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Savanna Explorer > Kimberley > Fire > Fire on Flora Valley Station

Using fire on Flora Valley Station

by Andrea Johnson, formerly NT DPIF
From Savanna Burning - Understanding and Using Fire in Northern Australia, Tropical Savannas CRC, Darwin 2001

Heytsbury Beef ’s Flora Valley Station, 120 km east of Halls Creek in the Kimberley region of WA, runs 10,000 breeders on an area of 6500 sq. km. About half the property is dominated by spinifex, and half is Mitchell grass on black soil downs. Rainfall declines in a gradient across the property, averaging 560 mm around the homestead to 355 mm in the southern part.

Wildfires, driven by strong south-easterly winds from July onward, are a major threat to the more productive downs country every year.

Burning on black soil country

Burning Mitchell grass on black soil country freshens pasture

Burning Mitchell grass on black soil country every few years freshens up the pasture and encourages grazing away from water points. Photo: NTDPIF

Wayne Bean, manager, and Ian Hoare, head stockman, burn black soil country every two to three years to reduce the risk of wildfire, remove old rank growth and to promote healthier pastures.

They light many fires opportunistically during mustering, trying to burn patches that were not burnt in the previous year. This provides a natural firebreak as areas burnt in one year will not burn again in the next.

They prefer a total burn—best achieved when in warm and windy weather—lighting up early in the day and using previously burnt areas to prevent fires from travelling too far. After good rainfall (from November onward), the Mitchell grass in the burnt areas recovers to produce ‘obviously better pick and feed’.

Fire also reduces localised heavy grazing, particularly around the major watering points, as stock move out across the whole paddock to seek fresh growth on burnt areas.

Burning black soil should not be undertaken lightly, and other good management practices have to be in place. Stock numbers must match the area that is burnt to prevent overgrazing of fresh regrowth and damage to perennial tussocks.

Burnt Mitchell grass on black soil

Burnt Mitchell grass
Photo Ian Partridge

Burning spinifex country

The red hilly spinifex country on Flora Valley is also burnt regularly to prevent wildfires, promote new fresh growth as a food reserve and to keep the country open for easier mustering by reducing prolific growth of woody species.

Before fire was used on Flora Valley the station was one of the poorest performing properties of Heytsbury Beef in the Top End. Since Wayne has incorporated burning with his grazing management, Flora Valley experienced the highest weight gains of all properties—the same property, the same cattle, different fire regime.