AN 8 FAMILIES GROUP FOCUS PRODUCER CASE STUDY
After attempting high input/output cattle grazing during the Millennium drought, Sam and Prue Pincott were ‘carrying a hefty bill’ and negatively impacting their landscape and animal welfare. In an effort to turn things around, they adopted a Holistic Management approach and created a time controlled rotational grazing system that incorporated chickens as well as cattle.
They eventually decided to focus on the chicken enterprise and bought Bellevue, a property that suited this enterprise but was locally considered an unproductive ‘wet’ block. Their new approach has made Bellevue into a productive, profitable and climate-resilient enterprise, producing high quality and ethically produced food. This case study summary shares Sam and Prue’s transformation experience.
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Motivation for change
A hefty bill one year into high intensity farming during the Millennium drought
Discomfort with poor animal welfare and landscape degradation including ringbarking and lengthy livestock confinement feeding during drought
Observing older farmers who had “taken their foot off the pedal” by reducing their stocking rate during the drought and yet “their properties still looked fantastic”
Practices and innovations
Free range chickens incorporated into time controlled rotational grazing system
Worked with a marketing consultant to find niche for ethical paddock eggs
Co-founded the 8-families peer support group with a shared holistic decision-making approach
Income is less reliant on climate; maintained strong profit during the last drought
Improved animal welfare and ethical food production
Brought a “waterlogged”, challenging property back into productivity
Increased optimism about the future with plenty of time for family and community, despite labour intensive nature of egg production.
The Bellevue story
Before making practice changes
Fresh out of university, Sam and Prue began leasing Prue’s family farm at Yea, North of Melbourne, just as the Millennium Drought was kicking in. They were full of energy and excited to start implementing all of the practices that had been taught, shifting the property to higher inputs and higher outputs. Within the first year they found themselves ringbarking trees, carrying a ‘hefty feed bill’ and submitting their livestock to long periods of confinement feeding.
Sam and Prue noticed that the older famers in the area had reduced stocking and ‘taken their foot off the pedal …and their properties still looked fantastic’. This left a lot of questions and they began to attend field days looking for answers, eventually leading to a Holistic Management course. After the Black Saturday fires of 2009 burned through Yea, the family decided to sell. Sam and Prue began focus on farming on a new property, Kameroo near Holbrook, NSW, using time controlled rotational grazing.
Feeling ‘desperate’ with a reduced production base, debt and a new family, Sam and Prue began to think about how to meet their financial obligations. They saw a chook caravan for sale and remembered a field day demonstrating the benefit of chickens for paddock fertilisation. They bought the caravan and filled it with 50 chickens, moving the caravan each week in rotation with cattle and seeing immediate improvements to the pasture.
Creating a niche
Determined to break into this new market, Sam and Prue hired a business coach to advise on branding and finding a customer base. The Pincotts spent a lot of time “pounding the pavement” before identifying that their market was in a sector of the community that wanted value for their “ethical dollar”. They found that the way to reach these people was not in adjusting their price points, but rather in focusing on sharing their story and demonstrating that they go beyond basic free-range egg requirements.
The chickens are kept at very low stocking densities and are provided free access to the pastures and a highly variable diet. Together with the constant movement to between locations, chickens experience fewer health issues like crop impaction, parasites and stress-pecking. These factors have led to healthier chickens, and the ethical animal husbandry that the Pincotts desired. In the paddock, the chickens scratch through the cattle dung, turn the litter into the soil, and add in their own chicken manure fertiliser. After the chickens are moved, the grazed areas get a lengthy rest period, allowing the soil ample time to process the high nutrient load left by the two forms of livestock. The pasture is able to recover and grow, avoiding a “scalding” effect or the creation of bare soil.
By matching their production system to the landscape, rather than trying to alter a landscape to fit production, Sam and Prue have found that they have been able to create a very climate resilient enterprise. Egg production continues to be their core business; time controlled rotational grazing management practices allow them to keep chickens on the property all year round, throughout times of drought or wet winters, without causing any damage to the land or the animals’ welfare. This means that productivity and profits are reliable and consistent week to week, and year to year. The cattle currently comprise of agisted herds and the numbers are adjusted according to the seasonal conditions.
Outcomes1 The outcomes described in this section are based on best available data from remote monitoring or monitoring undertaken by the producer. Economic outcomes are based on financial data provided by the producer, while social outcomes are based on a wellbeing survey. More detail will be provided in the full reports, to be published in early 2022
Delve deeper into the results of the Pincotts’ soil and landscape regeneration practices.