Improving soil and sheep health

IMPROVING SOIL AND SHEEP HEALTH

26 JUNE 2022

Topaz’s Kerry Kelly is breeding sheep on her family farm – in a break with tradition for Far North Queensland.

The Kelly family branched into sheep farming six years ago, buying five Australian White ewes and a ram, and they’ve since built the herd up to 30 breeding ewes which roam the paddocks alongside cattle.

The ‘wagyu of the sheep world’

Marketed as “the wagyu of the sheep world”, Australian Whites were developed from four breeds of sheep to be a self-replacing, low maintenance breed that’s adaptable to both cold and hot climates and has meat known for the low melting point of its fat.

Nowhere has their adaptability to rain been quite so well tested as in Topaz.

“Because of the amount of rain and wet ground here we need to keep a good eye of their feet, and to clip their hooves twice a year,’’ Ms Kelly said. “We also need to be careful about worms, so we have six sheep paddocks and we rotate our sheep around them.”

She said there had been interest from others since her Australian whites became the first sheep to be exhibited at the Malanda Show last year. She brought sheep to the show again on the weekend, including newly-born twins.

“I sell to abattoirs and individuals for eating and breeding. Most of our ewes are due to lamb in the next month or so. It’ll be 12 weeks before I wean them. In September or October, we’ll have lambs for sale again.

“There are quite a few other farms with small flocks – from Ravenshoe to Julatten and Eacham. “You’ve got to put some effort in to make it work up here but it’s worth it.”

Focusing on the land beneath the hooves

To increase and improve her flock, Kerry’s current focus is the land beneath their hooves. Hers is one of 10 farming families – ranging from graziers and cane growers to tropical fruit farmers – in the latest ‘Digging Deeper’ soil health program run by Terrain NRM as a free mentoring program.

Funded by the Australian Government, it includes a soil test, workshops on soil science and soil test interpretation, farm visits by the group and one-on-one farm management guidance over a six-month period.

“We want more pasture diversity and improving the pastures starts with the soil,’’ Ms Kelly said.

“I hadn’t tested it on the farm before and soil chemistry wasn’t something I knew a lot about. Now that we’ve discovered our soils are too acidic, we are applying lime. And I’ll be testing and assessing the soil on a six-monthly or yearly basis.

“Understanding soil testing has been a real benefit. It’s great to have a baseline and be able to see the improvements.”

Pasture diversity

“I’ll also be working on getting a greater diversity of plants into our pastures.”

Terrain NRM’s Sally Fields said participants came from the Tully, the Atherton Tablelands and Cairns regions, with produce ranging from the more traditional cane and cattle to fish, achacha and sheep.

“The common ground here is the soil. It has been great to see landholders getting fired-up to build up their soil structure, and helping them gain a deeper understanding of exactly why they would want to do this,’’ she said.

Soil health videos for the Wet Tropics

For more on soil health, see a series of Wet Tropics-specific soil health videos at www.youtube.com/user/terrainnrm

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