Thursday, 2 May 2013

A numbers game at Indiana Station

Last November I visited David and Liz Bird at Indiana Station and asked them about managing a cattle station in the Arid Zone.

“It’s about controlling numbers. It takes a while to find out what number you should run. If you’ve got the right numbers your cattle will always be strong and healthy and you don’t have to worry about running out of feed, so long as you’ve got enough cattle to keep your head above water.

“If you get a big season it’s just a bonus. If you get a bigger season like the last couple of years it’s just gonna go up in smoke.

“We had 50 inches in 18 months then nothing for 150 days.  If you don’t let your numbers get too high it gives you plenty of breathing space for when it doesn’t rain. You don’t have to suddenly get rid of a heap of cattle because you’re running out of feed. Because if it doesn’t rain, everybody’s thinking the same thing and the market gets flooded with cattle.

“I tried to isolate us from the desert with prescribed burns last year because it was like a bomb waiting for a spark. If you burn early you get plenty of feed grow back straight behind it. All you have to do is stagger the burn so the cattle have got something to eat while they wait for grass to grow back. But you have to burn before the ground dries too much and gets too hot because that will just leave bare dirt. You never know when the next rain is coming.

“I sacrificed 1000km2 of feed, which we didn’t need anyway because we’re governed by our water supply rather than feed, and a month later we had a wildfire get in, but grass had grown back where we prescribed burnt.

“I don’t burn feed because I’ve got too much of it. I burn to try to break up the country.

“Local knowledge is 99% of controlling a fire. You know where a fire is going to take off and where you can pull it up. A flood-out in the right place can save a lot of grading. It’s about knowing where you’ve got fuel and where you don’t, and which creek can pull up a fire or not.

“When you first light up, light up a section that can’t get away. Fire can create its own wind and it can move at 50km/hr. Not something you mess around with.”

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