiliser to a manure-based compost, being differentiated from others by having additional trace elements or macro nutrients added to round it out to a complete fertiliser which best matched our specific soils. This was not possible with conventional granular fertiliser. Where needed, we add pasture seed into the compost for broadcasting in place of cultivation.”

We have managed to create the environment required for succession to allow dormant seed to re-emerge and compete with the weed species.

The organic fertiliser used on Shannon Vale is derived from composted feedlot wastes to which macro nutrients and trace elements are added. The nutrients and trace elements added are based on plant analysis. Using sap analysis as well as plant tissue analysis ensures that short term and longer term deficiencies are identified. Plant sap analyses reveal short term nutrient deficiencies, which can be redressed immediately with foliar liquid fertilisers. Plant tissue tests of pasture mineral levels and quality confirm longer term trends in nutrient flow into the plant and how that affects animal performance. The fertilisers used therefore rectify specific soil fertility deficiencies in each paddock. Both tests are important for maximising pasture growth which enables year-round weight gain on the bulls.

The organic fertiliser is spread at a rate ranging from 300 to 600 kilograms per hectare, according to need.

The foliar fertilisers used generally include the nutrients missing in the plant tests. These are, in effect, like a stock feed supplement for plants, in that they have protein, energy and minerals to generate a plant response over and above nutrient alone. These are applied with the assistance of the Chappell’s consultant and are based on the growing environment and soil and plant data (e.g. as presented in the table below). This fertiliser is applied with water to total 50 to 120 litres per hectare and triggers a response when carrying capacity or feed quality needs to be increased quickly. Greg explains, “Measurements have been taken of pasture feed quality and quantity, to identify the benefit of triggering a plant response from judicious foliar nutrient. This allows us to achieve increased daily weight gain in animal performance and hence achieve target weights sooner, which results in longer rest periods”.


Year 20112012
Nitrogen %Average3.73.8
Range3.13 – 4.153.05 – 4.17
Phosphorous %Average0.340.36
Range0.31 – 0.370.31 – 0.43
Potassium %Average2.42.91
Range2.03 – 3.001.85 – 4.24
Sulphur %Average0.240.22
Range0.18 – 0.270.17 – 0.27
Calcium %Average0.990.85
Range0.78 – 1.380.56 – 1.02

image of pasture
Red clover (Trifolium pratense) has become ‘naturalised’ on Shannon Vale.

Most pasture rejuvenation has been achieved by providing the growing conditions required for previously sown species to become re-established. Nutrient cycling, coupled with a more thorough understanding of species succession, have contributed to a more biologically friendly outcome in healthier soils enabling a more productive all-round pasture base.

In only two years, paddocks dominated by African lovegrass have become substantially re-established with high quality pasture species that have not been sown for many years, in some cases since the 1990s.

Where they have not returned naturally, seed of preferred pasture species is added to the compost fertiliser and some paddocks have been direct drilled, without herbicide. Greg points out, “We no longer get bent out of shape by the presence of so-called ‘lower order’ weeds, such as rat’s tail, sorrel, yorkshire fog, dandelion, etc. We see these for what they are, indicators of poor soil health. We use the production from these species to help build soil organic matter and therefore soil capable of supporting the higher order, more prolific species such as prairie grass, cocksfoot, fescue and clovers. The clovers provide the nitrogen capable of sustaining higher levels of quantity and quality of prairie grass, cocksfoot and fescues”.

Trees are necessary for stock shelter in the cold climate of the northern tablelands and also play an important role on Shannon Vale. The original eucalypt tree cover had been reduced to a sparse cover, mostly on the higher slopes and ridges. Trees have since been established in blocks on high points and in shelterbelts along fences and tracks to provide shelter against cold temperatures often exacerbated by wind, frequent frosts and occasional snow falls. Establishing tree belts is also contributing to increasing biodiversity on the property.



Greg points out that their livestock management has been adjusted to assist in maintaining soil health. “We use liquid supplements in winter to help with digestibility of standing dry feed. These supplements ensure the cow pads are softer and so able to be buried by dung beetles. The lack of cow pads on the surface helps break the worm cycle and reduce buffalo fly habitat. This means less drenching. We only drench cows once a year and they have developed a workable tolerance to worms, but it is not so easy to combat fluke.” The Chappells rotational graze their stock. This also has the advantage of breaking the worm cycle.

image of Angus bulls
Angus bulls on Shannon Vale.

Subdivision fencing was installed across Shannon Vale to reduce paddock size to increase grazing pressure and allow longer periods of pasture rest and recovery. The productive paddock size is about 14 to 30 hectares. Greg points out, “Reducing paddock size to increase rest and recovery periods must be balanced with the need to minimise stocking rate to avoid social pressures between the bulls”.

Each mob of bulls is now rotated between two to three paddocks. The number of days per cycle is determined by seasonal pasture growth rates and ranges from 26 days in summer to 40 to 50 days in winter. Greg says, “We began, and continue to expand, a practice of rotational grazing, enabling rest and recovery of desirable species throughout the year. Bulls are run in mobs of 40 to 55, that is, one per acre. Our productive paddock size is about 16-24 hectares”.

The Shannon Vale grazing management practices open up the unproductive African lovegrass to sunlight and trigger other species for germination. Greg notes, “Perhaps one of our most notable achievements has being able to reduce the almost total domination of the species, African Lovegrass. Four years ago, we purchased a Schultz 5150 Mk2 slasher/mulcher. We mulched the heavily infested paddocks during the middle of autumn and the middle of spring. The mulching smashes up the lovegrass stubble, leaving it, not in a windrow, as with a normal slasher, but evenly dispersed over the surface of the ground. We mulch a couple of days before removing stock. The herd impact helps compost the mulch and bring it into contact with the soil. The effect is more pronounced if there is rain.”

“This mechanised smashing of unpalatable tussocks leaves residues in contact with the ground, and biological processes, to be decomposed and return minerals to future plant cycle – instead of being tied up within above ground trash indefinitely”, Greg says.

This process is used to substitute for the benefits of high density rotational grazing, which cannot be followed at Shannon Vale as, Greg explains, “Bulls need space to contend with high testosterone social pressure”. This technique also reduces competition, enabling the preferred perennial pasture species, such as fescue (Festuca arundinacea), cocksfoot (Dactylis glomerata), clovers and plantain (Plantago lanceolata), to re-emerge.



Stock water was previously provided by dams and the Mann River. Greg and Sally place a high value on the importance of the availability of fresh, clean, quality water to ensure optimum growth rates of stock, particularly of calves on cows.

The frontage to the river has now been fenced off and an off-stream watering system comprising pumps, tanks and a gravity fed reticulated supply to a trough in each paddock is continuing to be developed. At this point, all bull growing cells have reticulated water.

Greg notes, “The stock therefore have access to higher quality water and river bank erosion is reduced. Fencing off the river has reduced weeds, because weeds deposited in riparian areas by floodwater are no longer spread into the paddocks by cattle”.

“The reticulated system has had the added benefit this spring and summer of assisting in our controlling bloat by our adding bloat oil to the trough.”


Our soil health approach saves about one third of the amount we spent on conventional pasture establishment… and our new approach provides a better all round outcome.

Installing reticulated water is expensive, but the Chappells have been fortunate to receive financial assistance in fencing off their 5.2km frontage to the Mann River. This has not only prevented stock damage to stream banks but has excluded stock from riparian zones so that these areas have more potential for regeneration. Twenty-five per cent of the $100,000 required for the fencing and water supply system was provided under a grant from the Northern Rivers Catchment Management Authority, under their River Reach Program for the Mann River. This program sought to reduce bank erosion and pollution to improve riparian environments and water quality for aquatic fauna and downstream use.

The input costs for infrastructure have been offset to a considerable degree by savings gained through ceasing cultivation, the use of chemical fertiliser and other costs associated with sowing annual pastures. Whilst transfer of some input costs to subdivision fencing reduced the overall capital requirement, Greg and Sally note that, “providing reticulated waters have been a capital constraint to faster implementation”.

Overall, however, Greg says, “Our soil health approach saves about one third of the amount we spent on conventional pasture establishment… and our new approach provides a better all round outcome.”



image of Greg Chappell in paddock
Shannon Vale pasture after three days grazing

Greg’s and Sally’s approach to land management has eliminated the need to periodically renovate pastures. Complete ground cover is maintained at all times, soil condition is improving and carbon content is increasing. Costs have been reduced on Shannon Vale while production has been increased – the family business is now viable. Greg and Sally point out, “Our guiding principle has been to regenerate the landscape to its potential, whilst not compromising the high standards and output of the business, the breeding enterprise”.

The majority of the farm can now boast diversity of species within the pasture, including legumes, herbaceous species and perennial grasses, which are increasing year by year, even though they have not physically been brought onto the farm in at least six years and in many cases more than ten years.

“We have managed to create the environment required for succession to allow dormant seed to re-emerge and compete with the weed species.”

Diversity and density of pasture has increased. Where unpalatable species of lovegrass dominated, desirable perennial pasture species, such as fescue, cocksfoot, clovers and plantain are now well established. Earthworms and saprophytic fungi that help break down organic matter not previously found in the region have become common. Dung beetles are active in breaking down manure, which in turn accelerates decomposition and nutrient cycling, improves soil organic matter content and structure, helps break the parasite worm burden.

The pasture established is now capable of sustaining growth rates in the order of one kilogram a day per bull year round.

Greg tells the story, “Over five and half years we have nurtured a very tired old degraded paddock growing potatoes and corn, back to full productivity. The full succession process has occurred from sorrel, rats tail, cudweed, etcetera, to the bromes, the ryes then the clovers and then to cocksfoot and fescue that were seeded within compost four years ago. The pasture established is now capable of sustaining growth rates in the order of one kilogram a day per bull year round”.

Dependence on ration supplement to achieve sale weight for the bulls in the second winter after practices were changed decreased significantly with increased grass production and subsequent stock weight gain. Stock feed purchases had reduced to less than half by about three years into the pasture improvement program.

The Chappells are clearly proud of their results, “Cost of production has reduced by 30 to 35 per cent and overall production has increased in the order of ten per cent, excluding the most recent six months, which was an above average season. The last year is up 20 per cent on overall production for bulls and heifer weight gain on earlier averages”.

The results of the new approach taken by Greg and Sally can be seen in the bull growth figures over the past two years (see below). Given that the genetics of the Angus herd have been stable over the past two years and management of the herd has been identical over the same period, Greg and Sally attribute growth statistics to soil and pasture outcomes.


Number of Animals6154 
Growth (Kg/day)0.961.11+0.15
Rump (P8) & Rib Fat (mm)3.4 – 2.85.9 – 4.7+2.5 – 1.9
Eye Muscle Area (EMA) cm284.398+13.7
Intra-muscular Fat (%)4.75.1+0.4
Scrotal Circumference (cm)37.840.3+2.5
image of a bull
‘Dulverton Blaster’ – a whole lot of bull.

In 2011, their top-priced bull sold for $15,500. The average price across the 67 bulls sold was $6,700.

Numerous Catchment Management Authority, industry and Landcare sponsored field days have been held on Shannon Vale to help communicate the principles and changes taking place and that are continuing. Greg and Sally regularly receive requests for visits from industry types, growers and the like and are content to share their lessons in landscape management and weed control.



Correcting mineral imbalance takes time. It is not all about phosphorus and nitrogen alone, the other nutrients are also critical.

Greg and Sally have kept records at pasture monitoring sites prior to change for later quantitative comparison. They have found however, that, “Testing, measurement, recording and analysis to determine how we are going and where we will end up, is time consuming and costly”. Learning when to start and stop trials, particularly with their region’s climate also provided challenges to Greg and Sally in implementing their innovations. The lack of local research on species selection for agronomic suitability to balance nutrition was also problematic. However, trial and error, and accessing assistance outside the local mindset has helped Greg and Sally to succeed. They have learnt, “There is not a black and white recipe to the farm. Being an ecosystem it requires flexibility and constant review”. Greg and Sally are adamant that, “Progress has also come from surrounding ourselves with a committed and knowledgeable team. Their assistance, amongst others including our two immediate neighbours, continues to be integral”.

Apart from their personal management guidelines (below), the Chappells understand that flexibility is essential in achieving results, and consequently their management approach is not a static model. Ongoing learning is constant, and they continue to develop the details of their approach once they are confident that their principles are sound. Some of their key lessons include:

  • “Trust that species succession will happen if the environment is right for the species you want.”
  • “Correcting mineral imbalance takes time. It is not all about phosphorus and nitrogen alone, the other nutrients are also critical.”
  • “Grazing pressure is critical. The focus needs to be on the grazing pressure the paddock needs balanced with the animals needs, not just picking a number for want of a simple recipe.”

Management Guidelines

Greg and Sally follow a number of guidelines to achieve the results gained on Shannon Vale. In managing their property, Greg and Sally do not allow:

  • bare ground
  • cultivation – direct drilling is used if necessary
  • grazing without a planned recovery period for pasture
  • use of chemical herbicide, except for spot spraying of blackberries
  • funding with debt, “We transfer costs from less efficient inputs or increased production”.
  • compromise on the profit drivers, that is, the livestock

Overall Greg and Sally are proud that their business has expanded in scale and structure and achieved capital improvement to the asset. But they note that the journey is not over, “We are not at Utopia; we are still learning and will continue to do so”.






Using a deep understanding of their environment, John and Robyn Ive have used strategic paddock design and management to build resilience into their landscape, and have revegetated ridges to reduce a severe dryland salinity problem, enabling them to meet their niche production outcomes.



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Near Murrumbateman, 40km north of Canberra, NSW Southern Tablelands

ENTERPRISE: Sheep, cattle, native trees. Ultra-fine Sharlea wool; Angus beef cattle; farm forestry

PROPERTY SIZE: 250 hectares




  • Non-viability of previous management and identifying the opportunity to apply practical ecological science


  • Revegetation to manage salinity
  • Strategic paddock design
  • Planned grazing strategies, particularly addressing fodder supply and drought conditions
  • Innovations commenced: 1980


  • Increased available productive land through reduced water table levels eliminating saline seeps
  • Specialist provider of ultrafine Sharlea wethers
  • Revegetation of over 200,000 native trees


The Ive family purchased Talaheni in 1980. At the time, the property was suffering from major dryland salinity caused by over clearing and exploitative land management practices. As a would-be ecologist, John saw the opportunity to repair the degraded landscape through revegetating the ridges and fixing the soil fertility problems that had built up over previous decades.

John and Robyn prepared a comprehensive plan to repair the land and achieve a profit from Talaheni. This addressed the fundamental need to understand the implications of variation in slope, aspect, soil depth, geology, vegetation and climate on achieving success.

