Bibbaringa Blog

 

17th November 2018

The Border Mail - Gillian's natural selection

Gillian's Natural Selection - The Border Mail

I'm in awe of nature - yet we think we can control it. I believe people put a lot of pressure on nature and their farming business in order to live the life their forefathers lived... we need to change our mindset.

Click here to read more (3 pages)

 

28th October 2018

ABC Landline - Natural Sequence Farming in action

What do you think of natural sequence farming? Some are saying it's a solution for Australia's drought. 

The ponds, leaky weirs and contours on these properties are part of the secret to how these farmers are thriving during dry times. They’ve adopted natural sequence farming methods. They say the results speak for themselves. 

 

12th August 2018

Podcast - The Sustainable Hour

Farm Management - Gillian Taylor

 

12th August 2018

Renewing a pastoral landscape

Farm Management - Gillian Taylor
Gillian Sanbrook: “I wanted to plant 25 percent of the property to trees, but now I intend to plant 30 percent and run cattle as the primary production income."

During the past 10 years, Gillian Sanbrook has planted over 70,000 trees, fenced gullies and creeks and tripled the number of paddocks on the 950ha property “Bibbaringa”, near Bowna, she purchased in 2007, transforming it into a more ecologically diverse place while lifting productivity according to the seasons.

“I wanted to plant 25 per cent of the property to trees, but now I intend to plant 30 per cent and run cattle as the primary production income,” she said.

When she purchased the property 2007 it was degraded, overgrazed, subject to rabbit invasion and covered in Patterson’s curse with serious gully erosion and during the millennia drought. Whenever there was a downpour, water and fertility poured off the slopes, so she aimed to slow the flow of rain that fell on “Bibbaringa”.

To look at the property now, in the middle of winter during one of the driest periods recorded since European settlement, is to wonder at the transformation.

Gillian Sanbrook

“After I purchased the property I knew I needed to allow the country to recover,” Ms Sanbrook said.

“By applying Holistic management principles, to my property management and decision making, I have seen an improvement from one percent organic carbon to high four percent. “And with the general health of the soil lifted I can see the diversity of grasses in that time.”

For Gillian it is not all about production: improving natural capital of her investment in the property is as important as the  short term financial production.

“I have to make ends meet financially but the real reward is seeing the ecological improvement, healthy cattle and keeping my cost of production low so my profits are also healthy,” she said.

“It’s not about production at all costs; it’s about building the ecosystem to make “Bibbaringa”  more resilient by building up plant matter, ground cover and shelter to add to the bio-diversity of the property.

“My mantra is 100 per cent ground cover 100 per cent of the time.”

The lift in the property’s natural capital is measured in many ways.

Carbon storage through trees plants and soil carbon, diversity of grasses permanent running water and ponding of water in the landscape.

“The insects and birds indicate I am doing something right,” Gillian said.

I’m really passionate about regenerative agriculture, I understand we have to work with nature ... I’ve never had the attitude we had to control nature.- Gillian Sanbrook

“In 2007 the seasonal dependent creek was relying  on runoff, but now it is a permanent stream that trickles or moves clean water gently through the landscape.”

Gillian Sanbrook

The success of Gillian’s innovations is evident through this current extended dry period when a little over 200mm of rain has been recorded to the end of June - less than half of what normally have been expected.

To stand within four hundred meters of the creek is to be amazed to see the stream as it trickles through the various ponds, and providing habitat for for frogs, insects, birds and the odd wombat: all of whom add to the bio-diversity of her farm which Ms Sanbrook desires.

“I’m really passionate about regenerative agriculture, I understand we have to work with nature,” she said.

“I’ve never had the attitude we had to control nature.”

An open mind encouraged at school
Gillian grew up in Melbourne without a direct connection with agricultural production.

“My family was involved in a manufacturing business, and my father always said you have to produce something and I figured at a young age that true production was primary production,” she said.

“I don’t know where I got that idea or that understanding, but someone has obviously influenced me at some stage.”

Attending an all-girls school and studying agricultural science from year 10 was quite an incredible experience for Ms Sanbrook, and perhaps was the source of the original inspiration.

