Kidman’s 5500sq km Glengyle Station in Queensland’s Channel Country uses a successful mix of tradition and perserverance to raise shorthorns in a landscape that’s as diverse as the weather.
The horses stand resolutely with their tails to the dirty wind, eyes and ears away from the blowing grit. It’s the second dust storm within a week on Kidman’s Glengyle station. “It means one of two things,” says manager Jon Cobb (“Cobby”), squinting through the haze towards Eyre Creek’s century-old coolibahs. “Either more drought, or rain is on the way.”
After five years of barely receiving the modest 150-millimetre annual average, and mostly in falls too small to be useful, Channel Country residents could have been forgiven for believing they were never going to see decent rainfall again. But the bush is no place for pessimists. “We’re keeping the full herd here,” Cobby says. “If it turns out to be a good decision, I’ll be the best manager in the world. But if it doesn’t rain I’ll be the worst. Sometimes you’ve got to have a bit of a gamble. Even if it’s just an average year we should get enough rain. We’re heading into the time when we can expect some rain – over summer.
Just weeks later the station horses were standing forlornly on the main road’s bitumen in floodwater up to their withers, keeping as much skin as possible out of reach of the hordes of biting insects. Some lost a lot of weight and others had to be brought up and put into the stables because the flies were eating holes in the flesh around their eyes. In late January 227mm fell at the homestead while 260mm was recorded in the gauge at Tomydonka, closer to the Territory border.
Eyre Creek runs through the centre of Glengyle and every year there is at least some freshwater flowing down after wet season rain to the north. Every flood is different, but as a rough rule of thumb, water in these far western creeks and rivers usually takes just under seven days to travel 100 kilometres measured by nearby roads. So it takes six weeks to cover the more than 600km from Camooweal south to Glengyle – and two weeks to travel the 250km from Boulia to Glengyle. However the water then takes around three months to travel the 35km across ‘Bunk Hole’ (the station’s river paddock) because the modestly sized creek flows into Koolya then Miria, two circular lakes covering around 50 square kilometres each. Floodwater then fans out through a maze of lignum-lined blacksoil channels. Every paddock has some floodout country but the furthest channels and waterholes only fill during the highest floods when there is a big head of water in the creek.
A third of the station is flood country, growing good feed such as Cooper clover through the winter after rain or floods, which most often arrive in March/April, and native sorghum during summer floods. Another third is sandhills and the remainder is gibber country, which grows plants such as Mitchell grass in the softer hollows after summer storms. The sandy country grows the best quality feed but it only receives sufficient rain occasionally. The eight large paddocks all contain a mixture of these different types of country. This ensures that the cattle are able to make the best of seasonal variations by moving to green pick after storms. It also saves them from drowning when there are sudden floods due to occasional heavy local rainfall.
Quite a few Channel Country stations now only grow out steers trucked in from other stations, that are then sent on to fatten in feedlots. Cobby explains that privately owned stations tend to fatten bullocks, and Glengyle does also. “We do it because we have the country. It’s low maintenance and simple. A lot of people over-manage their cattle. We just put them out there and muster them when they are fat.”