Holistic approach on Huntly

Holistic approach on Huntly


Beef Cattle
Bloss Hickson’s holistic approach extends from her trees to her cattle. – <i>Picture: Rodney Green.</i>

Bloss Hickson’s holistic approach extends from her trees to her cattle. – Picture: Rodney Green.

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THE aptly named Arcadia Valley is a slice of paradise, and at its southern end lies a piece of heaven.

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THE aptly named Arcadia Valley is a slice of paradise, and at its southern end lies a piece of heaven.

This is where you will find Huntly, a 5286-hectare organic cattle enterprise owned by Bloss Hickson, the last person to draw a ballot in the Brigalow Scheme in 1987.

On one side are the Carnarvon Ranges, and on the other, the Expedition Ranges.

"The thick vine scrub would test the courage of any man," Bloss quotes Leichhardt as he passed close by in 1846.

Bloss is as unconventional as the artwork that hangs on the gate at Huntly's entrance, but her out-of-the-box thinking has carried her through tough times.

"We made it through the drought and I attribute that to having trees," she said.

Her love for trees began in the 1980s when she did a permaculture course, and since then she has been leaving corridors of trees and strips of brigalow on Huntly.

"Trees, for a start, are a nutrient pump, and also they stop the wind, the sun and the frost, so they just create little niches and ecosystems, and everything is living there and surviving better."

Huntly was hit by a locust plague after a drought, and the trees were a saviour.

"Because we had these rows of trees, the golden orb spider webs were everywhere like a big rows of nets, and they caught all the locusts on the way."

When the Department of Natural Resources at the time came to spray the pests, they could not find them anywhere - they had disappeared.

"That is what I mean about having a healthy ecological system - everything in balance rather than out of kilter."

It can also present new opportunities.

Once it became known that Bloss was encouraging tree growth, she was approached by Greening Australia to offset the expanding Clermont coalmine, owned by Rio Tinto at the time.

The mine needed to find brigalow forest, and because Bloss had this in abundance, she sold 20 per cent of her property as part of an environmental offset for the mine.

This spurred her on to get a propagator's licence, and she has been collecting and germinating local native seeds, which she grows in a green house at the back of her house.

Thanks to the offset, the whole brigalow forest is growing back and with it many other species, such as the endangered oolines, bottle trees and bauhinias.

She has formed a small group interested in trees and is now a part of a group of graziers taking part in carbon-farming workshops through CQ University.

Once she gets her baseline soil carbon done, the group will be trialling different methods to increase the level of carbon in their soils.

"Over time the increase in our carbon will not only benefit the soils - we will be able to trade it on an international market.

"It is about changing a land-management practice to try and capture more carbon into your soil."

This holistic approach extends to her cattle enterprise, where she runs a herd of Brangus for the organic market.

She is in partnership with the youngest of her three brothers. He runs his cattle on one-half of Huntly, and Bloss breeds and fattens her herd on the other side.

"I love it," she said, despite the fact it can be a bit of a challenge overcoming issues such as buffalo fly and ticks.

"Because I live just on the northern side of the tick line, I have to get creative and do a lot of research on how to deal with them."

One method is rotating her cattle to break the tick cycle, and although this does not eradicate them, it fits in with her philosophy that a healthy environment is balanced and everything is important.

"I can't just get rid of the ticks, but as long as they are in balance and not a big issue, and that's the same with the buffalo fly, so I rotate."

In addition, back rubbers juiced up with Cattle Coat, neem oil and garlic are found throughout the property.

Currently she has 400 breeders and manages 'culled' heifers through spaying.

Heifers that are badly attacked by buffalo fly or ticks are the ones Bloss wants to get rid of.

"We try to build up a mob that is resilient to these.

"It doesn't cost a lot and what it does is help your operation get cleaner and tighter in a way. Cows get in calf incredibly easily and you end up with heifers getting calves you don't want, so by speying them I have my spayed females running with the dry male cattle."

And they get fat very quickly.

Bloss has a friendly rivalry with her husband Rodney, who runs his own cattle operation 70 kilometres up the road.

Unlike Bloss, he operates on a very different business model.

"He can pump his cattle through a lot faster, and in reality we probably make about the same money. He turns his cattle over quickly, whereas I just have to wait for mine to do their thing naturally.

"The organic market does pay more money, but then the time factor is more."

Bloss, however, would not change her holistic approach.

Encouraging the trees has resulted in more native flora and fauna, including the endangered golden-tailed gecko.

"The benefits of trees are so big, and no one really understands the full and complex story. They are vital for a healthy landscape."

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