Production improvements were experienced from 1983. Now, over 200,000 new trees and a niche production line later, the Ives manage the salinity as well as regular regional droughts with a healthy, resilient landscape. By taking a strategic approach and working with the land and the seasons, John and Robyn have transformed an “environmental and farming basket-case” into an enterprise that has received local, national and international recognition.



image of Talaheni
The current Talaheni landscape

In 1980 John and Robyn purchased the 250 hectare property in the Yass Valley, an area renowned for its dryland salinity problems. Their family farming background supplemented by agricultural college and tertiary qualifications in agricultural science and economics provided a sound basis for undertaking the makeover of Talaheni over the following three decades.

John and Robyn both realised at the time of purchase that previous management had been exploitive and would be non-viable into the future. However, they recognised an opportunity to apply sound practical ecological science to an unprofitable enterprise that had depleted the resource base.

To improve the landscape on Talaheni, John and Robyn drafted a plan that recognised major impediments to achieving production potential. Management practices were then identified to address key resource condition issues, such as the dryland salinity. Management of the elevated water tables was identified as a key priority in achieving this.

The plan was then progressively implemented as time and resources permitted, ensuring regular review and updating in response to progress.

A solid monitoring program was at the core of implementation to ensure that the farm plan was achieving intentions. Where possible this was introduced before changing management so that the effect of changing practice could be quantified. As John says, “If you do not measure it you cannot manage it”.

Various factors are regularly monitored, including vegetation transects, salinity levels in dams and weekly measurements of the water table. The Ives have now achieved ISO14001 accreditation for their Environmental Management System.

Combined with their farm plan addressing production limitations, John and Robyn set out to develop a production niche suited to the ecological function of the area.

The niche identified was ultra-fine wool production and the development of a sharlea wether market. Sharlea wool is produced by Saxon Merino sheep which are housed in specially constructed sheep care sheds where all aspects of proper sheep husbandry, nutrition and feeding, health, wool growth, quality and cleanliness are exercised between each shearing. The movement from a normal regional fine Merino flock to a highly respected ultra-fine flock has diminished threats to Talaheni’s viability, and, as John reports, “As a result we are now a sought after specialist provider of sharlea wethers for shedded sheep operators in southern Australia”.

John and Robyn have developed marketing strategies to ensure price returns meet their financial requirements. Angus steers are also produced for the beef cattle feedlot market.

By strategically planning production, including specifically-designed grazing and vegetation management techniques, John and Robyn have regenerated Talaheni, and built resilience into their landscape. They believe that environmental restoration is a necessary precursor to achieving production potential.

Advice has been sought from a wide range of sources throughout the regeneration process, such as from farming colleagues and agencies, but not always adopted. John and Robyn were initially told that overcoming their salinity problem by revegetating the ridges was impractical. They nevertheless went ahead with the plan, which has been demonstrated to be highly successful.

Improvements have been undertaken in a prioritised manner as funds have become available. Almost all work on Talaheni, such as fencing, pasture establishment, yard and building construction, has been undertaken by family members. Off-farm labour has only been used for shearing, fertiliser spreading and major earthworks for dams and contour banks.

John and Robyn also have an eye to considering wider issues for their farm, “In order to be better prepared for future climate change we have calculated that a two degree increase in average temperature, which might not seem much, would increase the average time above plant wilting point threshold [when they can no longer draw moisture from the soil] from 52 to 62 per cent of the time. Faced with this likelihood, we are trialling pastures that are more drought resistant”.


The area where Talaheni is located (Nanima), was first settled in the 1840s or 1850s. A gold mine, Xanadu, operated by Chinese people, was worked later in the 19th century. The gold was in narrow quartz veins and extraction required a steam-driven mill. Trees were felled for fuel for the boilers and an aqueduct was constructed to carry water to the site from the Yass River.

When gold mining was no longer economical, the miners turned to ring-barking and clearing the regrowth resulting from their felling.

By the turn of the century there was a dairy farm working next door to what is now Talaheni. Milk was carried by horse back to Canberra.

Since the early 1900s wool production in the area proved to be profitable, with graziers over numerous decades achieving record prices due to the excellent quality of the fine wool produced from the area.



The Talaheni landscape is composed of highly folded and deeply dipping Ordovician metasediments with rocky hills interspaced by contrasting weathered valleys. With this landscape, John and Robyn believed that good management called for the different landscape elements, for instance hills and valleys, to be fenced separately, so that management could be correctly targeted throughout the year to maximise pasture growth and grazing opportunities. John and Robyn have subsequently more than quadrupled the number of paddocks originally at Talaheni. Each paddock was strategically planned taking into consideration variation in slope, aspect, soil depth, geology and vegetation. Now with their own water supply, each of these is carefully managed.

John describes, “At Talaheni we have gone from a chequerboard layout of nine paddocks to 38 resource-defined paddocks. Only one fence remains on its original alignment, the rest being pulled out and realigned to achieve the landscape separation we sought. A central laneway provides an efficient way to move stock around the property”.

Each paddock is now relatively uniform in landscape and soil characteristics such as slope, aspect and soil depth. Paddocks on the lower slopes and flats with deeper soils and more favourable soil moisture conditions now support productive exotic perennial species, primarily Phalaris aquatica pasture. The mid-slopes of the property support native perennial species, particularly pastures of weeping meadow grass (Microlaena stipoides). The hilltops, which 25 years ago only held a few aging trees that had survived earlier clearing, now have native tree vegetation cover.

This strategic design makes for easier decision making when selecting the best vegetation system and management for each paddock. In one case, fencing of a prominent hill to recognise different aspects has provided around four weeks extra green fodder for stock by preventing them abandoning the northerly area at the first sign of haying-off in preference for the increasingly more attractive southerly aspect.

image of grazing sheep
Sheep grazing patterns have been exploited to help regenerate hilltops during periods of drought.

John elaborates, “We divided a large paddock surrounding a hill into several smaller fenced sectors. Strategic grazing for short periods extends the productive grazing of the pastures by several weeks. Rather than allowing the stock to selectively and repeatedly graze the greener pastures, we can keep the stock on the more exposed side of the hill early in the season and move them sector by sector towards the more protected slopes as the pasture dries off”.

Strategic grazing enables pasture productivity to be optimised to match the seasonal conditions and herd and flock husbandry needs. The Ives employ brief heavy grazing, resting at least 25% of property at any one time.

John and Robyn’s approach to managing drought is particularly interesting. They consciously determine which parts of Talaheni are least likely to degrade during these trying times.

John explains, “The silent partner [the land] suffers when the business is failing. This is particularly the case with drought. During drought periods, we move the sheep from the erosion prone areas, which are the more productive flats and mid-slopes, to hilltop paddocks that become ‘sacrificial areas’. Here the stock are concentrated and hand fed throughout the drought. During this time the stock also eat out any remaining forage on these areas”.

“The logic of our approach is that these areas are not as vulnerable to erosion because of their high-in-the-landscape position and stony nature even when almost bare, they are however the sites of high recharge potential and cannot support productive pastures. This may seem a detrimental management practice. Our decision to protect the more productive pastures on erodible soils from grazing pressure during these hard times enables them to respond quickly once the drought breaks.”

With the onset of drought-breaking rains fuelling good pasture growth on the flats and mid-slopes, the hilltops are then destocked and stock moved down to these recovering areas.

“Grazing on the hilltops removes competition from grasses and forbs, leaving the seeds produced by the few remaining hilltop trees – which appear to have an innate ability to produce lots of seed in such periods – to germinate and establish with minimal competition. Given this setting, our experience is that eucalypt germination events are ‘like the hairs on a dog’s back’.”

With stock numbers reduced due to the drought, such areas can then be spelled possibly for many months as flocks and herds rebuild away from these areas, allowing the young trees to become well established without any setback from grazing. If grazing is required from these areas then John and Robyn prefer to pulse graze with stock introduced at very high stocking rates for relatively short periods so they graze the re-establishing grasses and forbs but are removed before any permanent damage occurs to the trees.



… we have ‘established’ more than 200,000 trees at very little cost on most inhospitable sites.

Talaheni comprises 250 hectares of rolling to hilly terrain. Prior to conversion to intensive grazing, the land cover was forest and grassy woodland. The main tree species were red box (Eucalyptus polyanthemos), red stringybark (Eucalyptus macrorhyncha), and brittle gum (Eucalyptus mannifera). The majority of pastures are native perennial grasses.

John and Robyn believed from early on that they could reduce their salinity problems by lowering the water table through utilising more water higher on their property. Revegetating the ridges was seen as the way to reduce rainfall infiltrating to the water table. The water table would then be lowered to below the level where saline groundwater could seep to the surface on the potentially productive lower flats.

Over time, this technique has reversed the extensive dryland salinity that had appeared on the property over the previous decades. Without the surface saline seeps, the loss of vegetation cover has been repaired and sheet and gully erosion has reduced.

image of same area of Talaheni in1980 and 2012
Left: In 1982, Talaheni was bare with visible saline seeps. Right: In 2012, revegetation has reduced salinity and pastures are healthy. Initial swales are visible across the lower right of the image.

As part of their grazing strategy, the revegetation has been achieved by intensively grazing ridge areas to maximise ground disturbance and then removing the sheep for one to two years. Tree seeds can germinate readily on disturbed ground and have a chance to establish if the sheep are kept off for long enough.

Where there were insufficient remaining trees to provide seed, seedlings were planted in multiple row strips. The ground was prepared by ripping with a bulldozer to break open the rocky and compacted soils and to enable tree roots to penetrate. Species with potential for quality timber production were included in these tree belts so that, in the long-term, there would be scope for a potential additional source of revenue from timber.

image of tree revegetation
Where there were insufficient seeds for natural regeneration, tree seedlings were planted, including species for possible timber production.

Understanding the land and climate has helped John and Robyn exploit conditions, such as drought, to achieve their goals through grazing management. “While there is little one can do to influence the progress of a drought, we must remain vigilant and take full advantage of any benefits. For landholders wanting to increase tree cover on their properties, drought can get the green revegetation wheel rolling with very little effort when resources are sorely stretched. This has been our experience during the dry times over the past 25 years. We estimate that we have established more than 200,000 locally native trees by exploiting seed production through the drought, with very little effort on our part”, John says.

Any growth is also managed with strategic goals in mind. John explains, “Where we observe excessive re-establishment of tree seedlings on areas with pasture potential then these areas may be managed to remove or reduce tree cover. The approach used depends upon the size of the area and timing. Tools in the armoury include mattocking, spot spraying with herbicide, bull blading and stem injection of herbicide, either singly or in combination to spread the workload over time. Areas are assessed to identify the better soils and flagging tape used to distinguish ‘good’ from ‘bad’ areas for easier spotting when removing trees. Where more than one species has re-established, the composition of the stand can be influenced also at this stage. In our case, red box, when present, is preferred to red stringybark. Later still, selective thinning is employed to achieve a vigorous and more sustainable stand density while providing sturdy poles and timber for farm and off-farm use”.

“Using this approach we have ‘established’ more than 200,000 trees at very little cost on most inhospitable sites. This compares with about 20,000 seedlings planted by hand, representing a labour intensive and timing critical process over the same period.”

The hilltop trees now cover the areas with the highest recharge potential and as they grow they continue to “tighten the screw on the recharge tap” and reduce the incidence of dryland salinity on the lower and more productive flats enabling successful establishment of vigorous exotic perennial pastures.

It is estimated that each hectare of ridge top that was revegetated has led to a beneficial lowering of the watertable over 50 hectares of nearby adjoining flats, much of which is on neighbouring properties.

image of half treed half bare ridgeline
The Ive’s ridgeline regeneration success is apparent at their fenceline with neighbouring properties.



When John and Robyn purchased Talaheni 30 years ago the soil health was poor. Nutrient levels were low, as was pH, at around 3.6 in some areas. Soil carbon levels of below 1% meant infiltration and water holding capacity were poor. Aluminium levels were high. High groundwater levels led to saline seeps across a substantial proportion of the property and as a consequence, much of the property suffered from sheet and gully erosion.

Some of these aspects are a natural feature of Talaheni soils, which have been derived from nutrient poor Ordovician metasediments. Landscape cross sections range from ridge top lithosols passing through gravelly shallow red podzolics, to shallow to moderately deep red podozolics to soloths and solodics on the flats.

To improve the soil health, the Ives have added sulphur-enriched reactive rock phosphate and Canberra sewage ash and lime have been used to address pH levels. Poultry manure and gypsum have been applied to assist in improving soil physical properties. Combined with the benefits of increased ground cover and vegetation, soil phosphorus and sulphur levels have increased, as have soil carbon levels. In some of the healthiest areas, soil carbon has recently been measured at 4%. John and Robyn maintain soil nutrient status records, and have over 30 years of periodic sampling data.



…management of water tables has all but eliminated saline seeps.

Talaheni has no permanent or ephemeral streams so water supplies depend on a network of dams and tanks on buildings. Construction of the dams was often associated with complementary contour and graded banks. Dams were frequently installed at points where serious gullies were previously active and have been made as deep as possible with as small a surface area as possible to minimise evaporation losses. Contour and graded banks control water movement through the landscape and reduce risk of soil erosion while increasing the opportunity for retaining water on property. Where limited cultivation has been undertaken, this has been done on the contour. Areas with high runoff potential on steep slopes have been ripped at intervals to a depth of 70cm to assist rainfall infiltration and ultimately pasture growth where salinity risk was low.

The low plant-available soil moisture holding capacity, averaging around 60mm, made it a priority to retain as much moisture in the profile where it falls for use by pasture. Accordingly, continuous groundcover has been sought where possible. John notes, “A daily soil water balance ‘WATERBANK’ model has been developed to give a greater understanding of the fate of rainfall and to aid routine management and timing of operations”.

image of dams
To minimise evaporation, dams were made as deep as possible with small surface areas.

Improved soils and water monitoring helps the Ives to manage their variable annual rainfall, which, in the last ten years, has ranged from 363mm in 2006 to 967mm in 2010.

Saline seeps were previously common across Talaheni. High recharge on rocky ridge tops lead to expression of dryland salinity on potentially more productive lower flats. Consequently, water management was initially viewed as the most vital management challenge by John and Robyn. Now, their management of water tables has all but eliminated saline seeps.

The significant revegetation of Talaheni ridges has reduced rainfall deep drainage to the water table, lowering it to below the level where saline groundwater can seep to the surface. The installation of a network of piezometers (devices which measure groundwater pressure and water table height) more than 20 years ago and weekly monitoring has provided a great understanding of the response to this and other on-farm actions to reduce recharge. Documented evidence shows the significant decline in watertable levels and an equally impressive decline in salinity levels of groundwater.



One needs to develop the skills to read one’s own landscape…

Production increases began to be experienced only a few years after John and Robyn commenced implementation of their plan to repair Talaheni. John summarises, “We started implementing the plan in 1980, and in terms of stock numbers there has been a steady rise since 1983 (trend line 0.15 DSE/ha per year increase). Wool production increase – taking into account wool cut and fibre diameter – has a trend line increase since 1985 at 38 units a year. Cattle weaning weight, adjusted for age, birth date, sex, age of cow trend line has increased at 1kg a year since 1985. These trends continue to the present, when seasonal impacts are removed. Visually change was apparent in 1984. With an above average season we managed to get good groundcover with gullies having been filled and contour and graded banks functioning to slow water movement through landscape”.

image of cattle
Angus beef provides a supplementary production line to ultrafine wool.

