Breath­ing new life into prop­erty

Shan­don­vale an in­no­va­tive farm

NewsMail - Wide Bay Rural Weekly - - Front Page - AN­DREA DAVY An­drea.davy@ru­ral­weekly.com.au

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.”

EX­CLU­SION FENC­ING

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.”

ROTATIONAL GRAZ­ING

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.”

AGRI-TOURISM

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

PHO­TOS: CON­TRIB­UTED

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.

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