In 2022 Tom Mann from ‘Hillgrove’ Station in Queensland was awarded the inaugural Award of Excellence in Rangeland Management by the Australian Rangeland Society.  For those that do not know Tom, he has worked on pastoral properties in Queensland since the early 1950’s and today, his family owns and operates hundreds of thousands of hectares of grazing country in North Queensland.  Some background information about Tom can be found in the Range Management Newsletter Issue 22/1 and on the ARS website.   

Tom was presented with his Award plaque and medallion during a small gathering earlier this year.  At this time, an invitation was extended to him or a family member to deliver a presentation at the 22nd Australian Rangeland Society Conference in Broome.  Marcus Pearce, Tom’s 16 year old grandson, accepted the invitation to attend – his presentation can be read below.



My name is Marcus Pearce, a Year 11 boarding student at the Anglican Church Grammar School, in Brisbane.  My family operate a cattle and sheep property at Ilfracombe near Longreach in Central West Queensland.

However, my journey started at ‘Hillgrove Station’, 80km north of Charters Towers.  ‘Hillgrove’ was then owned and managed by my grandfather, Mr Tom Mann.  Earlier this year grandpa was awarded the inaugural ‘Award of Excellence in Rangeland Management’ by the Australian Rangeland Society. Grandpa Mann recently turned 88, and unfortunately a trip to Broome to receive and talk about his award was a little out of his reach.  However, being the favourite grandson, it is my honour to be representing him here today.  ‘Hillgrove’ is still owned and operated by the same family, with my Uncle Bill Mann taking the reins a few years ago.


Tom and Bill Mann of Hillgrove Station


Succession has ensured Hillgrove’s ownership and management has remained in the Allingham family since the land was settled in 1861. This is fitting as it is in keeping with one of this conference’s themes, ‘Passing the Baton to the Next Generation’.

Thirty years ago, in 1993, a paper was written and presented by Tom Mann at the 17th International Grassland Congress at Rockhampton, titled ‘Flexibility – the key to managing a northern beef property’.  This paper will form the basis of my presentation to you today.  The paper highlighted management principles my grandfather adopted on his property, ‘Hillgrove’, many of which were not widely adopted across the northern beef industry at that time.

In his paper, Grandpa Mann outlined key factors of importance when running a successful northern beef property.  I will highlight a number of these and compare today’s philosophies and practices with those of 30 years ago, and expand on where they might be in another 30 years.

New thoughts, ideas and technologies could drastically change the way things are done on ‘Hillgrove’ 30 years from now, however I am fairly certain that ‘Hillgrove’ will still be producing beef in 2053.


1993 to 2023 – 2053

One thing that I think we can all agree on is that the land is the one constant that will endure in perpetuity. For this reason, Grandpa Mann always emphasized the importance that the land needs to be handed on to the next generation in a better condition than when it was received. This was the case on ‘Hillgrove’ in 1861 and will remain a prime focus towards 2053.

While the land will endure, everything else on ‘Hillgrove’ will change and evolve between now and 2053 including:-

  • The people
  • Finances
  • Markets & marketing
  • Livestock
  • Land & pastures
  • Other aspects (eg, climate, land area, etc)

Each of the above points has many components and it is not possible to cover them all in a 15-minute presentation, so I have selected several points to highlight and discuss some possible advancements.


Components of the Hillgrove beef business with those that are discussed in this presentation, circled.



Labour and staff

In 1993 five full-time staff and four family members made up the workforce at ‘Hillgrove’.  At times, contractors were employed for more specific and specialised roles. In 2023, while the property area of ‘Hillgrove’ has increased by 28%, the permanent labour mix has reduced with four fulltime staff plus two family members on the property, and more reliance on contract labour for mustering, weed control and fencing. By 2053 the size of the land holding may be larger still, however the permanent workforce could be reduced even further with several labour-saving technologies starting to be adopted by the industry.

Drones are becoming an extremely efficient and effective tool in many aspects of agriculture.  From locating, mustering and moving stock to watering squares and laneways to identifying and treating pest weeds in an extensive grazing system, they are really starting to make a name, and a future for themselves.  Ferrying equipment from one point to another and even checking watering points are further uses for this technology.

The remote stock handling area is another field showing real possibilities into the future.  Auto-weighing and auto-drafting technologies are available today to assist in weaning, segregation, joining and marketing of stock.  Working stock through yards with electronic auto drafts, or remotely opening and shutting gates from the office computer is also a real possibility into the future.


Livestock Genetics

Under my grandfather’s management, the cattle breed run on ‘Hillgrove’ changed from Devon-Shorthorn to predominantly Brahman by the early 1970’s. By 1993 the herd was high-grade Brahman which continued until crossbreeding commenced with the introduction of Romagnola and Charolais bulls up to the early 2000s.  Now, the current aim is to have a polled Brahman herd on ‘Hillgrove’ with the purchase of homozygous polled grey Brahman bulls.


