Grazier profile - Jeff Mills
It’s fitting that Rockhampton cattle grazier and Reef Guardian Jeff Mills measures the distance from his property to the coast as 160 kilometres by river, rather than by road.
The 7000 hectare property, ‘Melrose’, has been in his family for four generations and he credits his late father Neville for laying the foundations for his best practice approach to grazing and land management.
Jeff describes his father as a “town boy” who at 13 took a job on Melrose, which then belonged to his uncle. Neville eventually inherited the property and worked it for the next 64 years.
“Dad was progressive. He began using property mapping software after a friend taught him how to use it and his good management of the vegetation along the big creek that runs through Melrose laid a strong foundation for me,’’ Jeff said.
“Dad always told me: `Have a go, never be frightened to try something different. Think ahead of yourself’.”
The property mapping system initiated by Jeff’s father provides the framework to plan grazing management on Melrose. The creeks and vegetation are now all fenced to keep cattle out and ensure there is good cover to filter run-off into the creek, keeping the water and ecosystem healthy.
Adoption of rotation grazing was the key to improving cover and pasture productivity on Melrose. Rather than continuously grazing cattle in large paddocks, they graze smaller paddocks more evenly for shorter periods.
“Cattle are natural ploughs — they break up the soil and mix in mulch with their hooves, improving water infiltration and fertilise it organically,’’ he said.
The paddock is then rested to allow the grass to reap the benefit of this treatment and in this way the cattle help improve the health of the pasture.
Jeff’s vision of biodiversity is a source of pride, with Melrose featuring interconnected wildlife corridors and areas of natural woodlands. Ongoing weed and pest management including vehicle wash down procedures minimise the spread and impact of weeds and pests.
Such management practices make Melrose easier to run and more productive, he said.
It takes more than a day just to drive around Melrose and the small team of Jeff, his wife Karen and a young property hand work hard to look after the land and make a living from it.
“The environment dictates our life and if you look after it, it looks after you. If you don’t, it’s a bit like trying to run a factory that has run out of workers.
“Making these changes to the way we manage the land has made life at Melrose even more worthwhile and we’re proud to tell people about what we’re doing. We’re not just graziers, we’re land and water stewards and the Reef Guardian program recognises us for that.”
Jeff also contributes to the health and conservation of the Reef by sharing what he has learnt about caring for his land with school and university students, government agencies and other graziers.
He gives of his time generously to interested visitors and recruiting potential new Reef Guardians.
“I don’t want to see our industry die because of lack of change. The Reef Guardian program helps steer us in the right directions and change negative public perceptions of the industry,” he said.
“The school students who visit are especially important. If I have one out of 100 kids tell me that they enjoyed what I had to say, then that’s worth losing a day of work. Having them out here, away from their computers and letting them see and understand that graziers are making an extra effort to do good for the environment means they are learning and can share that with others.’’
Jeff attributes his philosophy of caring for the environment to his experience of visiting Antarctica 20 years ago.
“It had a profound effect on me … it was pristine.”