Sta­tion owner stay­ing pos­i­tive through dry

The Northern Star - Northern New South Wales Rural Weekly - - FRONT PAGE - Jo­hanna Le­gatt [email protected]­ral­weekly.com PHOTO: CON­TRIB­UTED

THERE is no doubt that Tor Downs Sta­tion has seen bet­ter days.

The 41,000ha merino and cat­tle oper­a­tion is lo­cated on the banks of the Great Dar­ling Anabranch in western NSW, and, like most of the prop­er­ties in these parts, it is in desperate need of a good drench­ing.

There are 200 meri­nos left on Tor Downs, as well as five cows and a cou­ple of bulls, which is a con­sid­er­able re­duc­tion from bet­ter days when the farm ran 4000 sheep.

But Felic­ity McLeod, 33, who runs the fam­ily sta­tion on be­half of her par­ents, is not one to dwell on neg­a­tives.

“We’re OK,” the Nuffield Aus­tralia farm­ing scholar said.

“It’s not the first time we’ve been through drought and it won’t be the last.

“When the drought hits, you just have to keep an eye on the ground cover and sell stock as you need to.

“When stock num­bers get down it also means you have more time for main­te­nance.”

Felic­ity has been sell­ing range­land goats on Tor Downs, as well as on her par­ents’ two ad­di­tional prop­er­ties, Coom­bah and Po­pio, which she also helps muster.

“We sell about 10,000 goats a year on av­er­age across the three prop­er­ties,” she said.

“We don’t rear them. It is re­ally an op­por­tunis­tic part of the busi­ness, mus­ter­ing and trap­ping them when we can.”

Goats are not a bad side­line busi­ness, ei­ther, fetch­ing much more than three decades ago when the McLeods first started sell­ing them.

“Prices are now up to $6 a kilo, and when mum and dad started do­ing it 30 years ago, they were a cou­ple of dol­lars a goat,” Felic­ity said.

“Com­pared to meri­nos, they browse more than they graze so they do re­ally well on scrubby coun­try, such as trees and bushes.

“Peo­ple in the Western Di­vi­sion have al­ways done goats and it has helped put a lot of peo­ple’s kids through board­ing school, as well as adding an ex­tra in­come source.”

PROFIT FO­CUS

FELIC­ITY knows all about the im­por­tance of the lat­ter.

She won a Nuffield Aus­tralia farm­ing schol­ar­ship last year, which in­cluded al­most two years of travel and study ex­plor­ing is­sues of pre­da­tion and on-farm di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion tech­niques in far-western wool-graz­ing en­ter­prises.

She trav­elled to Asia, In­dia, South Africa, New Zealand and the US – both in a group of co-schol­ars and on her own – to study how over­seas farm­ers diver­si­fied and set up side­line in­come streams and in­fra­struc­ture.

“In In­dia, we went up into the moun­tains to a cof­fee plan­ta­tion, and in a sense you could say they were do­ing in­te­grated crop­ping be­cause they had trees and herbs within the cof­fee plan­ta­tion that they har­vest at cer­tain times of the year to help di­ver­sify their in­come,” Felic­ity said.

A lot of over­seas farms Felic­ity vis­ited have adapted well to drought, and even the an­i­mals were pitching in on one.

“I vis­ited a farm in the north­east of Brazil and they only had some­thing like 150mm rain for the two years prior,” she said.

“They were run­ning goats with sheep, which they found use­ful be­cause the goats were ac­tu­ally knock­ing the thorns off the cac­tuses and the sheep could ac­cess the flesh from the cac­tuses, so they were help­ing to feed other an­i­mals.”

RE­MOTE CON­TROL

IT’S clear Felic­ity’s schol­ar­ship stud­ies and travel have had a big im­pact on her.

She is now con­sid­er­ing in­stalling re­mote water mon­i­tor­ing on Tor Downs, for ex­am­ple, which she looked into as part of her schol­ar­ship.

“It’s 36km to the top tank on Tor Downs, so I could put a mon­i­tor on and see how the lev­els are look­ing from my phone,” she said.

“It saves wear and tear on a ve­hi­cle, and frees up time as well.”

Felic­ity has also added an­other line of di­ver­sity to her in­come through her own jew­ellery mak­ing and leather­work busi­ness, Fred Mac De­signs (Fred Mac is a nick­name a neigh­bour gave Felic­ity when she was lit­tle).

“I’ve al­ways en­joyed mak­ing jew­ellery and mum al­ways made clothes for us grow­ing up,” she said.

“I’m also study­ing wool class­ing through Dubbo TAFE, not be­cause that’s what I want to switch to do­ing, but be­cause it’s im­por­tant to be across all as­pects of your busi­ness.”

And if there is one thing Felic­ity has learned from her time as a Nuffield scholar, it’s the value of re­search.

“In terms of on-farm di­ver­sity, you need to do a lot of re­search,” she said.

“You have to ac­tu­ally make sure your farm has the staff and the ca­pa­bil­ity to do what it is you want to do.”

Felic­ity said it was im­por­tant to make sure there was a mar­ket for what­ever busi­ness line you were in­tro­duc­ing.

“It has to be vi­able in that some­one has to want to buy it,” she said.

“It’s all well and good to go into a cer­tain type of an­i­mal, but if you don’t have any­where to sell it to and there is no one who wants to buy it, then there is no point.” PLAN­NING AHEAD: Felic­ity McLeod on her prop­erty Tor Downs on the Great Dar­ling Anabranch in western NSW.

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