Typical northern Brahman cattle on pastures oversown with Stylosanthes legumes.


By 2053 the options available for northern graziers will possibly have less focus on breeds and more emphasis on performance.  An interesting change in the breed dynamic across northern Australia is the increasing percentage of Bos Taurus type breeds that are present in areas that were once the domain of Brahman, Santa Gertrudis and Droughtmaster cattle.  Charolais, Black Angus and now more than any, Wagyu are found in the northern grazing areas in higher numbers than once seen.

The reasoning behind these breeds becoming more prevalent in the north again could be attributed to technological advancement in meat science.  With eating quality now becoming a measurable trait, and with the introduction of programs such as MSA and a number of Premium Grassfed programs, producers have proven they are prepared to make changes to try and stay ahead of the game.  For example, some of the huge premium prices for Wagyu derived products is way too difficult to ignore for some producers, even if they are ugly to look at.

These technological, physiological and nutritional advancements are all reasons that contribute to the changing breed dynamic throughout northern Australia.

Rumen microbiome, which is the full genetic mapping of the bovine rumen microbiome, will enable the selection of cattle that generate low levels of greenhouse gases resulting in a proportionate increased rate of live weight gain by making more efficient use of variable quality fodder like the dry season grass & browse.

Also, GEBVs provide a correlation between DNA and animal performance, which could lead to improved carcass yield & meat quality.


Animal welfare

High animal welfare standards have been attained on ‘Hillgrove’ by ensuring cattle are maintained in good condition during drought through sustainable and adjustable stocking rates, dependant on the availability of the feed base and the appropriate management of livestock parasites & diseases.  The ongoing adoption of the best management and animal husbandry practices has allowed this business to thrive throughout all the climatic cycles it has faced over the years.


Breath analysis to determine a range of respiratory and metabolic diseases and pregnancy status of cattle.


As mentioned earlier, the process of dehorning cattle at Hillgrove will soon be a thing of the past. By 2053 several other changes with implications for animal welfare will be available and may be incorporated into the management practices at Hillgrove.

Chemical castration and spaying options for cattle have been available for several years, however the uptake by beef producers of these initial procedures has been low due to cost and processes involved to achieve an acceptable level of success. These challenges are currently being addressed and a sterilisation vaccine will hopefully be readily available, which could eliminate the need for the current surgical procedures to continue.

Breath diagnostic work is currently being developed in Australia, with the help of NASA.  Initially, this work was focussing on pregnancy diagnosis, but the potential for other diagnostic implications is present as well.  Disease diagnosis as well as internal parasitic diagnosis could also be achieved through simple breath analysis with the use of this technology.  If this research is successful, the current invasive practices could be made redundant, resulting in less stress inflicted on the animals.

It has been forecasted that living standards in developing countries may increase dramatically into the future, resulting in a higher proportion of beef purchased through retail outlets then the current wet market process. This also may flow through to a reduction in live exports of stock and an increase in processed, boxed beef exported to SE Asian markets. This could pave the way in addressing the animal welfare issues associated with Live Export and provide more employment opportunities in Australia.


Managing Grazing

Stocking rates on ‘Hillgrove’ have been conservative during and since my grandfather’s time and over-sowing legumes into native pastures to increase carrying capacity has continued over the last two generations on the property. These two practices have increased beef production and maintained good land condition across the holding.


Adjusting stocking rates to match carrying capacity has maintained good land condition on ‘Hillgrove’


Also, the following emerging technologies, if implemented, could further enhance and refine the management of grazing across the property.

As fencing is traditionally one of the highest capital cost items on ‘Hillgrove’, virtual fencing has the potential to result in a significant budget saving. It may also address preferential grazing that occurs on better land types, fire scars, sown pasture areas, riparian & frontage areas along the Burdekin & Basalt Rivers and other wetland areas.  Hopefully over the next 30 years, this technology can continue to be developed and result in an affordable and efficient management tool for all livestock enterprises.

Ground cover levels have been regularly monitored on ‘Hillgrove’ using the ‘Forage’ package on the LongPaddock website. With emerging and pending developments in remote sensing, the following tools will be readily available by 2053 and commonly used across the industry, not only at ‘Hillgrove’.

Space-based ‘Light Detection and Ranging’ (LiDAR) could provide a 3-D view of vegetation, allowing for a more accurate estimate of pasture yield.  This technology, used in combination with  Hyperspectral imaging, which provides useful information about the pasture quality, including species composition, protein content & digestibility, could allow for forage budgeting to be achieved for more scientifically based stocking rates to be calculated through advanced data, which could predict diet quality and animal performance.