“To think the subject was available is amazing but it gave me some basic understanding soil - I think that must have helped,” she said.
“And there was a school farm - quite ahead of its time!”

She chose a career in agriculture and worked on properties in the Riverina, New Zealand and South Africa and in rural journalism before moving to Pooginook, a Merino stud near Jerilderie in 1987.

Gillian Sanbrook

Persistence through extended dry period
To the end of June, a little over 200mm has fallen on “Bibbaringa’, yet there is sufficient pasture for the next four months to finish the four hundred steers currently grazing the property.

“Cattle numbers vary according to the season and I’m really aware the grazing situation has changed with climate change,” Gillian said.
“Once this property supported cattle breeding operation but I have changed to finishing in the past two seasons.

“Because the “Bibbaringa” business is so low cost I can make enough money with finishing and destocking for 3 months over the summer.

“This has enhanced my lifestyle and gives me options to pursue other interests.”

The property, to some may look understocked but there is a holistic grazing plan and  currently the 62 paddocks are grazed every 150 days some extend out to 210 days.

“My decision making has changed because of the climate variability of the rainfall and temperature and late seasonal breaks,” Gillian said.

“We can no longer rely on the traditional seasonal milestones to manage our land.”

Each year in November and April she researches climate forecasts and talks to people around Australia and considers her own observations to make a judgment on stock numbers.

“Of course this can change and I can buy and sell according to how the actual conditions change,” Gillian said.

Three years ago between 250 and 400 breeding cows grazed “Bibbaringa” based on seasonal adjustment.

“Since then I have run heifers and steers bought in as weaners about 280kg and taken through to 550kg,”

Gillian Sanbrook

“I find it gives me the flexibility to vary the stock numbers and the ability to destock for three to four months during the summer.”

She noted there is little pasture growth and animal weight gain during the summer, so being restocked through that period allows the paddocks time to breath.

There are many producers who have embraced the concept of regenerative agriculture in some form and Gillian has the records from 2007 to indicate the rate of improvement on “Bibbaringa” in that time.

““Bibbaringa” has to pay its way but I can see the production is definitely increasing per mm rainfall, DSE per ha and increase in organic carbon storage so what else can I ask for,” she said.

Positive direction confirmed by new book
Gillian said she was aware of Charlie Massy’s writing recording the history of the Merino, and when she saw his latest publication ‘Call of the Reed Warbler’, she knew instinctively she had to read it.

“It was really interesting as I knew a lot of the people documented in the book,” she said.

“At “Pooginook” we first started practicing Holistic Management in the early 1990’s.

“We ran training workshops and field days in Holistic Management and made huge changes to the Pooginook business in that time.”

Since that original inclination, Gillian has worked with Peter Andrews at Natural Sequence farming applying his practices to “Bibbaringa.”

“Peter has taught me to read the landscape and I now feel confident to do excavation work to incorporated the NSF practices. I’m really applying a lot of those principles of regenerative agriculture to running “Bibbaringa”, she said.

“So this book was a revelation - it has more depth of understanding about where my thought patterns perhaps had originated.
“I also learnt so much more about other regenerative agricultural processes.”

Gillian Sanbrook

There are so many opportunities for land owners and managers to change their practices to more regenerative agriculture. 

There is a quiet revolution going on in agriculture because of the problems of chemical contamination in our food sources and low fertility in the soil and Gillian said reading ‘Call of the Reed Warbler’ made her realise she wasn’t alone in her determination to find a more sensitive approach to agricultural production.

“I see people doing a fantastic job with pasture cropping and building soil carbon in conjunction with livestock and cropping,” she said.
“It is a balance - we are dealing with nature and nature is a balance, nature is supreme and you just have to work with nature, it always has the last say!”

 

 

6th June 2016

Banking the Grass – why Gill sold the herd

In the very first of our 8 Families new blog, Gill Sanbrook has made the radical decision to sell all her cattle. As an experienced Holistic manager Gill had gone into Summer and Autumn with a grazing plan and as the season deteriorated it gave her all the signs she needed to make a seriously tough call. 