A feature of Talaheni has been the protection of remnants of dry sclerophyll woodland, native forests which typically consist of multi-aged stands of eucalypts with an understorey dominated by hard leafed shrubs, grasses, sedges or bracken fern. The health of native vegetation has improved with major recruitment of new trees as result of the Ive’s innovative management practices. Where seed trees do not exist, hand planting has been successful in establishing a corridor network of linking native vegetation.

Overall, around 20,000 native species trees have been planted over the past 30 years, plus an estimated 200,000 trees have been established naturally by the strategic grazing and rest management exploiting variable seasonal conditions. This technique has been documented and subsequently adopted by other landholders.

Measurement and monitoring are important features of the implementation of the Ive’s plan for Talaheni. Transects have been established and vegetation periodically monitored. Regular bird surveys have been undertaken resulting in a current and growing inventory of 125 species. Third-party studies of native ant populations, which are bio-indicators, reveal healthy conditions. Fencing out of remnants and exclusion of domestic grazing together with establishment of linking native vegetation corridors continues to enhance the quality of animal and plant life in the region, and previously moribund trees have recovered.

Initial large areas of serrated tussock (Nassella trichotoma) and black thistle (Cirsium vulgare) indicated degraded pastures. However over the years the Ive family have worked to improve the per cent of ground covered by pastures and to control major weeds using a targeted spraying program. In addition, every farm vehicle always carries a small mattock and a culture of digging out plants where ever seen during normal farm activities anytime throughout the year has been established.

Using this approach, major weeds found in the district such as serrated tussock, black thistle, fleabane (Conyza sumatrensis) and St Johns wort (Hypericum perforatum) are a relatively minor problem. John notes, “Although these weeds are not totally eradicated, due largely to wind-blown seed migrating from adjoining properties, control these days is a minor task”.

Successful land managers adapt by adopting production and land management systems appropriate to the circumstances, the markets and the environment.

The success of Talaheni has been widely recognised locally, regionally, nationally and internationally. Results from a number of collaborative on-farm trials with different agencies continue to be used to promote new or amended practices throughout the region and are the focus for regular on-farm field days.

John and Robyn have experienced the steady receipt of some 27 awards for farming achievements over the past 30 years – the most recent was the National Carbon Cocky Award in September 2011. National and international press have carried stories of Talaheni – one article appeared simultaneously in the New York Times and Chinese Peoples Daily.

As a result of such achievements, John and Robyn are regularly asked to provide on and off farm presentations to groups from across south eastern Australia and overseas. They also serve on a number of industry and state committees dealing with resource issues, such as the AWI Wool Carbon Alliance.

John summarises, “The journey has been an immensely gratifying one as Talaheni has been transformed from an environmental and farming basket-case to an enterprise that attracts interest from near and far and continues to be recognised with the receipt of awards and invitations to present to farming and agency audiences across southern Australia”.


John points out the importance of embracing change in improving land management practices, “People are reluctant to consider and embrace new approaches because of ingrained attitudes. In our view, change is inevitable. Successful land managers adapt by adopting production and land management systems appropriate to the circumstances, the markets and the environment. By resisting change and sticking with the old ways the silent partner, that is, the land, suffers”.

John and Robyn believe that there is no single right way to improve land management. “Our desire is that people reading about Talaheni shouldn’t consider Talaheni as a place for rote learning, but should study the principles and apply them to their circumstances.” They recommend that, “One needs to develop the skills to read one’s own landscape and the processes involved and then seek to address the limiting and declining factors supported by a sound monitoring program. Although this may draw upon experiences and recommendations of others, the adoption of established management approaches in a rote-like manner is fraught with danger and not encouraged”.

Likewise the term ‘best practice’ is not encouraged by John and Robyn due to the finality it implies. They say, “Rather, practices should be seen more in the dynamic vane of a rainbow – although always in sight, they remain elusive but tantalisingly achievable as new and better understanding moves the destination”.

image of trees on ridgeline






Craig Carter and his partner Nicky Chirlian aspire to a balance of low farming inputs, comfortable returns and a healthy diverse landscape. Implementing a combination of water management and grazing practices has restored their landscape hydrology, delivering the productive, greener pastures to support their goal.




Willow Tree, 60km south-west of Quirindi, NSW North West Slopes and Plains

ENTERPRISE: Cattle, sheep. Beef cattle and sheep trading

PROPERTY SIZE: 445 hectares


ELEVATION: 400-500m


  • Disenchantment with ‘traditional’ grazing methods in producing a healthy landscape and adequate returns


  • Construction of leaky weirs and swales to slow water flow
  • Rotational grazing in wagon-wheel design
  • Stock trading
  • Innovations commenced: 2002


  • 250% increase in carrying capacity
  • 15-23% profit margin on cattle production
  • Constant river outflow regardless of inflow
  • Improved landscape hydrology
  • Increased native biodiversity


Craig and Nicky both returned to their farming backgrounds after pursuing other careers for a period of time – for Craig, running a financial planning business in Sydney, while Nicky worked in disability services in Armidale. Nicky now runs a private speech pathology practice in Quirindi and surrounding districts.

On arrival at Tallawang in 2001, Craig was concerned about the poor condition of the land – erosion, soil compaction and impoverished pastures – and the severely eroded creek and gullies. He had become disenchanted with his family history of “traditional” land use and set stock grazing on other properties. It was apparent that traditional grazing methods had not produced a healthy landscape nor provided adequate returns. To achieve these outcomes, Craig combined the principles of two newer methods he had encountered, rotational grazing techniques learned through the Grazing for Profit course and water management based on Peter Andrews’ Natural Sequence Farming methods.



When he purchased Tallawang in 2001, Craig’s objective was to establish a low cost, regenerative grazing operation. In terms of obstacles in moving from the traditional farming methods he had grown up with, Craig says, “the main impediment to change is between the ears”.

Drawing from the more contemporary farm management practices he had encountered over the years, Craig and Nicky now apply a blend of the principles of Grazing for Profit and Natural Sequence Farming. These combined techniques have been used to implement a philosophy of low input cost for significant return, using cattle trading and breeding.

The main impediment to change is between the ears.

Craig notes, “We have used a range of management tools that are all designed to be low cost, low impact bumps on mother nature’s side to assist her to rebuild the function of a damaged environment. This is a constant learning process”.

In summary, cell grazing was introduced to Tallawang in 2002. Accessing available grant monies, Yarramanbah Creek, which runs through the property, was fenced and tree corridors were planted. In 2005 a series of leaky weirs was constructed along the length of the creek to retard water flow and enable the original chain of ponds to become re-established.

The existing contour banks in higher country were modified in 2009, by blocking them at intervals, to form swales that retain and more effectively use water in the upper parts of the landscape. This process has enabled surface water to infiltrate higher in the landscape, thus maintaining the quality and quantity of the pasture longer in the drier times, By enabling more water to be absorbed into the soil, the pastures are more lush resulting in the cattle tending to walk less to find the water trough, which is located lower down the slope.

Some slashing has been used since 2010 in combination with cell grazing on creek flats to increase soil organic matter and encourage regeneration of native grasses.

As a result, water is retained in the landscape for longer, being readily available for plants and animals. Combined with increased vegetation and soil organic matter, overall landscape hydrology has improved. Craig and Nicky are monitoring these results.

Craig notes, “As we experiment with new tools and expand our skills with old favourites, we aim to record what we have done and the observed responses. Hopefully the landscape function and productivity are improving under our watch”.

Left: Erosion along the creek had exposed the underlying base of basalt rocks.
Right: Healing erosion along banks as a result of interventions.



Yarramanbah Creek bisects Tallawang, winding for 4.5km through the property. Average annual rainfall in the region is approximately 800mm, falling mainly from December to February and June to July.

Prior to the 1960s Tallawang was grazed with sheep and cattle. A central bore supplied two small tanks from where water was reticulated to 25 troughs. Yarramanbah Creek had also been used for stock water and was fenced into small paddocks along its length. The banks of the creek and tributaries were incised, with gullies and contour banks further draining water off the property, increasing susceptibility to drought. The creek had eroded down to a base of basalt rocks and stones for its length. Vegetation associated with the creek was characterised by remnant she-oak (Casuarina cunninghamiana) and rough-barked apple (Angophora floribunda) trees. Little regeneration was observed and many of the trees were over-mature and senescent.

Craig employed Peter Andrews to design creek structures, at a project cost of $17,000, establishing a series of leaky weirs in the creek. These were constructed mainly using dead trees in conjunction with later plantings of common flag reed (Phragmites australis). Potential opposition to this work from the government authorities soon dissipated when the positive environmental effect on retarding flow and creating ponds became evident.

Casurina regrowth and pioneer species covering the old creek bed.
Grassed up basalt rock creek bed forming a chain of ponds.

Six years later, the previously bare soils and gravel beds are covered with regenerating plants – including prolific pioneer plants or weeds but also dense patches of river she-oak seedlings. Considerable siltation is evident as the vegetation traps sediment carried from properties upstream.

Yarramanbah Creek is now a ‘chain of ponds’ with inflow varying according to local rainfall, but constant outflow. Craig’s paddock layout provides cattle water points high in the landscape, which discourages stock from accessing the creek for water and causing any damage to banks.

In 2009 Craig modified the existing contour banks in the higher country by blocking them at intervals to form swales. He also constructed additional swales to further intercept runoff and increase rainfall infiltration in the upper slopes.

Phragmites australis regenerating along the creek bed.

Craig states, “Through our work in converting the contour banks constructed in the 1960s into water holding swales, we are restoring the watershed. This process is beginning to restore the hydrological function of the landscape”.

Improved hydrological function ensures maximum infiltration, extending the growing season of the grasses and providing greener pastures. As a result, Tallawang has become significantly wetter along the upper and mid slopes with increased palatable vegetation later in the drier seasons. Wells that were empty on Craig’s arrival to the property are now full. Previously dry soils along the creek flats are now swampy meadows and wetland plants that did not exist on the property prior to the commencement of the work are in abundance. Rainfall is now available to be used effectively where it falls, rather than being whisked away quickly by poor ground cover with eroded creek lines acting as drains.



The first cattle to graze in the Cattle Creek locality were brought there in 1826 from the Hunter Valley by Benjamin Singleton (after whom the Hunter Valley town is named) and his son-in-law Otto Baldwin. The locality was included in the Warrah Estate, a property of some 100,000 hectares granted to the Australian Agricultural Company in 1833. The land occupied by Tallawang formed one of the paddocks of the Warrah Estate.

When introducing cell grazing in 2002, Craig elected to use a ‘wagon wheel’ fencing design, where paddocks are arranged radiating from a water point at the centre, and single-wire electric fencing for cost-effective grazing management.

To the casual visitor, one of the most obvious differences at Tallawang compared to other cattle properties is the style of fencing used to manage the herd. Gone are the gates – one simply lifts and drives under, or drives over the fences. The internal permanent fences that were present in 2001, that is, closely spaced fence posts and considerable amounts of wire, have been removed.

Stock have access to a central waterpoint from multiple paddocks using the wagon wheel design.

There are now around 100 small triangular shaped paddocks arranged in six cells. At first glance the fences are rather skimpy, comprising sparsely spaced steel posts and a single strand of high-tensile electric wire, running 3000-4000 volts. The simple construction allows fencing layouts to be easily moved or modified to suit landscape needs. Fences are only turned on around individual paddocks being grazed, and the cattle know when the fences are turned on; otherwise they just walk right over the wire. As a general rule each paddock is grazed for no more than three days out of every 90 days.

Craig manages his property to meet production and landscape outcomes, “Across Tallawang we have gradually increased the stocking rate, based on availability of regenerating native grasses. Cattle are not hand fed [when pastures become depleted] – numbers are managed according to available biomass and rainfall”. To facilitate this, Craig has changed the business from a breeding focus to a trading focus, which entails greater flexibility with stocking rates. Trading cattle enables stocking to be varied as needed to suit seasonal conditions.

“This initiative comes from my experience as a share trader at the Sydney Stock Exchange. At the start of winter, I look to the New England tablelands almost 200km away, where the winters are much harder on pastures than they are on the Liverpool Ranges. At that time cattle producers on the New England are looking to sell their stock to protect their pastures over the harsh cold winter; at the same time I can be looking to buy in cattle to help manage excess grass cover. It is a sound business model for us”, Craig explains.

Illustration of a cell of paddocks in a wagon wheel design. This depicts Paddock 3 being grazed, with access to the waterpoint and electric fence turned on.

The stock carrying capacity has increased dramatically with the introduction of time-controlled cell grazing and the restoration of native pastures. In 2002, Tallawang was carrying 218 dairy heifers with an average weight of 300kg. In early 2012, the stock comprises 300 breeding cows plus progeny, as well as 360 ewes with lambs and a further 150 ewes due to lamb in the following month.

“The main tool we have used over the last decade is grazing management. By varying the numbers of stock and using a short graze and long rest period and the paddock size, we are able to encourage the more palatable grasses while the less desirable ones get trampled and can’t compete. The key variable is the timing, frequency and amount of rain”, Craig points out. Craig maintains rolling monthly rainfall data to inform his grazing management, with records for comparison back to 1883.

“Livestock are integral to this process. Like all tools they can be used badly or effectively. Overgrazing has been a cause of a significant amount of degradation in the landscape, merely amending that has had some dramatic positive impacts.”

Increased silt deposits have allowed reed beds and swampy meadows to form along the creek.


In the lower slopes and narrow riparian plains where Tallawang is located, soils are deep, heavy clay soils (vertisols) derived on weathered basalt. The vertisols, which are widespread in the Liverpool plains region, have high natural fertility. However, when Craig purchased the property in late 2001, Tallawang was typical of most heavy basalt soils, with deficiencies in nitrogen, sulphur and selenium.

Reviewing past practices shows how Craig’s approach has improved the hydrology of soil. Anecdotal evidence suggests that cropping was introduced in the 1960s and it is understood that introduction of cropping coincided with extensive earth works. Earth banks were constructed at a slight decline towards the gullies to remove excess soil water and enable cropping. The increased runoff to the drainage lines may have exacerbated the already severe gully and streambed erosion. By 2000, water retention along the upper and mid slopes was poor, increasing the property’s susceptibility to drought.

The effects of the cropping practices prior to 2001 can be seen by a recent comparison of a native pasture site on the property with a cropped site, as shown in the following table. Both sites had the same general history of grazing from the 1820s until the 1960s. The cropped site was cropped from the 1960s to 2000, and even with over ten years of improved management practices, still shows poorer results in terms of ground cover, carbon and nitrogen stores.

