Breathing new life into property
Shandonvale an innovative farm
WESTERN Queensland graziers Deon and Lane Stent-Smith are not afraid to do things differently.
The couple has lived on Shandonvale Station, which is situated 20km outside of Aramac, for about nine years and during that time there has been nothing but changes.
Between 2014-15 the property was completely destocked due to drought, but Deon, 27, and his wife Allaine, 28, were hard at work.
Investing heavily into their family’s 6070.28ha (15,000-acre) property, the couple built exclusion fences to keep out wild dogs and installed more than 40 waters.
In recent years the farm had just run cattle, but Deon made plans to introduce white dorper sheep as soon as the seasons improved.
If the infrastructure work was not enough, they also planned a new agri-tourism venture, which will open the property up to paying guests next year. Deon had no doubts the drought would end for western Queensland, and when the rain returned he wanted to be ready for it.
“You can’t work in black soil when it’s raining, so the best time to do your work is in the dry,” he said.
“I always knew it would rain again. It always goes in cycles.
“If it’s dry for a couple of years it will be wet for a couple of years. It’s always one way or another.”
When speaking with Deon over the phone, I learnt quickly that he has an unwavering confidence in his property’s future and isn’t afraid to think outside of the square.
“What bloody worked 50 years ago, doesn’t work today,” he said.
“There is always a better way to do things, and you just have to find it.”
About 5058.57ha, (12,500 acres), of the property is now divided into smaller paddocks and is under exclusion fencing.
“We do rotational grazing, and it has all been fenced into 1000-acre paddocks plus we added our holding paddocks,” he said.
“We now have 42 different watering points, so every paddock has a minimum of three waters in it.
“We did a lot of pulling and thinning of gidgee trees under the LNP self-assessable codes in conjunction with burning to improve the productivity of the country.”
The exclusion fencing not only prevents wild dogs from killing stock, but also keeps out large numbers of migratory kangaroos from grazing fresh grass.
“Kangaroos are a big problem out here,” he said.
As the fence stood 1860mm high, and had a skirt at the bottom, it was rare for a kangaroo to make it through, he said.
“The only time they will jump it is when they are pressured.”
The Stent-Smith family received no government grants to complete the fencing.
Although a hefty investment, the extra spending has already proved worthwhile.
“We have doubled our carrying capacity,” he said.
“There is still 2500 acres we haven’t fenced, because it’s in the Aramac Creek riparian zone. We didn’t fence it for two reasons, the first being it floods and it will damage the fence, and the second being that it’s the only (part of the property) with permanent natural surface water.
“In the future, with the way green groups operate, at least we have a leg to stand on.
“We have 2500 acres that is pretty much useless to us, because it’s full of kangaroos.”
Now the infrastructure is complete, the farm operates under a rotational grazing program.
Deon is also aiming to gain his organic certification within two years so he can receive the premium price for his sheep.
With good summer rain, and 205mm collected in June-July this year, a thick cover of buffel grass has kept the white dorpers in good condition.
“Our first lambs… that we sold back in May averaged $91 per head straight off their mum – it was unbelievable,” he said.
While Deon says Shandonvale is the “perfect country” to run organic sheep, there have been a few hurdles he has had to overcome.
Prickly acacia has proved to be a big problem.
Deon now runs 120 head of camels to eat out the pest trees, in conjunction with spraying.
“How we have been doing it is the sheep go through and graze the grass to a certain level, then the camels come in behind them,” he said.
“A lot of people say camels don’t work.
“But you have to have a large number of them in small acreage, and you have to keep moving them on.
“They are almost at the stage where they are holding it, and soon they will be moving forward with it.”
Now that the farming side of the business is well under way, Deon’s focus will turn to their agribusiness venture.
By March next year they will be inviting tourists to stay with them at Shandonvale.
Deon’s family has a background running cattle and cropping properties, but he said his parents, Alan and
Guests staying on Shandonvale Station will have access to the property's waterholes. RIGHT, BIG VISION: Lane Stent-Smith soaking up the rain after years of drought in western Queensland.
Deon Stent-Smith holding a wild-caught red claw.