“If you look at where we came from financially, you have to bite off what you can chew, whether that’s agistment or leasing,” Mrs. Coffey said.
Four years ago they sold all their cattle — bar a few favorites — and used the cash to buy a 2,500-hectare farm at Miriam Vale in Central Queensland.
“This place was pretty wild,” Mr. Coffey said.
“We had 400 hectares of mismanaged trees.
“The place really hadn’t had anyone here for the best part of 10 years, so it was pretty rough around the edges, but it felt right.
“After inspecting the property, I rang Jac and said, ‘I reckon I found it.”
There was a lot of work to do.
Dams leaked or had been ruined by floodwaters, and there were few water points or livestock fences. A dilapidated Queenslander cottage leaned alarmingly on its stilts.
“The neighbors said they kept waiting for the crash of the house falling over when there was a strong wind,” Mr. Coffey said.
The couple and their two young boys lived in a caravan until the cottage was habitable.
Starting from the ground up
The dream of working for themselves has been challenging.
The first setback was the unforeseen cost of removing 400,000 plantation trees where they’d planned to graze cattle.
The Coffeys had to remove hundreds of thousands of dense, overgrown plantation trees. (Supplied: Coffey family)
“With the amount of woody weed, some parts were just impenetrable. The cows could not get through there,” Mrs. Coffey said.
“[The trees] were just a liability with no monetary value [and] there was no environmental value in that sterile hybrid monoculture, so they had to go,” her husband added.
This is one of the 15 species of plant sown into a pasture to provide summer feed. (Supplied: Coffey family)
With the trees gone and the house repaired, they started renovating their pasture, using a regenerative agricultural practice called multi-species planting.
Southern dairy Farm house in Queensland use it to build carbon in the soil but it is unusual to see in Central Queensland broadacre grazing operations.
Get the latest rural news
The Coffeys consulted agronomist Ross Newman, who prescribed two seed mixes with more than a dozen species of forage crops, legumes, and grasses.
These are sown into existing native pastures; one mix grows summer feed, the other winter.
“What we are trying to do here is bust-up that summer dominant monoculture and get plants that grow all times of the year,” Mr. Coffey said.
Creative thinking for precious water
Mr. Newman said the more plants they grew, the more carbon would be added to the soil via the root systems, and as carbon levels rose, so would water-holding capacity.
He said the range of plants created a nutrition-rich methane-reducing “salad bowl” of forage for cattle while improving the soil.
Cattle are finally grazing on the Central Queensland property. (Supplied: Coffey family)
“In Central Queensland, if we get a rainfall event it’s 100 to 300 millimeters in the space of two to six hours, and the whole game of beef production is to capture as much moisture as we can,” he said.
“These plants are busting deep into the soil, so the moisture is going down, not running into the creek and out to the reef.”
The couple said they were using soil as a bank to regularly deposit carbon and water, so they could intensify their grazing operation without causing environmental damage.
Adam Coffey uses a new “game-changing” planter to drill a multi-species seed mix into the pasture. (ABC Landline: Pip Courtney)
Although unusual, Mr. Newman said the response after recent rain showed they were on the right track.
“It was a rundown, failed tree plantation,” he said.
“They were trying to grow carbon and store it in timber, not very successfully, we are going to show we can do it in the pasture instead.”
“We’ll double our carrying capacity here no problem at all and it’s really exciting to see what it will look like in a few years’ time,” Mrs. Coffey said.