AS SEEN IN THE ANNUAL – Page 22 – 24 – Greys Instrumental in Creating Thriving Holistic Grazing Operation by Andrea Maccormick

March 1, 2024

ALTHOUGH the paddocks were overgrazed and dry and the infrastructure needed repair, Mark and Sharon Yensch looked upon Woodlands Station as the perfect blank canvass to build upon.

Sharon recalled they felt “ready for the challenge” when buying the property in 2005, which was a necessary attitude to have as the Brahman herd they bought with the 2347 ha cattle block 15km south of Bowen, although high quality, were unruly and “lacking manners”.

However, the shift to Woodlands Station proved to be the right call, as across the past 18 years they have crafted a masterpiece: a thriving breeding operation that’s harnessing holistic grazing practices and regenerative land management strategies to power their business.

What was once dry country is now rich grazing land that’s being hydrated from a sophisticated system of swales – contoured shallow drains that help slow and retain the flow of water – and 36 paddocks and 12 coolers have been established to home a rotational grazing program that’s tailored for the unique dry tropic seasons.

“From the very beginning, we knew through implementing some changes we would be able to make great improvements to the property,” Mark said.

“Everything we do here is about building resilience in our operation, be that through making the best use of rainfall, improving our soil health to increase the grass density or capitalising on the most suitable cattle genetics to ensure maximum profitability.”

The land has now recovered, wildlife has returned and the some 800mm of annual average rainfall, which falls across the property during downpours in the wet season, is being fully captured.

However, the masterstroke of this creation has been the splash of grey across the green paddocks, as Murray Grey cattle have been the backbone to the operation from day one and are now driving a diversification strategy to focus on breeding Greyman bulls.

Greys underwrite premiums and demand

Sharon has an inherent understanding of the value of Murray Greys as her grandmother was Helen Sutherland, a key founder of the unique Australian breed in the 1960s.

“When we moved here the Brahman herd we bought with the property was fairly unmanageable.  We knew we needed to work on temperament, so we straight away put a Murray Grey bull over them,” she said.

“Then, over the years, we worked with that herd, culling where needed, to get what we have today which is a quiet and highly productive line of breeders.”

Mark also has a family connection to Murray Greys as his parents, Roy and Beryl, ran Tambovale Murray Greys and showed bulls at royal exhibitions. Mark said the economics of infusing Grey genetics across Brahmans instantly paid off.

“I remember our weaners brought in about $120 more per head at the sale than straight Brahmans, and that was just purely taking them out of the paddock, putting them onto a truck, and taking them to the sale,” he said.

Mark believes it’s Greyman’s hybrid vigour, which powers superb weight for age results, and confirmation that attracts sale-day premiums.

Today, the Yensch family sell all their weaners directly to repeat buyers, in exception of about 100 head of replacement females.

“At the moment our demand is outstripping the supply as we have had to turn people down who wanted more heifers,” Mark said.

“As soon as our Greyman weaners are put on feed for their new owner they just power away with their growth and weight gain – they go like a house on fire.”

Three years ago, Mark and Sharon looked across their Greyman progeny and decided to pursue this market demand by keeping their best bull weaners to sell as future sires.

“We started off with just 20 bulls, they sold extremely well, so this year we will offer 60,” Mark said.

Although Mark and Sharon have sold bulls throughout Australia, they have noticed peak interest throughout the Brahman heartland of the Northern beef industry.

“Greymans value-add to Brahmans extremely well, as they add that element of better confirmation,” he said.

“There has been a huge up kick across the North for Greymans because they are putting the beef on cattle.”

Sharon also believes the malleability of hardy Greymans is driving demand, as the bulls can perform well across a variety of conditions, with their buyers stretched from as far south as Toogoolawah in southern Queensland and as far north as the Barkly in the Northern Territory.

“They are just so adaptable, that’s the beauty of Greys, they can perform well in any climate,” she said.

Hydration the heart of the operation

Aside from ensuring you have the right cattle genetics, Mark believes land, water and pasture management is essential to all beef operations.

“If you don’t have all three of those elements aligned it can fall apart quite quickly,” he said.

For Woodlands Station, water management is a unique challenge and gift as rainfall occurs in floods, generally recording the bulk of its 800mm within three months, which is followed by a long dry period.

“Having 300mm all in one hit is not unusual for us,” Sharon said.

As custodians of land so close to the coast, the responsibility to ensure there isn’t rapid runoff or damaging erosion across their property isn’t lost on Mark and Sharon, which is one of the reasons they opted to install swales.

“People don’t realise about sixty per cent of your rainfall leaves your property,” he said.

“There are examples of the advantages of swales all around the world, it’s an incredible way to ensure you are maximising the benefit of every drop of water that lands on your property.”

Woodland Station’s swales are a level contour with a firm bank on the bottom side, usually having about a two-metre elevation and have all been installed by Mark carefully shaping them with an excavator or dozer.

“It takes about six to seven years before swales completely hydrate the landscape,” he said.

“But we noticed a huge difference almost straight away, the creeks used to run dry, now they have water in them all year round.”

A rotational grazing program has also increased the biodiversity and pasture density across the paddocks, with Sharon using the “Pied Piper method” of mustering her stock.

“We have two cow herds working on separate rotations, I drive to the gate and call them and they all walk through,” she said.

Impeccable temperament and low-stress stock handling skills have paved the way for the rotations to be as smooth as possible, but Sharon said their Greyman cows had learnt the system.

“I use a grazing chart to determine when I need to make a rotation, and the cattle are eager to shift to the next paddock as they know they will be getting the ‘ice cream’ of the pasture,” she said.

The high-stocking density ensures the cattle are eating just the right amount of fresh grasses and legumes, so when the paddock is rested, the pastures can replenish swiftly.

“We don’t have any need for fertiliser, as we are using our four-legged fertiliser,” she said.

Sharing the art

Across the almost two-decade long journey, Mark and Sharon have always strived to never stop learning or improving their property.

The goal to continually improve has extended to their infrastructure, with the yard system on Woodlands Station being a completely undercover network that moves cattle through to separate races and leads to a advanced hydraulic calf cradle.

“Being fully shaded is important as it does get very hot here so it makes for better conditions for us and the cattle. With this system the stock flow through themselves, just one person can do all the yard work on their own if needed,” Mark said.

The property is also fully off the grid, making its own electricity through solar panels.

Mark and Sharon credit Allan Savory Holistic Management Courses and clinics through RCS as being fundamental to refining their holistic management skills and building their business aspirations.

“It’s so important to keep learning, and looking past your own gate,” Sharon said.

Now, the couple intend to share their knowledge, as they hope to offer farm tours in the future.

“We want to welcome everyone, people from towns and cities and other graziers. There is so much benefit in effective water management, we really want to share it. We have people visit us from much bigger operations and they can’t believe our set up with the yards, and the grazing.

“We know there is still further potential with our Greymans, and improving our land, so we will just keep building and building.”