Healthy dams, healthy animals
Posted on 6 May, 2021 by Ivan
Through Connecting Country’s ‘Healthy Landscapes’ project we have delivered a 2021 series of education workshops for farmers and other landholders. With funding support from the Australian Government’s Smart Farms program, we are also developing a written guide for local farmers and other landholders on how to restore healthy landscapes in the Mount Alexander region. Our final education event will be a local farm tour of dams and waterways, and opportunity to learn about how to restore them to improve water quality, create wildlife habitat and provide other benefits to your property.
Connecting Country has been following the Sustainable Farms project run by the Australian National University (ANU). Their work has included researching the far-reaching benefits of improving biodiversity around farm dams. It has been fascinating to hear from the landholders involved, who have seen benefits for both livestock and native animals from restoration of their farm dams.
The ABC recently published an excellent summary and interview with a landholder involved in the project. She has seen their farm change from a ‘moonscape’ to a refuge for native animals, while also improving water quality and the farm productivity.
Please enjoy the following article, originally published on the ABC website. To read the original article – click here
Transforming the typical Australian farm dam into an ecological ‘wonderland’
Trudi Refshauge’s property at Wyangala, in Central West New South Wales, was once described as a ‘moonscape’, but today it is a refuge for birds, reptiles and insects.
- Trudi Refshauge’s dam at Wyangala is now a ‘native wonderland’.
- ANU research shows healthy dams lead to an increase livestock weight gain.
- Most farm dams exceed the safe water consumption threshold for animals.
The transformation began with the Sustainable Farms project run by the Australian National University, which looked into the far-reaching benefits of improving the biodiversity around dams on farms.
Ms Refshauge fenced off the livestock, planted an array of native trees, shrubs and reeds, and built an island for frogs in the middle of the dam.
‘It’s a native wonderland and nature has taken care of a lot of it,’ Ms Refshauge said.
‘We’ve got the most gorgeous local eucalyptus trees, little native birds are nesting around it, we’ve got turtles in the dam and even native ducks.’
Dam good for bottom line
Barred from direct access, the livestock drink from a trough fed by the dam. Ms Refshauge said the stocking rate on the farm had increased since the improvements were made. ‘The cattle don’t mind,’ she said. ‘In fact, everyone says our cattle are fat.’
ANU research ecologist Benjamin Scheele said the scant existing research showed ‘higher quality water has about an 11 per cent benefit in terms of weight gain’.
He said the cost benefit factor ranged from 1.5 to 3, which meant the investment in infrastructure to fence off and trough from a water source would pay off at the market within a few years.
‘Farm dams play a vital role in our ecosystem across farmland,’ Dr Scheele said. ‘Most farm dams are pretty desolate places that were built a long time ago.’
To revive a dam, Dr Scheele says, livestock access must be restricted to reduce the amount of animal waste washed into the water.
That allows vegetation to establish itself on the surrounding walls and filter out material as it gets washed in.
‘You get much clearer and less salty water, but also levels of nitrogen and phosphorous in the dams that are fenced are much lower,’ Dr Scheele said. ‘These little changes that farmers make all add up.’