In my parents’ kitchen there is a spot next to the fridge devoted to newspapers.  It’s been there since I can remember and it’s always stacked high, shifting position slightly over the years but never the less, it’s a fixture.

grounded_golden_wattle-square1All the rural press ‘must haves’ from the eastern states end up there and my Father spends hours pouring over them.  When I visit I also love to sit at the kitchen bench and pour over the papers, catching up on the local ‘goss’ and state of affairs in central western NSW.

Whilst visiting the folks last Christmas, I came across an interesting find.  An article written by my friend, Trudi Refshauge and the topic was the role of wattles in sheep production.  The interesting part is that Trudi shed light on the many benefits of wattles that are overlooked.  Particularly their nitrogen fixing capabilities and for building resistance to internal parasites (worms) in sheep.

For years, when I was working as a Landcare coordinator, I was always on the lookout for ways to promote revegetation in agricultural landscapes.  Not just for biodiversity’s sake, but to make an impact on the bottom line.

Tangible examples are often hard to come by.  I really enjoyed reading the story and told Trudi so.  Sometime later she emailed me to say that I had been the only person to comment to her about it and sent a link to the article.  So I’ve determined that this subject deserves a bit more air.

The humble wattle, our national emblem.  Native to Australia, they are found all over the continent.  It’s amazing how many people don’t realise that Wattles are a legume.  They fix nitrogen in the soil and are an important plant in the system.  They are colonisers, often one of the first plants to regenerate after fires or soil disturbance.

In a revegetation situation they have a bad name for being short lived.  Somewhere around 10-12 years would be average lifespan.  But it’s not all bad. They grow quickly, do their job, and then exit.  Leaving behind that valuable nitrogen and often volunteer seedlings.  There’s also the habitat component, dead or alive those branches have a role to play in providing shelter.

Trudi and husband Gordon run a grazing operation in the Hovell’s Creek catchment along the Lachlan River.  There’s good documentation around improved production, lambing rates and less stock losses, where there is access to shelterbelts.  Something Trudi and husband Gordon would no doubt testify too.

Did I miss something though….sheep can eat wattles?  I guess, why not?  If you venture on to read Trudy’s article (link supplied) you’ll find that it’s not just the foliage that can be a beneficial source of protein for stock.  Quoted in the article is research undertaken by Dr Andrew Kotze.  The seed pods of wattles are also digestible.  But the really interesting note is that Kotze found that tannins in some wattle species have anti parasite effects in sheep.

In 2006, ANU Honour’s student Graham Fifield found that ‘acacia foraging’ decreases sheep vulnerability to internal parasites.  This is backed by anecdotal evidence of observations of stock losses from parasites in pastures with and without access to acacias.  Further to that, if you do a google search you will find a couple of international papers testing wattle tannin in drenches and some interesting finds determining decreasing fecal egg counts.

I’m not advocating running out and planting a paddock full of yellow blooming wattles, but to see this unsung bush hero in a new light.  So, the bottom line, shelter, foraging and an anti-parasitic effects.  More reasons to use wattles in your next shelterbelt planting.