Managing Woodland & Carbon

‘Hillgrove’ has 100% remnant vegetation cover. The use of fire as a land management practice has diminished significantly from 1993 to 2023. An assessment by the Qld Department of Environment & Science showed that woodland density was unchanged across the majority of ‘Hillgrove’, but significant thickening had occurred on the low fertility land types.

Although the use of fire has diminished, opportunities will arise that may make low intensity burning an attractive proposition. Savannah burning using low intensity early dry season fires reduces greenhouse gas emissions (mostly nitrous oxide and methane) compared to intense end of dry season fires. These reductions can offset methane emissions from livestock, which could maintain market access for ‘Hillgrove’ cattle. However, the years in which these fires could occur would have to be following an above average rainfall summer where there is enough fuel for the fire to be beneficial and a high enough soil moisture level to promote pasture growth after the fire.

 Carbon sequestration due to woodland thickening could be a double-edged sword however, as it would reduce carrying capacity for cattle, but it could also generate carbon credits to offset methane emissions from cattle. A comprehensive economic and environmental assessment of these trade-offs will be required to make informed decisions for ‘Hillgrove’.


Managing climatic extremes

The three rules my grandfather became quite renowned for were ‘Sell Early, Sell and Regret, but Sell anyway’,Everything is for sale, allof the time’ and ‘’fall in love with your wife and your kids, not your cattle’.  These rules have seen ‘Hillgrove’ through many ups and downs over the years.  From droughts, fires and floods, parasite and disease incursions to the cattle slump and interest rate hikes.  Throughout all of these trying times, these three rules have resulted in the continuation and growth of ‘Hillgrove’ to what it is today.

Allowing time for pasture recovery post-drought before restocking is also standard practice.

By 2053 climatic trends in the vicinity of ‘Hillgrove’ in the Upper Burdekin, predict higher variability in rainfall between dry years and wet years with the maximum and minimum temperatures predicted to be higher.  The annual average rainfall is expected to be lower by approximately 10%.

The frequency of cyclones originating in the Coral Sea has decreased dramatically in the last 30 years.  If this trend continues, climate forecasters are suggesting higher intensity cyclones will still be possible but less frequent.

A range of climate related products are commercially available that will enhance the risk management for climate variability on ‘Hillgrove’.  Climate forecasting from monthly to 5 or even 10 years may be available if current research being done by the ‘World Climate Research Program’ and the UK Met Office proves accurate and reliable.

Combining weather forecasting capabilities with actual seasonal and annual outcomes forms part of the ‘early warning for all’ initiative. This means the scale at which weather forecasting operates will be picked up by the new generation of seasonal climate models and may result in a true and accurate prediction of significant weather events that will need to be managed.

The continuation of research to gain an increased understanding of the Madden-Julian Oscillation or MJO and similar patterns that impact northern Australia may at some stage be able to definitively forecast the start and end of the northern wet season and dry spells during the wet season.



While I have discussed these six aspects of managing ‘Hillgrove’ in 2053 in isolation, many of the options and changes will complement each other.  The pasture monitoring technologies in conjunction with the remote weighing capabilities will all provide scientifically based data to a manager who may then decide to move stock into a new area of the property using the virtual fencing capabilities he has at his disposal, to allow the stock access to areas that have been identified as having better pasture quality and yield.

To finish, Grandpa has always believed that acceptance of change is paramount.  Being open to new ideas and technologies is critical, especially in the current climate of innovation and technological advancement within our industry.  But these technologies need to be affordable and implemented sensibly.

 By the time 2053 comes around, I have no idea which of today’s innovations and technologies will be standard practice within the beef industry and which will have fallen into oblivion or been superseded by more advanced initiatives.  One thing I am certain of is that our industry will be vastly different to what it is today.


Tom Mann, Marcus Pearce and Bill Mann at Hillgrove Station



In researching and preparing this presentation, I have spoken with not only Grandpa Mann and my parents, Rob and Liz Pearce but also both of my uncles, Bill Mann from ‘Hillgrove Pastoral Company’ and Jack Mann from ‘Mann Beef’ about the current level of importance these factors still play in the running of a modern beef enterprise in the northern rangelands.

Additional information on the likely outlook for 2053 was provided by:-

  • Dr Geoffry Fordyce (formerly University of Qld)
  • Luke Chaplain Owner/Manager ‘Malakoff Station’ Cloncurry
  • Dr Phil Tickle (CiboLabs)
  • Prof Richard Eckard (Melbourne University)
  • Professor Roger Stone (University of Southern Qld)
  • Dr Bronwyn Darlington (University of Sydney)

I would also like to sincerely thank Mr Bob Shepherd from QDAF Charters Towers for his help and knowledge in bringing everything together.