Gill: To off load cattle at any stage is a heart wrenching experience and it didn’t come easily. First I had to go through the decision making process, asking myself "are there any other options?” I can imagine that’s what you’re thinking – what about agistment, what about buying in hay?

But before I share all that thinking, here’s a brief history of my farm - Bibbaringa. It’s a 1,000ha property north east of Albury.  My family bought it in January 2007 during the millennium drought. At the time it was severely overstocked with cattle, sheep and 90 horses. The property was tired, dry and needed a good rest. 

As for me, well my background in property management is based on 20 years of practicing the principals of Holistic Management in the Riverina of southern NSW. I trusted that the process worked and I had the ability to regenerate a stressed property. The goal was to build up a rural business that would be biologically, financially and sociably sustainable. 

So over the last 9 years we planted over 60,000 trees on about 23% of the property, turned 23 paddocks into 60 paddocks, maintained 100% groundcover throughout the year and also applied the principals of natural sequence farming developed by Peter Andrews to repair eroded and scarred areas on the property. We are slowing the flow of water through the landscape and getting the water back into the flood plain and out of the scarred incisions. 

Gillian Sanbrook

The rainfall in the past 9 years has varied from 450mm to 1,050mm. The past 12 months was 635mm (average rainfall of 750mm). The spring rainfall did not come until November, which in my view was too late to build a bulk of feed. Although we had good January rainfall of 100mm it did not provide the bulk of feed normally experienced from the summer perennials. The temperatures were all above average including higher winter temperatures, which encouraged reasonable growth during those cooler months.

At Bibbaringa the cattle are run in one mob of about 300 to 700 depending on the seasonal conditions. I vary the number according to pasture monitoring and based on a planned grazing management process developed by Alan Savory and Holistic management.

In the past non growing season the paddocks were grazed based on a 150 days recovery period between grazes and about 90 to 120 days in the growing season (Spring).

During February the warning signs began. The cattle were needing to move faster than the plan and not leaving as much feed behind in the paddock as I would like, to maintain the 100% ground cover. So I sold 150 head. 

I run the property on my own with the help of casual skilled cattlemen when cattle come into the yards. I have a well-designed set of Pratley cattle yards built in 2007. With holding yards we can easily process 800 head in one yarding and this is all done very quietly and smoothly. 

In February/March the first draft of sale cattle included dry (not pregnant) and older cows and older steers retained to make up numbers. Usually I sell store weaners during November at 12 to 14 months of age but this year I retained them to make up numbers. The mob was reduced to 400 head including weaners, cows and heifers.

By the end of April I had one month’s feed of planned non growing grazing in front of me. This means the cattle had not grazed these areas since November 2015. However the native pastures had not recovered to my satisfaction and I had other issues at hand;

Gillian Sanbrook

I have always viewed my cattle herd as a tool to build up the biodiversity and resilience of Bibbaringa. At this point of time my emphasis is on building diversity of soil and plants and re-energizing Bibbaringa. I also want to live a happy, healthy, stress free life. These were my options;

I spoke to a number of people including members of my network of Holistic Management colleagues (I am in an HM support group that meets every 6 weeks) and they challenged my decision making process in a positive way. Some of their comments were 

By this time we were due for one of our management group meetings which just happened to be at Morundah on the plains of western NSW. 

Gillian Sanbrook

As we all sat around the old homestead’s big wooden table I put the decision to the group and we ran it through the 7-Testing-Questions that lie at the heart of Holistic Management decision making. By the time we were at question 6, which is the ‘gut feel’ question, I knew they all had to go.

That was on the Monday and by the end of week the cattle had been sold through Auctionplus, private sale and direct to meat processors.

I have not looked back since making the decision. The property now has time to rest and recover and I have an opportunity to travel and re-energize before planning for restocking later in the year.

With a grassed up canvas I will have multiple options for re-entering the cattle business.

I studied KLR marketing in February this year which has boosted my confidence in trading – so I may not buy stock that needs a full 12 month grazing period. 

The money is in the bank, the grass is growing, now it’s raining and I feel it is WIN WIN.