Site (2011)Native pastureCropped
Ground cover95%73%
Total carbon4.9%2.4%
Total nitrogen   0.3%0.2%

Increased soil carbon, ground cover, and slowing the flow of water through the leaky weirs has all contributed to improved soil hydrology. Craig notes, “The property has become significantly wetter in higher country with increased vegetation following implementation of swales, and swampy meadows establishing on creek flats”.

Paralleling improvements in the hydrological function has been a steady increase in organic matter in soil. Much of the increased soil carbon has been due to cell grazing over ten years with inputs from cattle manure and humus associated with short term high rotation of cattle. Soil tests from one paddock of native pasture show continuing improvement over time, as presented in the table below.

Total carbon2.86%      4.90%      
Total nitrogen0.27%0.30%
pH (1:5 water)   7.186.6



The main tool we have used over the last decade is grazing management.

The original native vegetation of the area surrounding Tallawang was grassy box woodland with sparse eucalypts.

At the time of purchase, Tallawang appeared run down and overgrazed. The property comprised 20% lucerne (for grazing and hay), 5% grazing oats and 75% native and naturalised pasture. Previous management had relied excessively on lucerne for grazing and supplementary feeding of all stock had been required each winter.

By changing the grazing management, Craig has transformed the landscape. There is extensive regeneration of kangaroo grass (Themeda triandra), tall oat grass (Themeda avenacea), lobed blue grass (Bothriochloa biloba) and silky brown top (Eulalia aurea). A gradual decrease in lucerne has been observed through use of cell grazing and some slashing of plains grass, combined with broadcast legumes in 2009. Native trees and shrubs are naturally regenerating.

Pastures with visible exposed bare ground in 2002 (left) now have 95% groundcover and
a significantly increased carrying capacity (right).

By creating the environment to re-establish the chain of ponds along the Yarramanbah Creek there has been observed significant recruitment of varieties of sedges and rushes, notably cigar rush (Lepironia articulata), club rush (Schoenoplectus spp.) and marsh club rush (Bolboschoenus fluviatilis), as well as considerable recruitment of river she-oak, rough-barked apple and native olive (Notelaea microcarpa).


Plant life observed on the property includes:

Perennial Grasses

  • silky brown top (Eulalia aurea)
  • kangaroo grass (Themeda triandra)
  • tall oat grass (Themeda avenacea)
  • blue grass (Dichanthium sericeum subsp. sericeum)
  • wallaby grass (Austrodanthonia bipartita)
  • Warrego summer grass (Paspalidium jubiflorum)
  • water couch (Paspalum distichum)
  • wild sorghum (Sorghum leiocladum)
  • plains grass (Austrostipa aristiglumis)
  • cotton panic (Digitaria brownie)
  • hairy panic (Panicum effusum)
  • slender bamboo grass (Austrostipa verticillata)
  • tall Chloris (Chloris ventricosa)
  • lobed blue grass (Bothriochloa biloba)
  • red grass (Bothriochloa macra)

Wetland Plants

  • spiny-headed mat-rush (Lomandra longifolia)
  • spike sedge (Bolboscheonus spp.)
  • common flag reed (Phragmites australis)
  • cigar rush (Lepironia articulata )
  • club rush (Schoenoplectus spp.)
  • marsh club rush (Bolboschoenus fluviatilis)


  • white box (Eucalyptus albens)
  • river red gum (Eucalyptus camaldulensis)
  • Blakely’s red gum (Eucalyptus blakelyi)
  • rough-barked apple (Angophora floribunda)
  • kurrajong (Brachychiton populneus)
  • river she-oak (Casuarina cunninghamiana)
  • hickory wattle (Acacia implexa)
  • Cooba (Acacia salicina)
  • native olive (Notelaea microcarpa)

Weeds on Tallawang are not seen as an area of concern for Craig and no chemicals are used for weed management. His experience has shown that weeds follow a natural sequence, with reductions in weeds, such as Bathurst burr (Xanthium spinosum) and stickybeak (Bidens pilosa), occurring as native pastures increase. Across the property, prickly pear (Opuntia stricta) and sweet briar (Rosa rubiginosa) are the more persistent perennial weeds and these are removed manually. Nearby roadside verges do have some infestation of African love grass (Eragrostis curvula), Coolatai grass (Hyparrhenia hirta), Noogoora burr (Xanthium spp.) and a small amount of St John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum),but these are not problematic on Tallawang.



Native grasses have been extensively regenerated through
  grazing management practices.

Native grasses have been extensively regenerated through
  grazing management practices.

Craig’s management practices have transformed the two main soil-landscape types on Tallawang; riparian systems and gently sloping grassy box gum woodlands. Compared to 2001, Tallawang now has more ecological function, restoring what is naturally inherent in grassy woodlands landscapes.

The innovations have resulted in a rehydrated landscape, and the restored ecological function is evidenced by increased ground cover, biomass and soil carbon. The property is becoming increasingly “drought proofed”. There is a broadened diversity of native grasses as they re-emerge from the seed, stabilised creek banks, regenerating riparian vegetation and increased biodiversity.

Numbers and species of small birds and parrots, spiders, frogs and echidnas have increased across the property as a result of the management changes and increase of vegetation cover, particularly native vegetation. Reptiles – geckos, lizards and lace monitors – are seen more frequently. Firetail gudgeons, a small native fish, have been observed in the creek. There are more wetland plants including spiny-headed mat-rush, other rushes, common flag reed and significant regeneration of river she-oak, rough-barked apple and native olive.

In 2012 Tallawang now aims for a 15 to 23% profit on cattle production through breeding and trading programs. Organic matter is increasing and cattle numbers can be managed with very little input costs. Craig has presented on Natural Sequence Farming at various venues and has become a member of the Sydney University Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources ‘CANEn’ project – Connecting Agriculture, Nutrition and Environment.

Craig and Nicky have established a personal philosophy for health and life balances. Together they have learned to read their country and landscape and to work with this to enable them to tread lightly on the environment. To ensure the ongoing health of their landscape and their lives they aim, “to be continuously open to new ideas and have the courage to implement them as avenues to meet ongoing goals”.






Graham Forsyth and his son Ben have an absolute commitment to the work they are performing on Three Rivers Station to slow the flow of water, restore soil health and regenerate their part of the degraded West Australian rangelands in the Gascoyne River catchment.




230 km north of Meekatharra, 1000 km north east of Perth, WA Mid West

ENTERPRISE: Cattle. Bos Taurus beef production

PROPERTY SIZE: 480,000 hectares


ELEVATION: 550-600m


  • Degraded landscape unable to support stock


  • De-stocking of property to allow for regeneration
  • Construction of strategic earthworks to slow surface water flow, restore water flow to wetlands and floodplains, reduce erosion, build soil and promote perennial pasture regeneration
  • Innovations commenced: 2004


  • Gradual regeneration of perennial pastures
  • Erosion stabilisation and reduction
  • Water ponding and reduced evaporation


From their initial purchase of the pastoral lease in 1984, the Forsyth family built Three Rivers Station into a highly successful and extensive beef enterprise. During this time, the family came to realise that traditional management of the rangelands had caused them to decline to a critically fragile level. In response to this knowledge they began to implement different management practices to regenerate rangeland function.

image of sun shining through trees and grassland
Three Rivers scenery

Since 1992, increasing mining operations and exploration on the station has interrupted pastoral operations and made large demands on water supplies in the aquifers. However, it was observing cattle of below expected condition at the 2003 muster that led the Forsyths to make the difficult decision to de-stock their property. This has culminated in the effective suspension of pastoral operations while mine exploration and development is taking place, but has enabled conditions to help restore the landscape.

The Forsyths have turned what could have been a family catastrophe into an opportunity, working with the mining companies to halt the decline and accelerate the regeneration of the rangelands. After building their knowledge on local landscape and function, they have been experimenting with earthworking techniques such as rakes and bunds to stabilise erosion areas and nurturing perennial grass seed banks. This work has seen active gullies stabilised, surface water flow slowed and spread across the landscape and a dramatic increase in the abundance, diversity and vigour of perennial grasses.

Together, Graham and Ben Forsyth are investing in the future to re-establish grazing operations. They are restoring the degraded landscape in their part of the West Australian rangelands.



Three Rivers Station is located at the headwaters of the Gascoyne River in the rangelands in the mid-north of Western Australia, intersected by the Great Northern Highway. It has been used for extensive pastoral operations since 1898. The long term average rainfall is about 225mm with very large variability and a trend towards summer dominant rainfall or significant storm events evident in the last decades.

“We are responsible to produce food that makes people healthy and that gives a fair share to everyone in the supply chain so they can look after their people and the land.”

The Forsyth family purchased the Three Rivers pastoral lease in 1984. In 1992 they sold the lease to Plutonic Gold Mine, which is currently owned by Barrick Resources Pty Ltd of Canada. The Forsyths subsequently sub-leased back the grazing rights to the property.

The Forsyths built up a high quality breeding herd based on Bos Taurus genetics. From 1995 to 2004 the progeny from Three Rivers was used to produce the Forsyth family’s own Three Rivers Beef, which was marketed across Australia, Hong Kong and Japan. The Three Rivers brand was notable not only for the quality of the product, but also for the values the brand embodied: integrity of relationship with the pastoral ecology and ensuring that everyone in the supply chain got a fair share of the profits. As Graham says, “We are responsible to produce food that makes people healthy and that gives a fair share to everyone in the supply chain so they can look after their people and the land”.

The Forsyth family were conservative in their stocking levels and traditionally managed to a carrying capacity of 2,857 large stock units (unit of measure based on the feed requirements for a 450kg steer). Availability of stock water is important when managing grazing in the vast rangelands where the size of the area makes fencing cost-prohibitive. Watering points are used to encourage cattle to move to areas ready to be grazed and to leave areas needing rest. Provision of water for cattle on Three Rivers Station is from permanent natural water as well as localised watering points. Watering points are supplied from local bores using a combination of windmill, tank and trough as well as solar and diesel pumps.

Initially, processing of ore at Plutonic Mine placed a large demand on water supply. In response, watering points had to be deepened by over a metre to reach the water table. Plutonic have since implemented recycling, water use efficiency programs and tapped into a second water table, somewhat easing the pressure on station water.


“Generally, soil health in Western Australia’s arid rangelands is historically unknown, or not considered, by land managers.”

Western Australia’s rangelands are vast areas of lands from the headwaters and catchments of major rivers including the Gascoyne and the Murchison. The original sandy loam topsoils have traditionally been a rich resource for extensive grazing operations and have been the base of major industries producing beef, sheep and wool. The rangelands are a fragile and sparsely populated landscape on ancient geology in a harsh and unforgiving climate.

The rangelands are also a mineral resource asset. Since starting slowly in the 1960s, mining interest in the area has accelerated. There are currently 40 mining and exploration leases and two active mines on Three Rivers Station. The main mineral interests are copper, gold and iron ore. Mining exploration and operations can be highly disruptive to pastoral enterprises and the landscape as they set up rigs, mines and roads and compete for water from the local aquifers.

image of an erosion gutter forming
An example of road construction re-directing the flow of water, potentially causing an erosion threat to the floodplain.

There is ample evidence that unfortunately, until recently, some members of the rangeland community have not understood the brittle nature of the land, its vulnerability to the placement and construction of roads, the importance of perennial grasses to the landscape function and the vulnerability of the grasses to over-grazing.

Ben points out, “Generally, soil health in Western Australia’s arid rangelands is historically unknown, or not considered, by land managers. The most limiting soil factor is water and the main symptom of soil ill health is landscape desiccation as a result of loss of perennial ground cover species and nicks in the landscape resulting in an accelerating incising of the drainage lines”.

image of a salt-encrusted creek-bed
Evident salinity in a streambed.

The land is so brittle that areas of wagon tracks of the old settlers, or accidental ‘nicks’ in the landscape caused by new roads in contemporary times can have a major effect if they result in concentration of water into a channel on bare ground. The landscape is so flat, that an incision measuring only centimetres can change the water course. In large rain events, small incisions can result in rapid gully formation and change the drainages so significantly that the course of the river can be altered, leaving important wetlands and floodplains perched above even the most significant floods. Such a minor incision in this flat landscape can concentrate large amounts of water that should spread gently over the plains without damaging them, into destructive torrents that can wash metres of soil (and salt) downstream. This in turn threatens the productivity of lower areas in the catchment.

As a result of decades of poor grazing practice, the rangeland perennial grasses have steadily declined. This, plus erosion-causing surface damage, has left the fragile topsoil exposed and vulnerable to the variable climate and occasional, but quite extreme rain events. By the latter part of last century, much of the topsoil in the rangelands had eroded, leaving the hard, water-shedding subsoil that can only support sparse annual grasses and shrubs that are tough enough to establish roots.



The Forsyth family was endeavouring to stop erosion and to restore the landscape function whilst running a fully operational pastoral business, however incremental change was not sufficient. Ben points out, “When dramatic change is needed, more often than not dramatic action will be required to jar things out of the current paradigm”.

Dramatic action was triggered at the 2003 muster when the family observed that the cattle did not look as good as they thought they ought to, given the amount of feed that appeared to be on offer. They made the decision to remove all the mustered cattle from Three Rivers and to de-stock the property. To this day Graham Forsyth is convinced that if he had not done this, many of the cattle would have died the following summer, even if heavy weaning was carried out. This courageous act has cost the family approximately one million dollars in direct costs and lost opportunity from the pastoral lease.

Hard subsoils exposed after loss of topsoil along the river.

As a consequence, the combination of declined landscape function and the difficulties of integrating their pastoral operations with further mining exploration and expansion prevented the Forsyths from running a viable pastoral business at Three Rivers Station. In Graham’s words, “When your cash flow stops, all hell breaks loose”.

Pastoralists whose stations are already showing signs of degradation and who are also being significantly impacted by mining would be forgiven for selling their lease to the mines and leaving. Instead, the Forsyth family chose to turn what could have been a tragic end to a pastoral family tradition into an opportunity to accelerate rangeland regeneration.

Together, Graham and his son Ben, are forging a new era of pastoral cooperation with mining in the rangelands. They have formed a new business, Three Rivers Contracting, to provide services to the mining companies in support of their exploration and mining operations. This business leverages the Forsyth knowledge of the land, their skills with machinery and earthworks and their business acumen. The machinery used in support of mining is compatible with that needed on the rangeland for regeneration works. It allows them to earn an income from an alternate use of the land and the developing partnership has already enabled strategically important interventions to regenerate this valuable landscape.

Mining companies are obligated to restore the landscapes they have operated in. In the past, many mining restoration works have been focused at the closure of part of a mine, or at the end of operations, levelling hills of overburden into the excavations and restoring vegetation. Generally, the more remote the mine, the less effort devoted to rehabilitation. At Three Rivers, Graham and Ben and their partners in the mines, in particular Barrick Gold, are demonstrating that a great deal of highly effective landscape regeneration can be occurring whilst the mine is still operating. Such a progressive approach to regeneration potentially offers benefits to the mine and its personnel through local service provision to complement the mining company’s own skills, greater landscape amenity through regenerated rangelands and possibly improved security of water supply by greater recharge of the aquifers – as well as beginning the landscape repair required as part of the mine’s exit strategy.


