Queensland’s gulf has over the years accumulated a well-deserved reputation for hard country, hard men and hard cattle and it’s mostly true. If the cattle survived it was almost by good luck as they battled drought, floods, ticks, disease and duffers (rustlers for those who don’t know Aussie slang).
I partly grew up in the region a good few years ago and had plenty of interaction with the people who ran the vast cattle properties of the north. They were tougher than both the country and the animals in the main, hard work and hard play was the norm and I well remember the long hours, the dust and the heat. Then there was the excitement in the yards as you faced death each minute while trying to get the scrubbers in a truck. More than a couple of beers before and after dinner made it all better!
Then I went away for several decades.
Returning this year with a Quadrant tour of the gulf and savannah country was an amazing experience. Who would have thought that there would be cropping? Who would have imagined near-tame cattle coming over to smell and lick the vehicle as it pulled up near a remote watering point? And long articulate talks with the current owners about the science of breeding and feeding to get a better product. Not to mention serious analysis of the economics of running half a million acres of semi-arid country.
The introduction of Bos Indicus solved most of the tick and disease problems but it didn’t stop there. We all know that there is a better market for Taurus cross; Herefords, Angus, Charolais and even Wagyu in some areas, and management of suitable breeds is understood. What isn’t well known is the infinite variation on each property as individual owners and managers define, refine and coax the best for this particular country. Just to listen to the thought processes and rationales proved we had come a long way but seeing the result was incredible. Discussions on EBV, bull selection on performance AND looks, raising calving rates to the previously unattainable and all the science of doing so were common themes.
A casual mention of converting a couple of flat paddocks to cropping leads to yet another discussion that would not have been possible even a few years ago, management of broadacre crops. Fodder will probably predominate in a continuous effort to improve the farm gate product but almost anything goes – cotton, chickpeas, maize, sorghum and more if the price can support the long transport chain.
And the size! Irrigated areas of a thousand acres or more? Not a real problem. Water rights were bought or granted through various schemes leaving only the problem of construction of dams and installation of pumping gear. The economics work too – better prices for better cattle plus there is always the cropping income if the conditions are right.
Speaking of size, the numbers are vast. Smaller concerns of 50 000 acres or so are carrying larger numbers that had been thought possible through advanced paddock management as scientific trials provide the knowledge for continuous improvement. On the bigger places, it’s not unusual to find over 100 000 head managed between several holdings to spread risk.
Does everyone do this? No, not really, but the tour visited the more progressive of our wider circle of friends. Others are learning or leaving and there are plenty of stories about that too. I guess hard times still go for some but the survivors are there for good reason.
Nothing like seeing it first hand again.
It’s still hard work, still hot and dusty and still rewarding but not so rough and ready anymore. Do they still play hard? That’s for another article about race meetings, camp draughts and other diversions.
The Quadrant Gulf and Savannah Tour is part of our annual program. It incorporates cattle, crops and cane; desert, gorges and waterfalls; fish, crabs and crocodiles over 14 days and 2000km of the sights and sounds of the North Queensland bush.