Brittons showcase sustainability in the Channel Country

Britton's Boulia country a showcase of grazing sustainability

Beef
Santa Gertrudis cattle having an afternoon drink at one of the waterholes on Rick and Ann Britton's country at Boulia. Pictures - Sally Cripps.

Santa Gertrudis cattle having an afternoon drink at one of the waterholes on Rick and Ann Britton's country at Boulia. Pictures - Sally Cripps.

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If anyone wants to talk about sustainability in Australia's grazing operations they need to look no further than the Boulia shire, according to prominent local graziers Rick and Ann Britton, Goodwood.

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If anyone wants to talk about sustainability in Australia's grazing operations they need to look no further than the Boulia shire, according to prominent local graziers Rick and Ann Britton, Goodwood.

Mr Britton, who is also the shire mayor, said there were five operations in the shire that had operated there for over 100 years.

"Now I can guarantee you there's more kilos of beef coming off those properties than there was 100 years ago and I can guarantee there'd be more ecosystems because of the man-made water infrastructure than there was 100 years ago.

"We've built the ecosystems, we've nurtured the land. Boulia's one of those places where it might be tough, but work it right, you can survive here."

And work it right the Brittons have. Often during the conversation Mr Britton refers to his father's way of operating, as well as how their daughter Claire is adding her own expert input to the business.

Read more: Organic history in the making

That includes handling the paperwork for the organic side of the operation and introducing Brahman bulls for their first calf heifers.

Claire worked for a time for Rodger and Lorena Jefferis at Cloncurry and Mr Britton said while he had bought some Brahman bulls to humour her they found the smaller calf reduced calving losses from 10 per cent to around 2pc.

"If you're losing 10pc of your replacement heifers, especially now with margins, you've got to look at everything you can change," Mr Britton said.

"That heifer when she has that calf, it fits into the live export trade so we're helping ourselves but it also goes into that niche market. It's no hindrance, it's a benefit."

The rest of the time the 182,100ha operation centred at Goodwood uses Santa Gertrudis and Droughtmaster bulls and has introduced Herefords for hybrid vigour.

Mr Britton said they liked the big bone structure the Santas gave them while the Droughtmaster gave them a polished coated animal for their end product, the 600kg Japan ox trade.

Cattle are responding well to the feed available on country owned by Rick and Ann Britton, Boulia.

Cattle are responding well to the feed available on country owned by Rick and Ann Britton, Boulia.

In good seasons they also take the opportunity to trade in mature cows and they find that no matter what breed they purchase, if they cover them with Santa Gertrudis bulls, the progeny meet their market specs.

"Even if it gets real dry and you want to take them straight off their mothers and sell them down to Roma or on AuctionsPlus, that Santa Droughtmaster - everyone seems to be in love with those," Mr Britton said.

Because they trade in cows, the Brittons also want to add some British softness with the Hereford experiment.

Related: Brittons diversify with Herefords

Another part of the sustainability equation lies in rotating their country.

At any time, one-third of all their land is having a 12 month spell and when cattle are branded or processed, they get moved into a fresh paddock.

Under Mr Britton's brand of cow psychology, putting cattle into a fresh paddock means utilising their curiousity to get them exploring the whole paddock, eating along the way.

"An old cow, she might have been born here - she'll only graze that one area, it's a creature habit, whereas when you put them in a fresh paddock, they're actually working the country a lot better for us," he said.

Looking after the country this way has contributed to the current huge body of feed, according to Mr Britton.

"When you do get that rain event it responds, whereas if you're hammering it, (when) you get a good rain event it just doesn't respond," he said.

"It's what's under the ground that will respond above the ground.

"That system under there is shortening itself up so when you get a major rain event all it's trying to do is rebuild itself."

Rick Britton aims to produce a 600kg bullock for the Japan ox trade from his base at Boulia but can also sell a lighter animal into the northern live export trade if needed.

Rick Britton aims to produce a 600kg bullock for the Japan ox trade from his base at Boulia but can also sell a lighter animal into the northern live export trade if needed.

The 182,100 hectares owned by the Brittons are scattered across the region and benefit from the Burke, Wills and Hamilton River systems, but one of Mr Britton Snr's pearls of wisdom is that if you have scattered places, you can benefit from scattered storms.

Since Rick and Ann took over in 1996, they've faced down as many droughts as good times but said the way they'd been working with the country, they had not had to reduce their stocking rate below 60pc.

Now daughter Claire and other staff have learnt to preg test, a move Mr Britton describes as part of the next generation taking control.

"The more you can step back, they take it on and it's slowly a succession transition.

"Before you know it, you're down the back yarding up again. There's nothing better."

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