They are now demonstrating that… these pastures can also build soil, guard against erosion and increase ecological complexity and function.

A combination of influences and their own observations led the Forsyth family to recognise that the ecological health of Three Rivers Station was declining and that this was partly due to their own and others’ mismanagement of aspects such as groundwater and roads which could have a negative impact the landscape.

Particularly influential were insights gained from working with respected rangeland ecologists, Dr. Ken Tinley and Dr Hugh Pringle. Together they worked on a program to facilitate ecologically sustainable rangeland management using the Ecosystem Management Understanding (EMU) approach, as delivered jointly by the West Australian Department of Agriculture and the Department of Environment and Conservation. Building on local knowledge, the EMU approach involves reading and recognising the terrain elements in the landscape, their internal and linking functions, condition and trends. This allows for a comprehensive understanding of what the landscape can and cannot offer.

In addition to participation in these formal programs, the Forsyth family invested a great deal of personal effort in their study of the history, geography and climate of the area to better understand what was happening in the landscape. They used the diaries of the original settlers, examined the notes regarding rainfall and stocking levels from the pastoral families that had previously managed Three Rivers and searched newspaper archives.

image of grasses and scrub
Typical shrub land of sparse grasses and woody weeds.

They noticed that records from Three Rivers Station showed a repetition of cycles of drought years followed by wet years followed by dramatic reduction in stocking levels. They coupled this information with their own observations that the dominant vegetation during their tenure of the lease was shrubs with largely bare soil between them except for a short time following rain, when they observed a flush of annual grasses and forbs that quickly dried off and blew away.

As cattlemen, they also observed that the annual grasses and shrubs, although highly nutritious, could not support the same levels of animal productivity, water infiltration and soil health that perennial grasses can achieve. In transitioning from a grassland to shrub lands of woody weeds, the productivity of pastoral operations had declined.

These cycles indicated to the family the importance of managing the balance between shrubs and pastures in maintaining the ecological function of the rangelands. From their work with animal nutrition, they came to realise that balancing shrubs and pastures in the rangelands was also important to cattle health and productivity.

image of healthy pastures
Thriving perennial pastures.

Contemporary understanding of the rangeland ecology by government departments, natural resource management groups and even pastoralists such as the Forsyths has been that many of Australia’s semi-arid rangelands are shrub lands with little or no topsoil and little, if any, capacity to support perennial grasses. From their study however, the Forsyths concluded that diverse native perennial grasses had thrived in the rangelands in the past. They are now demonstrating that these grasses can thrive again, and showing that, with help, these pastures can also build soil, guard against erosion and increase ecological complexity and function.



In regenerating the rangelands, Ben points out, “Our focus is on looking after the soils before other aspects of management, as this is where true sustainability will be judged”.

The Forsyth priority for helping the soil recover its health is to firstly to slow down the flow of water on the landscape so that it soaks into the soil. The best tools for this job are diverse communities of vegetation – dense swards of perennial grasses, forbs, shrubs and some trees. The reduction in grazing pressure to very light grazing has already resulted in vegetation re-establishing in some of the better areas, such as where healthier, protected soils held seed banks of perennial grasses. Perennial grasses are particularly important because they are typically deep rooted and persist all year, so they hold and build soil. Because the rangelands have already lost a lot of soil and plant species over the last 100 years of pastoral management, it has become a race of regeneration against erosion.

image of Ben and Graham looking at a map
Ben and Graham use aerial photos to identify priority erosion locations for treatment.

Graham and Ben judged that mechanical intervention was needed to speed up the recovery process and took advantage of earthworking equipment available through their contracting business. In the recovery process a fine balance is required between mechanical intervention, maximising perennial grass seed build up and the managed use of cattle.

Ben notes that they have been “Property planning using the EMU methods, identifying key erosion locations and required interventions and treatments on aerial photo overlays. These interventions have been implemented at a limited scale with encouraging results for controlling the loss of water from the landscape”.

The Forsyths have trialled and developed “water calming” interventions, starting at the erosion source areas and working downstream. The techniques used at Three Rivers include interventions such as bunds (raised embankments), rakes (evenly spaced poles embedded in the ground to catch debris) and strategic banks. (See images below.) These interventions are all slightly different methods for slowing water flow during rain events and spreading the water out over a large area so it becomes de-energised and loses its erosive power. Each has slightly different characteristics of performance and cost and is matched carefully to the situation being managed. As an added bonus, the interventions also trap debris and sediment which then becomes decomposing organic matter which in turn provides a nursery for grasses and shrubs to grow in.

An innovative approach to using local materials was generated by the Forsyth family’s intimate knowledge of their land. They had noticed that a locally available rock, calcrete*, had a binding action and was having a beneficial effect on regeneration of perennial grasses. The Forsyths had noticed that where the truck that carted the calcrete had bounced on rough ground and spilled calcrete, “The effect on the palatability of that grass was unbelievable. For the width of the truck, where the spillage was, grass had been chewed down to the ground to the edge of the spill, beyond that, the dry grass was totally left alone. There’s a lot more to it than meets the eye, that’s for sure. I don’t think much scientific work has been done on calcrete, I think we’re the first people to try anything”.

Where this rock had been used as a road surface, more grasses were growing along the road side. Whilst no soil testing has been performed, as the rock is highly alkaline, it appears that it was helping the soil chemistry to suit the perennials grasses as well as being a strong road surface. They put this insight into action where the remnant flood plains were actively eroding, using calcrete in their regenerative earthworks.

Bunds, rakes and banks are very practical in that they can be implemented with readily available equipment and they provide a rapid response as soon as it rains. They do not prevent flood water flow, but help to capture debris and sedimentation and to build soil and vegetation.

image of a calcrete bund and kangaroo grass
Left: Calcrete bund to slow and divert the flow of water. Right: Thriving kangaroo grass alongside the bund.

The areas of concern were mainly those lower in the landscape, the river bed and floodplains. Because of the soil characteristics of the area and the lack of topsoil, the remaining soil is vulnerable to slumping when it becomes wet. The resulting ‘crab holes’ become an issue if they start to join up, creating extensive fronts of sheetwash erosion. The Forsyths have seen this result in some significant incisions in the landscape.

A technique Graham and Ben have developed to address this is simple and effective. It consists of chamfering (flattening) the erosion face to give it a gradual slope rather than a vertical face, then lining the fresh face with calcrete. They have found that this is a very low risk approach, and even if the work fails in places, the calcrete armour prevents erosion from progressing. This technique appears to have an added bonus of the calcrete lifting the soil pH and helping the perennial grasses to grow vigorously.

image of small and increasing sheet erosion
Small ‘crab holes’ of collapsed soils (left) can spread to form massive fronts of sheet erosion (right).
image grasses growing over chamfered erosion
Chamfered erosion in September 2005 (left) and stabilisation through colonisation of annual and perennial grasses after summer rain (no flood) in March 2006 (right).

image of interventions on Three Rivers Station



…You change your intent towards your country and it responds.

The strategies put in place by the Forsyth family are clearly being successful in helping mosaics of regenerating soil and vegetation to establish and expand. Ben notes, “Historically Three Rivers has had a comprehensive photo and species count monitoring system in place. Due to the destocked period, and resultant drop in available time and money, monitoring has not been as thorough in recent years. Anecdotally, the perennial grass content of the pasture has dramatically increased in the last five years and there has been a definite decrease in erosion at the locations that have been treated”.

image of some grasses on near-bare ground
Recolonisation of perennial grasses after de-stocking, forming a seed bank.

Ben continues, “Significant increases in the population of perennial grass species has occurred since de-stocking happened in 2003-4. It is assumed that this will lead to an increase in soil biology and sequestration of carbon”. Perennial grasses such as kangaroo grass (Themeda triandra) and silky brown-top (Eulalia aurea) are recolonising areas in groves that formed after the destocking. On slightly-sloping sheetwash eroded terrain, alternating strips of sandy topsoil are supporting these groves, separated by usually bare gravel bands that only support low annual wind-grasses for a short time after rain. These clumps of grass form seed banks – or “seed orchards” – which allow the grasses to build and spread.

Kangaroos have long plagued Three Rivers Station, competing in droves for the scarce grasses with livestock. Ben and Graham have noticed that kangaroos prefer short grasses and will eat them to the roots, yet ignore longer grasses. Where grasses are growing taller, kangaroos are not to be found. As the impact of regeneration spreads across the landscape, Graham and Ben are seeing fewer and fewer kangaroos. They feel there is a strong possibility that, as the grassland returns, the kangaroos will maintain balanced and healthy numbers on Three Rivers Station.

image of pond of water amongst trees
Water ponding upstream of established rakes.

Some gullies that were forming in the Middle Branch of the Gascoyne have been stabilised by the erosion-control earthworks and calcrete and this, combined with the respite from grazing from both cattle and kangaroos, has resulted in extensive perennial grass recruitment and probably increased recharge into groundwater. The river banks have more grass. Pools that used to exist upstream of the rakes have filled with sand. They still contain water, but as this is covered by 30cm or so of sand, there is no evaporation.

In one area, as is common, an accidental nick in the landscape due to road works on an old track had caused a small incision to start. This small incision had the capability of putting at risk the water course leaving some wetlands perched above the new stream level. The stream diversion banks, made of calcrete have been successful in stopping the progress of the incision and in restoring the flows of the river to this wetland.

Interestingly, a new grass has been found on Three Rivers which has not yet been identified. Graham Forsyth reports it as, “extremely vigorous, with very vigorous rhizomes and limited spread by seed. It produces a dense sward able to capture litter and sediment. It appears to be able to use soil moisture at any time and maintains green leaf well into dry periods. It is palatable to cattle and horses, both graze it only to a height of about 10cm.”

image of grass species
Left: Graham discussing the as-yet unidentified new grass on Three Rivers Station. Right: New grass shoot.

Graham says, “Nature’s wonderful and it’s just waited for the right circumstances and the manager of the land. You change your intent towards your country and it responds”.



I believe we’re going to need every bit of productive country that earth’s got to offer over the next few years, we’ve got to nurture what we’ve got…

Graham and Ben are looking forward to being able to expand these early successes across the landscape to get the full effect of them. “From an individual and family perspective, it has been affirming to see the positive results from our dramatic and very costly action to de-stock back in 2003. This decision was made after we became aware of the accelerating soil erosion and landscape desiccation processes that were rampant. Our family has been greatly encouraged by the rapid increases in the regeneration of the perennial ground cover species and the obvious benefits of the earthworks that we have been able to construct to slow the water and spread it across flood plains.”

Once the mining activity in the area has been stabilised and the locations and requirements of the mines are known, pastoral operations will be able to be integrated back into the area. This is critical, not only the Forsyths, but to the ecological function of the area. Perennial grasses are an important component of the rangelands because of their function in protecting and building soil, storing carbon in the soil and infiltration of water into the subsoils and aquifers. Perennial grasses have evolved alongside grazing animals and the actions of grazing, trampling and recovery are vital to the renewal of the perennial plants and to the maintenance of plant diversity and abundance.

Graham and Ben have been studying leading grazing theory and practices from all over the world and integrated this knowledge with their own insights into the current and desired function of their land. Ben notes, “Destocking of the property allowed recovery while strategies were implemented”.

In April 2012, 400 cows were returned to Three Rivers Station and it is anticipated that grazing pressure will slowly be increased. Ben advises that they are, “Establishing a plan to introduce rest and rotation to the grazing strategy, rigorously maintaining total grazing pressure to remain within seasonal carrying capacity and embracing technology for water point management and livestock monitoring”.

The initial plan will see rotational grazing used across four paddocks on one floodplain area of Three Rivers Station. Once mining requirements become clearer and location of fence lines can be planned with confidence, Graham and Ben will sub-divide to smaller paddocks and a more intensive rotational grazing strategy. The strategy will be extended to other parts of the property as more grassland becomes available and resources become available to extend the watering and fencing infrastructure.

image of grass species

images of the beginning of perennial colonisation and flourishing pastures.
A range of pasture conditions evidenced on Three Rivers Station: still degraded land (top left); initial colonisers (top right); beginning of perennial colonisation (below left); flourishing pastures (below right).

The locally appropriate plan for management of grazing aims to build the ecological function and sustainability of the pastoral enterprise, improve aquifer recharge and build soil carbon stocks, protect the rivers and drainages, produce ‘clean and green’ and healthy livestock in a financially satisfactory way. The Forsyths are investigating some new processes and technologies to lower the fossil fuel footprint of their operation. This includes use of recycled materials and new technologies such as virtual fencing.

Graham and Ben Forsyth believe that Australia’s rangelands are assets of national importance and responsibility for their condition extends beyond the current lease holders to the nation as a whole. Regenerated land at the headwaters of the Gascoyne and the Murchison will assist with the delivery of clean water downstream to important catchments surrounding Carnarvon. Fully regenerated pastoral leases will be vitally important to future generations through the revitalisation of the pastoral industry to help to meet the requirements for high quality protein for a growing population.

The Forsyth commitment to the land and its people shows in the determined and innovative approach they are taking to bringing the major stakeholders together to lead the process of taking collective responsibility for the degradation and working together to effect the regeneration and restore the decades of damage to the Gascoyne rangelands. Their leadership and innovation shows that together, mining companies, governments and farmers, as stewards of the land, have an opportunity for a strategic partnership in restoring the rangelands and realising the agricultural production opportunities that a healthy landscape will present.

As Graham concludes, “I believe we’re going to need every bit of productive country that earth’s got to offer over the next few years, we’ve got to nurture what we’ve got but if it can’t be bought into production viably, then you’ve got to find other ways to still bring it back. Because if we don’t bring it back, the Gascoyne River from this divide to the sea will just be a Grand Canyon. Now, we can’t let that happen”.





Colin Seis faced adversity and then struck ‘gold’ in developing a new way to look after the land and his bottom line – building tonnes of soil along the way.



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20km north of Gulgong, NSW Central Highlands

ENTERPRISE: Sheep. Crops. Native Grass Seed. Kelpie Dogs.

PROPERTY SIZE: 840 hectares


ELEVATION: 460-580 m


  • Loss after major bushfire necessitating establishment of a low-input agricultural system


  • Developing and implementing ‘pasture cropping’
  • Time-controlled rotational grazing
  • ‘Vertical Stacking’ of enterprises – cropping, native grass seed, sheep wool and meat
  • Innovations commenced: Time controlled grazing 1989/Pasture cropping 1993


  • Annual input costs reduced by over $120,000
  • Soil carbon increased by 203% in 10 years
  • Delivering three production lines from each paddock
  • Improved wool quality


The management of Winona from 1930 to 1980 turned out to be an ecological disaster. Loss of land to salinity, declining soil quality, dead and dying trees, insect attack, fungal and animal diseases, plus the high cost of fertilisers, herbicides and other inputs showed the suffering of an unhealthy system. In 1979 a devastating bushfire left no choice but to change the way things were done.

