Brisbane Local Food

Growing local

I just spent a couple of days out on the Western Downs. While I was away we had 20 mm of rain here at home, and another 16 mm fell tonight after we returned.

But around Chinchilla it is dry  as drought is.

The cattle are scrawny. Even the brumbies are ring barking the trees as  they chew off the bark to sustain themselves and many dead kangaroos dot the roadside because they put themselves at pedestrian risk in their hunt for food.

On the drive back we must have seen close to a dozen dead kangaroos.

My friends' cattle property is on marginal land and they are doing it tough these past 18 months since they last had good rain.

Here's the only green to be seen: a slim film on the dry creek bed.

With hay costing $70 a bale, the options are desperate ones.

But when you walk the land, the promise and potential is very evident -- if only there was some moisture. Theirs' is a wooded block with an amazing ecology of interlocking zones as they try to work with the land in order to renew it.

It's a humbling experience to explore given the easy resources we have access to in suburbia. The closest town or shop is 40 km away. Water and electricity are resources you make yourself.

In the past -- during the good years -- previous owners were running dairy cattle and growing pumpkins on this land. Now, while it may seem at the end of its tether, it still brims with life.

It's been keenly logged and all the big trees have been taken, but the wet and dry breeds tough vegetation.

And boy, do you learn to respect the ground covers. There may be lots of Kangaroo Grass, but what matters more are the wee plants growing between the tufts.

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Comment by Dave Riley on October 14, 2018 at 22:58

Well there you go: it rains upon the Western Downs. I must have brought the rain with me when I visited.

The creek is now running.

Now I'm partnering the property fossicking for useful forage plants.

I took out a big bucket of Vetiver slips and in the exchange we have initiated, we're hoping to also experiment with Pigeon Peas and LabLab (Hyacinth Bean).

I've got the seeds, you see.

I'd like to also trial my spineless Prickly Pear -- because, if you look, the pears still persist on the Downs and the cattle do eat them. You see isolated specimens -- denuded of paddles around their base because of animal foraging. At least mine's legal. (Images at left)

Farmers even cut the PPs down so cattle can get at the  paddles that were out of reach. Some we saw were maybe 5 metres tall. 

When cut, they look like logs.

So many factors in the mix: drought, cold (down to 

-7C this last year) and frost.

Leucaena is a bit of a complication as you have to inoculate the cattle first. And a  500ml bottle of that costs $207 (ex GST) plus freight. 'Without the inoculum, cattle liveweight gain can be significantly limited. In some instances, the animal can die.'

So, in a sense, I've taken on another horticultural enterprise.If we can establish a nursery out there they'll have more resilience against drought.

Comment by Jeff Kiehne on October 11, 2018 at 8:48

Have they looked at growing aloe vera  and a lot of farmers are growing barley sprouts they sell commercial setup  but could probably build your own 140 kg of seed to produce 1000 kg of green feed.

Comment by Dave Riley on October 10, 2018 at 14:33

What grows in a drought is a big challenge. That Chinchilla is a watermelon growing capital amazes me. Plenty of Kangaroo Grass but it is the feed of last resort for starving cattle.

I'll be extremely interested in how they get on with the Vetiver as its fodder nutrition profile is quite good.My friends seed with various legumes but these still need rain to flourish.

That they have various watering points -- dams and creek pools -- doesn't necessarily mean that the grass grows. But I found moss, lichens and maiden hair in opportunistic locales...and I expect that careful regenerative management will pay off in time.

Sequence farming:

Comment by Christa on October 10, 2018 at 13:53

Our daughter lives out at Tara not far from Chinchilla, and she asks me what can I grow out there in the dry.  Not having the knowledge of growing in dry drought prone regions, it is hard to help her.  There must be some plants that can grow there with little water and feed the animals.  They rely on people when there is a drought.  It is not as though they can keep moving where feed is available.  They are fenced in.  

Leucaena was good for fodder and in the past prickly pear was used for cattle feed, and maybe they would get moisture from prickly pear. 

It all comes down to seasonal rain, which they are missing out on.  Dave, I hope your relies out near Chinchilla can hold on to their land till the rains come.

Comment by Dave Riley on October 9, 2018 at 23:35

I found the visit absolutely invigorating. Feast and famine is the way of the land.While all my fam on my mater's side were farmers -- and I spent my school hols in paddocks -- I had not been exposed up close to drought like this.

I've been in and around Puckapunyal, Ballarat and the like in the Victorian High Summer but this is Spring and already the grass is crispy under foot. Like walking on frost.

The competition between the cattle, brumbies and kangaroos for edible grasses was fascinating. As well, we trudged the property discussing burn management -- not so much to prevent bushfire but to foster regrowth. My friends -- both Rural Fire Service veterans -- are trying to apply Aboriginal fire stick practices as well as the regenerative management principles of Allan Savory and the  'beyond the brink' perspective of Peter Andrews.

Indeed, the creek in the top image, has a series of leaky dams (per Andrews) across it and it is behind those that the water pools -- so long as the wild pigs don't destroy the build. So the course of the dry creek bed occasionally has ponds. And while it is dry there is enough water for stock and fauna but little in the way of grass.

On the road in, local farmers have been cutting down the isolated stands of prickly pear to feed their herds.

I fronted with a bucket of Vetiver slips and assumed a V-mentoring role. Vetiver as fodder, swale, creek and runoff engineering is pretty darn awesome -- even in times of drought.

Comment by Sid Saghe on October 9, 2018 at 8:55

We can put a man on the moon but can't put in the infrastructure to get water around to where it's needed. Frustrating.

Comment by Valerie on October 9, 2018 at 7:47

Humbling indeed.

Comment by Lissa on October 9, 2018 at 5:42

Very sad :(

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