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Beyond the Bale : September 2013
42 42 42 ON-FARM September 2013 BEYOND THE BALE On 24,000 hectare Wakefield Station, 90 kilometres south of Longreach in western Queensland, Young Climate Champion woolgrower James Walker runs about 12,000 sheep under semi-arid conditions. “Our sheep numbers fluctuate quite a bit depending on the season,” James says. “Currently, the mobs of sheep we’ve got are about 4000 ewes and 5000 wethers. The ewes are joined in that bigger mob for rotational purposes and then when they’re lambing out we’ll disperse them into smaller mobs. “We get about 17–18 inches (about 450 mm) of rainfall a year here, but it varies a lot: I have experienced up to 40 inches and down to five inches. One year we might have an abundance of feed, the next year only limited amounts; we’re managing for that all the time.” As an AWI Young Climate Champion woolgrower, James regularly showcases to other woolgrowers the practices and farming systems he uses to manage climate variability. LIVESTOCK WATERING Until recently, Wakefield Station had traditional grazing and watering systems. Livestock had to walk in excess of 5–10 kilometres away from water to eat. But James has now introduced many more watering points, which limit the distance the sheep have to walk to feed to about two kilometres, so the animals are a lot healthier. “At Wakefield, there are permanent surface water dams and they were the only water supply that we had for livestock,” James explained. “Traditionally, at the start of the season all the dams were full, but towards the end of the season the water quality had petered off and the livestock weren’t handling the conditions. To add to low water quality, the livestock were walking in excess of two kilometres from water to feed. In this situation they were metabolising the energy they’d grazed to walk back to water. “So we improved reticulation and the number of watering points. I drew two kilometre–radius circles on a map of our property and fitted them together. Then through the circle centres, I drew a line, and we got a total of 63 kilometres of poly pipe that we’d need to accommodate that 2 kilometre–spacing. “So the animals can drink and graze not too far from water, and once they’ve consumed that feed then we can keep rotating them around. So we’ve got a lot more useable acreage. From a central point, the water is reticulated through two loops, which creates more volume and pressure of water for the livestock. FORECASTS James says the variable rainfall in this semi arid region creates a boom and bust cycle for his business. The more information he can get on rainfall patterns and potential forecasts, the better he can manage his business and the more money he can make. As a part of the Climate Champion program James has learnt about a dynamic forecast model, Predictive Ocean Atmosphere Model for Australia (POAMA), developed by the Bureau of Meteorology and the CSIRO. “Last year I noticed, for our region, that POAMA was in a neutral pattern with no strong conviction either way for rainfall. If it became a positive pattern, that would be fine, but I need to make decisions based on what I’m seeing at the moment. Mustering on Wakefield Station in western Queensland. Semi-arid regions such as this are already at the forefront of managing climate shifts. FAST FACTS l Young Climate Champion woolgrower James Walker from Queensland has modified his production practices in response to climatic and seasonal variability. l James has provided more watering points for his sheep, and harvests grass during times of peak production to capture quality feed while it is available. l James is also using dynamic weather forecasting models to help predict rainfall patterns. Managing climate variability