In developing ‘Pasture Cropping’ Colin Seis found a way to work his pastures, crops and sheep together and healed his land. Now, Winona produces similar volumes of wool and grain to that achieved under previous management methods, but annual costs have decreased by over $120,000 and the condition of the land is improving, not degrading.

By applying regenerative forms of cropping and grazing, Colin has achieved a 203% increase in soil carbon in just ten years. The vast majority of the soil carbon is highly stable (non-labile), meaning it is significantly less subject to degradation, and carbon is being built and measured to a depth of 500mm.

In addition to being able to pass on a productive and sustainable farm to the next generation, Colin feels a well-deserved sense of achievement at having developed an innovative farming method that is being adopted by thousands of other farmers in similar climates and soil landscapes all over the world.



Pasture cropping is a technique developed by Colin Seis and Daryl Cluff in 1993 which involves sowing crops into living perennial pastures and growing them symbiotically. In a mixed farm enterprise it seeks to combine cropping and grazing into one land management method where each one benefits the other.

Pasture Cropping (top to bottom): emerging grain seedlings
in dormant perennial pasture; the growing crop; harvesting

In 1993, the original concept of sowing crops into a dormant stand of summer growing native grass, red grass (Bothriochloa macra), was thought of as an inexpensive way of sowing oats for stock feed. While this certainly turned out to be true, many side benefits were also identified. The grazing crops performed so well that it was obvious that good grain yields could also be achieved. The initial concept was only touching the surface of a land management technique that is proving to be revolutionary.

Conventional cropping methods require that all vegetation be killed prior to sowing and while the crop is growing. With pasture cropping, there is no need to kill competing ground cover vegetation for cultivation, and adequate productivity can still be achieved. Groundcover is maintained at all times so that erosion by wind and water is avoided, soil structure is not destroyed by cultivation and chemical input requirements are only a fraction of those used in traditional crop production methods. ‘No till’ cropping, in contrast, also minimises soil disturbance, often with direct drilling of seed, however it is not performed in combination with a perennial pasture, but more usually into the stubble of previous crops.

Sowing a crop using the pasture cropping method also stimulates perennial grass seedlings to grow in numbers and diversity. This then produces more stock feed after the crop is harvested and totally eliminates the need to re-sow pastures.

Economically, this technique provides good potential for profit as input costs are a fraction of conventional cropping methods. The added benefit in a mixed farm situation is that up to six months extra grazing is achieved with pasture cropping as no grazing time is lost due to traditional ground preparation and weed control requirements.

There is growing evidence, scientific and anecdotal, to support pasture cropping’s contribution to improvements in soil health, improved water use efficiency and general improvement in ecosystem function. By retaining perennial native grass in grazing and cropping systems and having full ground cover all of the time, large increase in plant biomass can be achieved when compared to conventional methods. When combined with plant root functions, this biomass can dramatically increase soil carbon levels and improve nutrient cycling within the soil.

This technique has been trialled, practiced or adopted across Australia and in other countries where regions share similar climate and soil landscapes. Colin reports, “There are now over 2000 farmers “pasture cropping” cereal crops into summer (C4) and winter (C3) perennial native grass in NSW, South Australia, Victoria Queensland, West Australia and Tasmania as well as other areas around the world”.

Pasture cropping is also being used to restore native grasslands in many areas of Australia.



The Seis family has farmed at Winona since the 1860s. Colin’s great grandfather initially selected a small allotment to which other allotments were added over the years to eventually form the current 840 hectares. Colin took over management of the Winona from his father in the 1970s, and now, Colin’s son Nick performs much of the day-to-day management.

Ranging from valley floors and gentle slopes rising to granite outcrops on hilltops and ridges, the predominant soils on Winona are well-drained coarse and fine sands derived from granite. There are yellow sodic (high sodium) soils along drainage lines and euchrozems (deep red clay loams) that developed on an area of basalt at the southern end of the property.

When the Seis family selected the first allotment in 1860, survey reports described the area as woodland, suggesting that the land cover was grassland with scattered trees. It is likely that there were over 100 native grass, forb and herb species, with the grassland dominated by kangaroo grass (Themeda australis). While little tree clearing was probably required to develop the land for farming, the change in management soon led to widespread tree regeneration. Title deeds dated 1906 record the presence of stringybark saplings. Colin’s father recalled considerable ring-barking occurring when he was a boy in the 1920s, indeed, one paddock is still referred to today by the name of the man employed at the time to ring-bark trees. Colin’s father also recalled that there were sparsely scattered large trees within the saplings. The large trees were retained and some remain today.

From the 1930s to 1980, the farm was used for wheat, oats, wool and sheep production. Pastures of introduced grasses, mostly annual species (sub clover, rye grass, small areas of lucerne), were established. Set or continuous stock grazing practices were used. Crops were sown every three to five years, depending on soil moisture, by ploughing and working the soil up to five times. Crop yields during this period were good, with yields of over three tonnes a hectare being achieved.

Left: Grazing on Winona in 1938. Right: Grazing on Winona in 2009.


Associated with these management practices the soils were showing excesses of aluminium, iron and sodium. Soil carbon levels were around 1% in the 0-10cm range with observed inefficient nutrient cycling. To sustain agricultural productivity it was necessary to apply high rates fertiliser to correct phosphorus, molybdenum and calcium deficiencies.

Colin recalls, “While superphosphate was cheap and subsidised by government during the 1950s and 1960s this high input method was very productive, but at great ecological cost such as declining soil health, soil carbon loss, soil structure decline, saline areas and dysfunctional landscape”.

He notes, “As superphosphate became more expensive and the government subsidy removed this high input system could no longer be afforded. The high cost of fertilising pasture and farm inputs was around $121,000 annually – in 2011 dollars, including wages”.



In 1979 a major bushfire resulted in the loss of over 3000 sheep and most of the farm infrastructure – house, sheds and fencing. The lack of income prevented re-establishing the previous high input cost cropping method. So, after the fire, Colin started looking for a low input agricultural system. He set about understanding the ecological function of the landscape he had inherited and had managed using practices learned from his father. Faced with the challenge of matching inputs to outputs, Colin began exploring alternatives to the traditional farming system and the likely impacts on his farm’s economics.

Inappropriate grazing techniques have done major damage to Australia’s grasslands and rangelands over the last 200 years. Animals can be beneficial, if they are grazed well.

He realised that native grassland did not require high levels of phosphorus and started to develop methods that would stimulate seedling recruitment of native grass species. He sought to restore Winona to native grassland that did not require inputs like superphosphate and would function in an ecologically sound manner. Colin summarises, “If you get out of the way and let nature fix it, it works better and is much easier”.

Colin notes that tradition was arguably the greatest impediment to change. In spite of requesting assistance from scientific and research organisations, they were not interested in developing a pasture cropping management system. Representatives of these organisations told Colin that it was impossible to grow crops in this manner.

Instead, over a period of 20 years Colin developed the pasture cropping technique by trial and error on Winona. He has spent much of his time perfecting this technique and can now grow many different types of winter and summer growing crops, without destroying the perennial pasture base.



Colin originally started time control grazing in 1989 to better manage pastures, but it was not until he and Daryl Cluff developed pasture cropping in 1993 that Colin saw dramatic improvement in the regeneration of native perennial pasture species.

Native pastures on Winona are grazed by sheep and, when dormant, direct drilled with crops.

Colin now sows commercial crops into the dominant pasture by direct drilling to minimise soil disturbance. Sheep are used to prepare paddocks to pasture crop and crops are sown, usually with no herbicide and 70% less fertiliser than conventional methods. Only relatively small amounts of liquid organic fertiliser are added at the time of sowing, using the same machine, so that tractor costs and soil compaction are minimised.

Livestock are an intrinsic part of Colin’s pasture cropping system on Winona. Before sowing, when perennial pasture species are dormant, short term time-control grazing with a large mob of sheep (100-150 a hectare) is used to graze and trample perennial pasture down to a height of around 100mm. This practice prepares the paddock for cropping by reducing the starting biomass and physically breaking down weeds, creating a litter and mulch layer and adding nutrients from manure and urine.

Sheep can lightly graze the growing grain crop after it has become established but before it begins to develop seed. Once the crop is harvested sheep are reintroduced for a short period to take advantage of the native pasture that has been re-growing while the crop was maturing. Grazing tolerant native grass species such as red grass (Bothriochloa macra) and spear grass (Austrostipa spp) are gradually being replaced by more productive species such as warrego summer-grass (Paspalidium spp) and wallaby grass (Austrodanthonia spp). Significant areas of winter active species such as common wheat grass (Elymus scaber) and weeping grass (Microlaena stipoides) are returning.

Pasture cropping enables integration of sheep and crop production, optimising production of both while minimising chemical inputs and machinery use and improving soil structure and fertility.

Single trees are being planted in paddocks to restore original vegetation cover.

Sheep are managed in two main mobs of 2000 head and rotated around 75 paddocks in a time-control rotational grazing technique. Introducing time-control grazing necessitated a denser pattern of fencing to increase the number of paddocks from 10 to 75. A central laneway provides an efficient way to move sheep around the property. Over 70 small dams supply stock water as there are no creeksor rivers on Winona. These dams have high water levels and are maintained mainly through lateral underground flow. The combination of the soil type and maintaining a complete groundcover ensures that all rainfall infiltrates.

Colin recognises that trees provide stock shelter and that it is essential to replace the old paddock trees that are nearing the end of their life span. He has planted over 2000 single paddock trees, aiming to restore the original 1860s cover, estimated to be about two trees a hectare. As they establish, the single trees are protected from stock with guards. In addition, around 15,000 local native trees and shrubs have been planted in belts to form wildlife corridors and to link areas of remnant native vegetation.

Colin is deservedly proud of the technique he developed, noting its strengths, “With pasture cropping it is now possible to produce an annual crop like wheat and a perennial grain crop for human consumption off the same area within a twelve month period. Added to this is the grazing value of sheep meat and wool as well as native grass seed and carbon sequestration”.

“I believe that this technique of using ‘vertical stacking’ of enterprises on the same area over the same time period has potential for addressing world food shortages into the future.”


Vertical stacking enables three uses of the native grassland in each paddock – native seed harvesting, grain cropping (oats and wheat) and grazing sheep for wool and meat. The three land uses are rotated seasonally, annually and every 3-5 years, depending of the prevailing seasonal conditions such as soil moisture, rainfall and temperature.

Native grass seed is harvested in summer (C4 species) and autumn (C3 species). Grain crops are direct drilled into the winter dormant native pasture at the end of autumn and harvested in summer. Sheep graze each paddock once each season, approximately 3 days every 90 days, the highest frequency of the land use rotations.



Soil from a conventionally grazed and cropped paddock (right) and from a time-controlled rotationally grazed and pasture cropped paddock (left) which contains significantly more microbial life, soil carbon and subsequently greater water holding capacity.

Extensive soil testing on Winona has shown that eliminating all cultivation other than the direct drilling for pasture cropping, together with rotational grazing, has enabled dramatic improvements in soil condition. Soil carbon has increased by 203% to 90 tonnes a hectare over a ten-year period. This equates to storage of around 170 tonnes of CO2 (equivalent) a hectare.

Seventy-eight per cent of newly sequestered carbon is in the humic fraction of the soil 1Jones, C.E. (2011). Carbon that counts. New England and North West Landcare Adventure, Guyra, NSW.. This is non-labile, therefore much more stable and significantly less subject to degradation.

All soil nutrients have increased by an average of 172% in available and total amounts, except for aluminium, iron and sodium, which have decreased. Compared to regular cropping, pasture cropping soils show an increase in actinomycete (bacteria which have a role in decomposition of organic materials) and fungal abundance consistent with less disturbance and/or with greater perennial basal cover and litter cover. These impressive results have been validated through a paired site analysis by Sydney University and CSIRO/Department of Primary Industries 2Ampt, P. and Doornbos, S. (2010) Communities in Landscape Project: Benchmark Study of Innovators, Gulgong, Central West Catchment NSW,.


Increase in soil microbial numbers and species diversity has resulted in better nutrient cycling and greater potential for increasing soil carbon.

DepthSoil Carbon Level

Soil tests conducted in September 2010 revealed carbon levels at the various depths as shown in the table.


Colin notes that his landscape has developed a real resilience, with relatively stable production regardless of rainfall. “Over the last ten years, we have experienced five years of above average rainfall and five years below. A new rainfall pattern has emerged that sees 70% of our rain falling in the summer months, whereas before it was closer to 50%. In the poorer years, no ‘drought’ feeding has been required, due to the resilience in the pastures from the improving soil conditions.”

Many biodiversity improvements are apparent since the changes to management of Winona. Vegetation changes are being monitored on six 100 metre long survey lines (transects). Winona was once dominated by annual weeds and the transect counts from 1999 showed 60% weeds and 10% native perennial species in the pasture. Transects now show 80% perennial native species and 5% weeds. Winona is now a diverse, functioning native grassland with over 50 native species.

As Colin points out, this change was created, not with herbicides, but with groundcover. “Providing the conditions for perennial pasture species to thrive will steadily suppress the weeds. Using herbicides can help is some circumstances but can also kill desirable species, such as the perennial pasture species.”

Tree health has improved and the remaining naturally established trees are regenerating.

Monitored bird numbers and diversity includes around 100 species. Sparrows and starlings that were common prior to 1990s are no longer observed on Winona. Few marsupial species were observed prior to 1990s and now marsupial diversity has also increased, including grey kangaroos, swamp and red necked wallabies and wallaroos.

Healthy soils are clearly apparent under the diverse native vegetation cover on Winona.

A large increase of spiders in pastures has delivered a more stable balance to the insect populations and provided biological control of problem insects like red leg earth mite.

Whilst crop production on Winona has remained about the same, averaging two tonnes a hectare but producing up to four tonnes a hectare, the cost of growing the crops has reduced significantly; in the order of $120,000 a year.

Additionally, Winona now produces and sells about one tonne of native grass seed annually to farmers and for landscape rehabilitation. Colin is also investigating the economics of harvesting and marketing of two native grass seeds for human food consumption.

Pasture cropping enables extra grazing of up to six months on Winona’s mixed farm enterprise. No longer having to re-sow pastures saves $100 – $150 a hectare per year.

Wool and sheep production has also remained about the same, however wool tensile strength has improved by 60% and vegetable matter such as burr and seed in the wool has declined by around 70% making both the wool and sheep more valuable.

Colin says that being able to measure and monitor on his farm has been very important, “Carbon and soil nutrients, plant and ground cover transects as well as sheep and crop monitoring has been very beneficial in observing the positive change forward”.

