‘Working with nature since 1912’ is the Lyons family motto and here’s why it’s paying dividends

‘Working with nature since 1912’ is the Lyons family motto and here’s why it’s paying dividends

The Lyons family have called Wambiana Station, in north Queensland, home for 112 years. 

Michael and his wife Michelle are fourth-generation graziers.

They have their own motto: “Working with nature since 1912”.

Wambiana Station is about 50 minutes’ drive south-west of Charters Towers.(ABC News: Lucy Cooper)

The Lyons family say they are “standing on the shoulders of those who took risks and worked hard”.(ABC News: Lucy Cooper)

That commitment to looking after the land extends to education.

“About 30 years ago, when Michael’s parents were living and working here, they were approached by a company to host American high school students on a program,” Michelle Lyons said.

“At the time, nobody really knew what would be involved, it was a very dry year, so cash flow was tight, so they saw that as a good opportunity to diversify their business.”

The Lyons family hosts an agri-education program for school and university groups on Wambiana Station.(ABC News: Lucy Cooper)

Michelle and Michael Lyons’ children are the fifth generation on Wambiana Station.(ABC News: Lucy Cooper)

The family has since hosted numerous school, study and university groups from all over the world, some of whom had never seen stars before.

“We get a real kick out of seeing, particularly when you get people who’ve had very little to no exposure of rural areas, to really open their eyes,” Ms Lyons said.

Wambiana Station’s original homestead remains on the property.(ABC News: Curtis Rodda)

The Lyons family welcomed another approach a few years later to host a grazing trial to monitor the impact of changes in the environment on their business.

“For sustainability, not just of the environment, but of your business and sustainability of your family, that if you’re constantly battling against nature, invariably you’re going to come off second best,” Ms Lyons said.

Michelle Lyons says a combination of factors make Wambiana Station a “special” place.(ABC News: Lucy Cooper)

For the past 26 years, the 23,200-hectare cattle property has hosted a nationally significant study — the Wambiana grazing trial. 

Peter O’Reagain, from the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, said the trial was the longest-running of its type in Australia.

“What makes it different is this is the first trial at this scale that tied together how we manage native pastures with the economic outcomes,” Dr O’Reagain said.

Peter O’Reagain says it is important for graziers to look after their country.(ABC News: Lucy Cooper)

In 1997, Dr O’Reagain and his colleague, John Bushell, started to look at different grazing strategies and how they coped with rainfall variability.

“We had no idea how things were going to go, and we really didn’t have a good grasp on how the different treatments would turn out,” he said.

Peter O’Reagain has been at the helm of the Wambiana grazing trial since its inception in 1997.(ABC News: Lucy Cooper)

The Wambiana grazing trial is entering its 26th year.(ABC News: Curtis Rodda)

Lasting impact

The Wambiana grazing trial uses different stocking strategies and measures them against animal performance, drought costs, and impacts on the grass.

“I’d say one of the key changes and learnings from the trial has been how important it is to make good decisions early when you’re entering into a dry season” Mr Lyons said.

Peter O’Reagain hopes the data from the trial will inform future research.(ABC News: Lucy Cooper)

Dr O’Reagain said the information learnt in the trial was of “major significance” to other graziers. 

“Because it’s the principles that we’re developing that are going to help inform them about how they should manage their country, and how they should manage their stock numbers and their resting policies,” Dr O’Reagain said.

The Lyons family are working towards rearing a highly fertile herd of cattle to justify the methane that is emitted.(ABC News: Curtis Rodda)

Over the past 26 years, Dr O’Reagain and his team have witnessed the environment’s resilience to drought dramatically decline while weeds like currant bush have “almost doubled in its density, despite burning the site twice”.

The stocking rate is the number of cattle carried in a paddock or on a property.(ABC News: Lucy Cooper)

“One of the major learnings we’ve had along the way was just how important it is to look after your country,” he said. 

“We’ve got paddocks here that have been overgrazed, maybe in [the year] 2000 and those paddocks, even though we changed the management, they’re still recovering and that’s just quite remarkable.

“It’s shown that in the longer term, running more cattle doesn’t mean more money.”

Water is a key natural asset on Wambiana Station.(ABC News: Curtis Rodda)

What’s next?

Aside from the trial, the Lyons family has turned to improving the genetics of their herd using DNA analysis to inform IVF decisions.

“From a methane and carbon perspective, one of the most practical things that we can do right now is to have a highly fertile herd of cattle because you’re actually getting product for any methane that is emitted,” Dr O’Reagain said.

The Lyons family have decided to focus on their cattle and genetics to move forward with innovation.(ABC News: Lucy Cooper)

Without an end in sight, Dr O’Reagain was excited for the future of the trial.

“It’s developing new principles as to how to manage our land,” he said.

The Lyons family focus on working with nature as much as possible.(ABC News: Lucy Cooper)

“I hope the data [from the trial] will inform future research … and also inform a lot of other work in terms of modelling for climate change, and modelling for how the balance between trees and grasses might change over time.”

For the Lyons family, the trial was just one part of the 112-year relationship they had with the land.

Michelle Lyons says the station is lucky to have water as a natural asset.(ABC News: Curtis Rodda)

“From a family perspective, just knowing that we’re standing on the shoulders of those who took risks and worked hard,” Mr Lyons said. 

“Now we’re trying to do the same, we take risks in other areas and we have our sleeves rolled up trying to make a difference.”

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