Education is also seen essential to bringing positive change. Colin states, “We require more farmer educators. Farmers should empower themselves with knowledge.” Colin devotes a lot of his own time running courses, workshops and providing training on pasture cropping across the country, encouraging experimentation with or adoption of this innovative technique.

Overall, the development and implementation of pasture cropping has restored the landscape health on Winona. Re-establishing native grasslands through methods working with nature, ensuring ground cover at all times, rather than trying to control it through use of herbicides and fertilisers has delivered its rewards to Colin Seis.

In his words, “As we farm closer to how nature had it originally designed, the easier the workload becomes and the more profitable it can be.”





Meet Angus and Kelly Whyte from Wyndham Station

Angus and Kelly Whyte were dissatisfied with the amount of work they were having to put into their property for little financial return just to watch the condition of the land deteriorate. By gaining a new perspective, a motivation for long-term landscape health now guides all decision making on Wyndham Station. As a result, vegetation cover, soil health and water-use efficiency have all improved, leading to increased carry capacity and productivity. The landscape is more resilient and the Whytes are well-equipped with the tools to help them manage the impacts of drought.




85km north of Wentworth, Lower Western NSW

ENTERPRISE: Sheep and Cattle breeding and trading, opportunity cropping

PROPERTY SIZE: 12,500 hectares





  • Making long-term landscape health and productivity the driving factor for farm management decisions.
  • Implementing planned (holistic) rotational grazing management, allowing sufficient time for forage rest and recovery before re-grazing.
  • Matching the stocking rate to carrying capacity by adjusting stock numbers according to monitored conditions.
  • Mobbing stock to use livestock to disturb the soil surface and create germination opportunities.


  • Building a more resilient landscape and business by improving landscape ecological function.
  • Increasing vegetation cover and diversity, extending the growing season and production potential and protecting the soil surface.
  • Improving soil organic matter content and structure, leading to improved rainfall infiltration, retention and water-use efficiency.
  • Developing increased control over stocking and income.
  • Improving the property carrying capacity, enabling stocking rate to be almost doubled within 10 years, from 55 to 100 DSE days/ha/100mm rain.
  • Reducing on-farm labour input by 60%.
  • Increasing gross margin from $8 per hectare to $12 per hectare.
  • Building a more predictable and reliable business that has reduced personal and family stress and improved family lifestyle.


A landscape that is most resilient to the impacts of drought is one with high proportions of continual groundcover, supporting healthy soils and effective rainfall infiltration and retention. Such a landscape supports a bio-diverse ecosystem with healthy nutrient cycles of growth, breakdown and decay.

Many years of over-utilisation of natural resources in the Western Division has resulted in significant degradation of landscape condition, leading to sparse vegetation, hard-capped soils and a cycle of continuing degradation. Combined with the extremes of climate this region is subject to, the landscape and pastoral production is regularly affected by multi-year droughts.

Innovative farmers in the region are illustrating that active and innovative landscape management can restore degraded landscapes by rebuilding the landscape’s regenerative capacity and at the same time delivering sustainable production; regardless of seasonal conditions. Rather than accept that these landscapes are vulnerable and fragile, innovative farmers are learning to work with these landscapes to actively restore landscape structure, composition and function.

Angus and Kelly Whyte, of Wyndham Station north of Wentworth, have, since 2002, changed the way they view the landscape and make on-farm decisions to invest in the long-term health and productivity of their 12,500 hectare property. They now run a successful sheep and cattle breeding and trading business and are confident that they have the tools and information to be able to manage Wyndham Station in periods of drought to ensure an ever-improving and more resilient landscape and enterprise.

The key factors influencing the resilient landscape and business being built on Wyndham Station are:

  • Making the long-term health of the landscape the focus of all management decisions.
  • Managing grazing to increase and maintain groundcover, particularly palatable perennial species, which also protect the soil and increase rainfall infiltration and retention.
  • Monitoring their rainfall and forage availability in order to match the stocking rate to the carrying capacity.
  • Practising planned rotational grazing, using large mobs of stock to disturb the hard-capped soil surface and providing sufficient rest for forage to recover before re-grazing.
Wyndham Station.




Wyndham Station comprises 12,500 hectares in the far south-western corner of New South Wales, 85km north of Wentworth, which lies at the confluence of the Murray and Darling Rivers. The Great Anabranch of the Darling River forms the eastern boundary of the property, which also includes an ephemeral lake of around 1,000 hectares.

As part of Australia’s extensive semi-arid rangelands, which cover 75% of the continent, the climate of this area is characterised by hot and persistently dry weather and erratic rainfall. The Bureau of Meteorology reports a long-term average rainfall in Wentworth of 286mm, ranging from 102mm in 1982 to 705mm in 1870.

This region of the Western Division is made up of undulating red soil plains and grey floodplain clays.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s the effects of total grazing pressure caused by high numbers of sheep and plague rabbits, were compounded by the effects of the multi-year Federation Drought. Over-utilisation of the understorey and ground layer vegetation across the region changed the condition of the native vegetation and the ecological function of much of the landscape.

Areas of claypan – bare exposed subsoil – are characteristic of
landscape degradation in the semi-arid rangelands.

The over-grazing resulted in topsoils being exposed to erosion by water and wind. In many areas topsoils were either washed or blown away, leaving the exposed sub-surface soil, which is higher in clay content. Over time these areas became hard-capped and bare of vegetation and are now characteristic of degradation in the region. Rainfall cannot readily penetrate these hard-capped soils, instead runoff rushes over the soil surface, leading to gully erosion in some areas. Seeds do not readily germinate in such conditions, and consequently even in better rainfall years the landscape struggles to respond with the reestablishment of perennial grass groundcover or rehabilitation of shrubs.

Much of Wyndham Station is dominated by chenopod shrublands 1Chenopods are salt tolerant xenomorphic (plant characteristics determined by ability to resist drought) shrubs, sub-shrubs or forbs, generally less than 1.5 metres tall. The leaves are frequently covered with scales or soft hairs; some are leafless with fleshy jointed stems. http://www.diamantina-tour.com.au/outback_info/land_sys/chaenopod/chenopod.html comprising saltbush (Atriplex spp.), pearl bluebush (Mairena sedifolia) and black bluebush (Mairena pyramidata) with an understorey of spear grass (Austrostipa varibilis), other mainly annual grasses, copper burr (Sclerolaena spp.), common bottle-washers (Enneapogon avenaceus) and various forbs. The property also has some woodland areas, mostly dominated by belah (Casuarina cristata) and black box (Eucalyptus largiflorens).

Angus and Kelly Whyte have been on Wyndham Station since 1998. Their original property management practices were typical of those in the region. The property was conservatively stocked with Merino sheep. Management focused on animal performance and production, with little consideration for the ongoing status of the land. Paddocks were continuously set-stocked, regardless of seasonal conditions. This ultimately led to overgrazing in times of drought.

The many farm dams provided stock water and animals were given uncontrolled access, with little thought of loss through evaporation or water quality.

At this time, the family was working six to seven days a week with little financial return.

The Whytes observed that landscape productivity and health was declining across a range of factors – grass was sparse and the livestock was suffering from a carbohydrate (fibre) drought each year. The landscape and their enterprise were becoming ever more vulnerable to impacts of short-term and multi-year droughts.

It was with this dissatisfaction with income, the condition of the land and the amount of work involved in running the farm that Gus and Kelly decided to explore alternative ways of managing their property.




To build landscape health and the ability to regenerate regardless of climatic conditions, the landscape needs to be the focus of management decisions.

With a lot of perseverance and very little money, the Whytes set about finding a way forward to address their concerns. They learned that the land used to have a much greater carrying capacity and that there was an opportunity to rehabilitate the landscape and provide them with greater resilience in the face of drought, in both landscape condition and financial stability.

Gus and Kelly realised that the landscape could repair itself if they gave it the chance. They understood that by building a more diverse ecology over time they could achieve greater resilience in their landscape and their business. Therefore, to build landscape health and the ability to regenerate regardless of climatic conditions, the landscape needed to be the focus of their management decisions, rather than the stock. Hence the Whytes developed a philosophy to work with nature and ensure that the land consistently improved while producing a quality product.

Gus feels that the reason why they manage Wyndham Station the way that they do is more important than how (that is, the techniques they use to achieve their landscape outcomes). Accordingly, this is a driving force for the success of the Whyte’s enterprise; working and making decisions in alignment with their personal values and goals for their landscape, as well as their livestock and lifestyle.


Attending the Resource Consulting Services (RCS) Grazing for Profit course in 2001 was a key investment for the Whytes in changing property management practices for a greater focus on landscape health. Grazing for Profit involves holistic integrated management training for farmers, graziers and mixed farming enterprises. It focuses on the use of natural plant, animal and water cycles as an integral part of on-farm decision making, to lead to both increased profits and increased sustainability of land resources. 2RCS Core Courses, Grazing for Profit www.rcsaustralia.com.au/products/family-business/grazing-for-profit-2/

Overgrazing is a factor of time, not of stock numbers.

Planned rotational grazing (also referred to Holistic planned grazing) is a key management practice introduced through the Grazing for Profit course. This practice aims to replicate the natural behaviours of large grazing animals on the landscape – where large herds graze an area intensively for a short amount of time and then move on, not returning until pastures have fully recovered. On farm, planned rotational grazing utilises increased paddock numbers of smaller size to control stock grazing pressure.

Planned rotational grazing (or Holistic planned grazing) is a technique for managing livestock that helps to regenerate the landscape.

Whilst overgrazing is usually associated with too many animals in a grazing area, holistic training demonstrates that time is the critical factor. It explains how overgrazing occurs when animals stay too long when growth is fast, for example, in fast growth periods, a plant bitten on day one can be bitten again on day three – this is overgrazing. Preferred pasture species which are selectively grazed are more vulnerable to being lost through this behaviour. Overgrazing can also occur when animals return too soon when growth is slow, meaning plants will not have fully recovered from the last grazing and will thus be overgrazed.

Planned rotational grazing management ensures that rainfall amounts, forage recovery time and feed quantity available are all considered to determine carrying capacity and grazing/rest duration and thus stocking rate and mob density.

Follow-up through the RCS course skill development and coaching Graduate Link and Executive Link programs from 2002 to 2005 provided essential support through basic changes and development of fencing infrastructure to implement the new grazing management program that the Whytes chose to adopt.

Gus has since received support and improved his ongoing knowledge of rotational grazing through further education and training from RCS, and from service providers Principle Focus and ProAdvice. He has found that developing new skills and acquiring tools has been necessary to manage the different farming system they have adopted. All of this, including professional advice, is seen as a worthwhile investment as mistakes can be costly.

The Whytes continually build knowledge and seek further education to enable them to meet the landscape goals for their property. As part of his overall education, Gus also attends various field days and has participated in stock nutrition courses.



Grazing on Wyndham Station is managed to ensure that landscape
condition always improves.

Gus’ training enabled him to better understand the impacts of animals on the landscape and how best to manage them for the most positive landscape response. Perennial plants need time to harvest sufficient energy from the sun to create their structure and store enough energy in dormant buds for next season’s growth. If they fail to get this energy through overgrazing, then they shrink in basal area and gradually drop out of the plant community, or are dominated by other species, mostly annuals.

Planned rotational grazing provides the technique for managing this, reversing degradation and improving perennial groundcover. Gus initially tried some ideas from the RCS course and commenced planned rotational grazing in late 2001. Based on his training, Gus has trialled various forms of planned rotational and cell grazing management over the years to determine what is best suited to his landscape and seasonal conditions.

He has settled on a flexible planned rotational system that allows him to vary mob size, grazing and rest period duration according to the conditions – particularly rainfall volume, feed availability and according to plant germination times to encourage plant diversity. Greater flexibility is often required in the more erratic and lower rainfall zones of the Western Division than for properties applying these techniques closer to the coast. On Wyndham Station, grazing management varies from intensive mob grazing in average and good seasons and lower intensity, slower rotation in drier seasons.

Overall, the grazing system on Wyndham Station is managed to meet the following goals:

Wyndham Station property map

Since 2001 the Whytes have improved their rotational grazing system substantially. Stocking rate, rainfall and vegetation levels (indicating carry capacity) are all monitored to ensure that goals are met. Stocking decisions are based on the goal for individual paddocks, whether it has been rested enough, the trigger points of desirable plant species, or if it requires heavier stock density at certain types of year in order to disturb the soil and provide the condition for optimum germination, establishment and growth of perennial grasses.

On Wyndham Station, paddocks are rested for between 40 and 300 days depending on vegetation recovery and growth rates. Between 60-90% of the property is being spelled at any given time.

Gus uses grazing charts to capture information on stock numbers and rainfall and to provide measurements and a guide to vegetative growth and water use efficiency over time. The stocking rate is always referred to in terms of rainfall – dry sheep equivalent (DSE) days per hectare per 100mm of rainfall (DDH/100mm) – not just DSE per hectare, as rainfall is understood as a key influencer of carrying capacity. The charts inform future stocking decisions on forage availability. The Whytes look to budget for at least 6 months of feed in front of their stock, and adjust stock rates accordingly.

The graph illustrates the water use efficiencies being gained on Wyndham Station, with landscape response to rain making sufficient forage available to maintain an increased stocking rate well after rainfall events.
Low Stress Stock Handling training develops skills to manage large
mobs of stock – and some particularly friendly individuals.

Gus currently runs just over 6000 DSE of stock in three mobs of around 2000 DSE each. This is quite a contrast to typical management in the area which usually sees around 250-300 DSE set-stocked to each water supply on a property.

Initial challenges were experienced with managing large mobs of stock upon introducing the new grazing system, due to less frequent exposure to handling by both people and livestock in the set-stocking model. Gus sought to address this, and now the whole family has attended Low Stress Stock Handling (LSS) school. LSS aims to foster low stress interaction between people and animals. This is based on understanding animal instincts and working with these instincts during animal interaction to obtain outcomes in a low-stress manner. By using the right methods, livestock will pass more calmly through most facilities and moving stock can be a low stress, painless activity for the livestock and the handlers.

Gus uses mob density to disturb the soil surface, in ways that small mammals and marsupials, now extinct in the region, would have done. The stock also provide fertiliser through their waste, as well as spread seed across the property. Plant succession, from early colonisers (often seen as weeds) which help repair the soil for the more preferred species, is then allowed to take place to lead to improved groundcover.

The more recent addition of cattle has further helped with animal impact on the landscape to help conditions improve. Their greater size causes greater surface disturbance, particularly beneficial on hard-packed claypan, to provide a more hospitable seedbed and germination opportunity for plants. Cattle also use different grazing techniques to sheep, pulling down scrub and clearing pathways through shrubs, which then gives improved access for the sheep.

Animal impact breaks up claypan surface to provide seed a
germination opportunity.

On Wyndham Station, excessive weed incursion or animal health issues are seen as indicators of management practices. To address such issues, management is altered to more effectively work towards the desired results, changing grazing duration, timing or density. This is a much preferred method for the Whytes to applying chemical interventions, which generally provide only short-term results and address the symptom, not the cause of the problem.

The Whytes use as few chemicals as possible on Wyndham Station to facilitate a balance of the natural predators and defences available to stock and plants to keep them healthy. Management practices are constantly aiming for higher levels of biodiversity and increased desirable plant species. Gus sees total landscape management as the priority.



Since 2001, paddock numbers have been increased from 8 to 34 to facilitate the planned rotational grazing. Gus is looking to further increase paddock numbers but also to make more use of stock handling skills to influence animal grazing patterns rather than just rely on fencing.

The boundary fence along either side of the Silver City Highway is 6-strand plain wire with an electric top wire. Internal fences are generally low 3-strand electric plain wire, with some single-wired fences also used.

Left: Most of the internal fences on Wyndham Station are 3-strand plain solar electric.
Right: Highway fencing comprises 6-strands.

More robust fencing is not required as, by using LSS methods, stock are familiarised with handling and regular rotation and are trained to observe fences as boundaries. In addition, as stock are used to regular rotation to access fresh forage, a ‘barrier’ as such is thus not required to contain stock to specific areas.

Fortunately, unlike in some other parts of the Western Division where large numbers of feral goats and kangaroos add to the total grazing pressure, there has been little impact by populations of these species on Wyndham Station and the surrounding region. This also reduces the requirement for heavier fencing to protect resting pastures.

Controlled troughing maintains water quality, minimises wastage and helps reduce pests grazing on resting pastures.

Whilst early additions saw a path cleared for fencing, Gus later adapted fence construction processes to leave ground cover (except larger shrubs) and natural undulations to better maintain landscape health. Fencing costs average $1000 a kilometre.

To help fund infrastructure developments Gus obtained two funding grants of around $30,000 each from the local Catchment Management Authority (now Local Land Services Western Region) and under the Government’s West 2000 Plus program for infrastructure and rabbit control activities

A portable tank and trough system helped to design and set-up permanent infrastructure.

No longer dependent on the original farm dams, stock water is now provided via pipeline to troughs throughout the property. Water supply is via allocation from the Darling Anabranch Pipeline Scheme which began in 2006. Water from the Murray or Darling Rivers is, initially, pumped into large holding tanks prior to reticulation. Some infrastructure, tanks and troughs were provided by the Pipeline Scheme.

Troughs are generally located at the intersection of paddocks. Troughs are seen as easy to control and provide better water quality than open dam access. Water supply is only provided to paddocks in use, reducing evaporation wastage and access by any pest animals to minimise grazing of recovering pastures.

Investment in water provision is always valuable if it is well planned and allows stock to utilise the landscape.

Gus initially used a portable 3,000 gallon tank on a frame, towing it to different locations in various paddocks. This allowed a lot of thought to be put into where to position watering points, as well as providing a temporary water point over scalds to help rehabilitate such areas. While the tank is now stationary, Gus indicates that he may use a similar technique as he increases paddock numbers.

The Whytes are planning to invest in larger capacity pipes to enable them to increase mob sizes at the farthest reaches of their property. Gus aims for stock to not have to walk more than 2km to water. He believes that investment in water provision is always valuable if it is well planned and allows stock to utilise the landscape.



Sheep are grazed in large mobs related to prevailing landscape conditions, here, around 2000DSE in August2014.

Wyndham Station currently runs a Merino flock of around 1200 head, joined to Merino Rams for wool and meat, with the older and cull ewes joined to White Suffolk rams. The nature of the stock is very important to Wyndham Station. Gus acknowledges that the sheep may not have the finest wool or highest lambing rates, but much of their value is in their temperaments and adaptation to local feed, climate and management practices.

Autumn is generally an important time of year for stocking decisions. Lambing time is managed for June when feed conditions are likely to be best. If it is dry in April, the decision is made to sell extra ewes rather than keep them until lambing time. The other key stocking decision date is November, after weaning has been completed and stocking rate decisions can be made before it gets too hot.

Improved landscape condition has enabled cattle to be
re-introduced onto the property.

With improving conditions, cattle were reintroduced onto the property in 2009 with an assortment of 130 heifers, mainly Santa-Droughtmaster crosses and 130 mixed-sex Murray Grey weaners. By 2012, through further purchases and as a result of a good season, they built their herd up to 500 breeders. This has been reduced back to 280 cows after poor rain seasons – maintaining and improving landscape condition is always the priority.

Understanding the landscape also means that the Whytes acknowledge that they are farming in low weight-gain country. This influences their management decisions and the Whytes see themselves as cattle breeding rather than finishing region, aiming to sell calves at a young age to fatteners or buy stock to either calve down or sell pregnancy tested in calf (PTIC).



During drought mob size is reduced and excess stock are sold.

Improving and maintaining landscape condition to increase carrying capacity is a key driver of cash flow and long-term profit. To better understand the value of the farm’s key asset – forage – Gus undertook a KLR Livestock Marketing course and manages according to these principles. The KLR model provides tools to assist in measuring the full cost of production, incorporating all direct and indirect costs, informing decisions on what livestock to sell and buy to maximise profit, independent of market conditions. This enables the Whytes to better value their forage and help manage livestock numbers. The trading method used is a ‘sell-buy’ technique, meaning new stock is purchased from profits of previous sales, rather than ‘buy-sell’, which relies on the market conditions at sale time to determine whether a profit is made on previously bought stock.

During drought mob size is reduced and excess stock are sold. Stocking rates on Wyndham Station are determined with reference to forage budgets, grazing charts, monitoring site information, pasture inspection, rainfall and resultant pasture conditions.

The graph illustrates the Whyte’s responsiveness to match stocking numbers to seasonal conditions. By focusing on landscape condition rather than stock numbers Gus is investing in the long-term health of the landscape – and ongoing enterprise profitability.

Opportunity cropping on the 670 arable hectares of the lake bed provides and additional income stream after a good season.

Gus has consistently achieved results over his minimum target of 30% return on this investment.

Opportunity cropping on the ephemeral lake bed provides an additional income stream in good seasons.



Gus recognises the importance of regular monitoring of landscape health, though acknowledges that his personality type does not lend him to doing this religiously. He previously received assistance from the Department of Primary Industries to set up a balanced monitoring program which was followed strictly over a couple of years. Whist other commitments have impacted on routine monitoring, Gus believes the process helped him to better interpret overall landscape health during his day-to-day work on the property.

Monitoring Program Aims:

  • Increase animal production from historical numbers by increasing biomass and density of palatable perennial plants, specifically perennial grasses
  • Capture and retain scarce resources such as nutrients and moisture for a more stable and productive landscape
  • Be simple to do.


A permanent marker, such as a star picket, is used to indicate where the photograph should be retaken at subsequent measurement periods. This simple photographic record clearly shows the changes in groundcover on Wyndham Station, improving over time and with significantly more growth after higher rainfall in 2011-12.


Measurements are taken from a permanent 100m transect over different land types, recording percentage ground cover, plant density measurements, species composition and soil features at 10m intervals using a 50x100cm quadrant. These measurements allow objective comparisons to be made over time.

Gus shows the 50x100cm quadrant used for transect measuring.

GROUND COVER (plant & litter)

Site No.  2009     2010     2011     2012   

(amount of dry matter per hectare that stock have eaten)

Site No.  2009     2010     2011     2012   


Site No.  2009     2010     2011     2012   


Site No.2009201020112012

4Whyte, A. & Jessop, P., 2012 Providing a diversity of management to achieve greater plant diversity. In: Proceedings of the Australian Rangeland Society Biennial Conference (Australian Rangeland Society: Australia)

The monitoring data reinforces how variable the climate can be and the extremely variable volumes of vegetation that can be produced in this region. This further reiterates why it is so important to actively understand and manage feed available, as conditions can change so extensively. By having the tools to measure feed availability – Gus always knows what feed he has available for the coming six months – he is able to make informed decisions to manage in times of drought.



Investment on Wyndham Station is prioritised based on what is determined to provide the fastest return on investment balanced against the Whyte’s personal values and goals for their landscape, livestock and lifestyle. Innovations have been funded incrementally in years where surplus funds were available. Gus indicates that it has taken 10 years to fully recoup cost of his investments.

  • Capital expenditure required for fencing and water upgrades totalled about $10 a hectare ($125,000) – indicative over 12 years
  • Fencing costs run at about $1000 per km
  • Eight additional water points have been added at a cost of $28,000
  • Annual water reticulation costs $5000 in power, $1800 for water supply, minus infrastructure depreciation



The increased carrying capacity has enabled all investment costs to be recouped, though in the more variable conditions of the Western Division, this takes longer than in heavier rainfall zones nearer the coast.

It is actively making decisions on factors within their control – stocking numbers and grazing management – with a focus on overall landscape health that has helped to build greater resilience to the impact of drought on Wyndham Station.

The Whytes noted early after changing practices that their farm was easier to run with fewer labour requirements. Small meaningful changes began to be observed in the landscape as patches of perennial grasses expanded and erosion began declining. Overall improved vegetation and soil condition was apparent within two years of starting the new grazing system.

The practices have provided a better understanding of landscape limitations through the use of such tools as grazing charts and land monitoring sites. These tools enable Gus to make good decisions so business can be resumed after drought much faster. The Whytes also have obtained increased management flexibility through providing greater opportunity to sell or buy stock. Gus’ management methods have meant that the landscape has improved following each drought, rather than degraded.

The Whytes have achieved increased landscape health through their grazing management practices. Improved vegetation cover and soil condition has improved water use efficiency, enabling carry capacity to be increased from 55 DDH/100mm to 100 DDH/100mm in 10 years. Average stocking rates in the district are 40-55 DDH/100mm.

Gus originally set a target of three times the original carrying capacity in 30 years, however, after being able to more than double the carrying capacity after 10 years (4000 DSE to 12,000 DSE), this is seen as too low a target and may need to be reassessed, to up to five or six times, depending on longer term seasonal conditions. Aware that the landscape used to be far more productive than it is currently, Gus sets a high target for landscape health and carrying capacity. However, this is a goal to influence management decisions, and it will not be considered a failure if it is not attained.

The Whytes are now averaging a current gross margin of $12 a hectare, compared to their previous margin and regional norm of around $8 a hectare.

The goals and flexibility of the grazing system used by the Whytes helps to continually achieve increased groundcover and diversity in vegetation.

The Whytes are observing improved landscape condition in terms of increase in groundcover and species diversity. There is an increase in density of palatable grasses and perennials. From just two species prior to management change, now, at least a dozen perennial grasses are commonly found on the property. These include:

Kerosene Grass (Aristida contorta) No.9 Wiregrass (Aristida jerichoensis)
Windmill Grass (Chloris truncate) Mulka (Eragrostis dielsii)
Neverfail (Eragrostis setifolia) Native Millet (Panicum decompositum)
Hairy Panic (Panicum effusum) Five-Minute Grass (Tripogon loliiformis)
Feather Top Speargrass (Austrostipa elegantissima)      Cotton Panic (Digitaria brownie)
White-Top (Danthonia caespitose) Queensland Bluegrass (Dichanthium sericeum)      
Curly Windmill Grass (Enteropogon acicularis) Buffel Grass (Cenchrus ciliaris)
Regrowth in a healing erosion gully shows the natural seed bank in the soil, ready for a germination opportunity.

An active erosion gully, receiving extra moisture and nutrient runoff from the Silver City Highway, demonstrates the regeneration potential and the natural seedbank held within the soil. Gus’ grazing management practices have improved rainfall infiltration and retention, helping to reduce runoff into this and a number of similar gullies, holding the nutrients higher in the landscape and creating the conditions for this vegetation to germinate and expand.

The gully is now at a stage where simple rehabilitation earthworks such as contour banks can be constructed to further improve landscape hydrology and reverse erosion. Without the improved rainfall infiltration such banks previously would have washed away.

The benefits to resilience of diverse vegetation and high levels of groundcover are numerous, including:

  • Ground cover protects soil from erosion by wind and water, and from incursion by undesirable plant species.
  • Vegetative cover and various root depths add soil organic matter, building soil carbon and soil water-holding ability. Consequently, rainfall better infiltrates the soil, rather than running off, as well as being retained for longer after rain, still accessible for plant growth.
  • Species diversity extends the growing season – and therefore grazing potential – as well as making pastures less vulnerable to pest attack or weather extremes.
  • Groundcover helps to moderate the temperature of the soil surface, reducing evaporation.
  • Encouraging native species and managing for regeneration requires fewer inputs in terms of soil nutrients and provides sustainable stock feed.
  • Stock are provided a balanced diet with a better range of nutrients, no longer suffering from a carbohydrate or fibre ‘drought’ each year, ultimately improving livestock health.



The Whytes now find that managing Wyndham Station involves less work, but allows greater family involvement. Labour requirements have reduced by 60%, from 1 full-time labour unit to 0.4 of a labour unit, freeing up more time to spend with family and on other interests.

Gus has had to develop new skills to effectively manage the planned rotational grazing system and regular adjustment of stocking numbers to match the landscape conditions. Time spent running Wyndham Station now includes a higher ratio of time in the office than in the paddock than under the previous management model. Gus finds that he is experiencing better communication within and across the business due to the shared views, goals and active management of the enterprise.

Approaching droughts used to be faced with concern and trepidation and a fear that the enterprise would not be able to be sustained. Now, the family better understands the impacts of drought, the opportunities that exist and how to manage the land, livestock and business to ensure they can see it through.



Angus and Kelly Whyte recognised that their decision making is what allows them to most effectively manage their land for long term resilience and profitability. Their motivation to work with nature to ensure a healthy natural resource base has led them to implement planned rotational grazing management and monitoring and adjustment of their stock numbers to match the land’s carrying capacity. As a result, the landscape is regenerating, income is more predictable and the family feels equipped to manage whatever lies ahead.

The Whytes provide a case study of what can be achieved in the highly variable environmental conditions of the Western Division, hopefully for others to now learn from and follow.

In Gus’ words –

As a livestock farmer our definition of a drought is: ‘When your stocking rate exceeds your carrying capacity’. So, armed with this knowledge, the way to manage our farm is to be able to destock adequate stock when it is dry so that we don’t exceed our land’s carrying capacity. While this may sound simplistic, this is the way we choose to manage, and part of that is in our principles that everything that happens on our land we are responsible for. Without any control over the rain we can only manipulate our stock numbers.

Having a better understanding of our limitations through using tools such as grazing charts and land monitoring sites enables us to make good decisions so we can resume our business after a drought much faster and our landscape improves following each drought.

I think that drought is such a significant issue that while farmers are primarily responsible, everybody is responsible for supporting them so that good long term decisions can be made.


This case study was published in October 2014 as part of the Soils for Life / Rotary Club of Sydney, Western Division Resilient Landscapes Project aimed at helping farmers to learn how to manage their properties to minimise the impact of drought on production and landscape health.

Additional case studies of regenerative landscape management in practice can be accessed from our Case Studies page.