About us

Gillian Sanbrook - achieved a Diploma of Farm Management Glenormiston Agriculture College. She had a career as a Rural Journalist with Countryman Newspaper in WA and Western Farmer and Grazier, Freelance journalist in Australia and South Africa. Gillian pursued a marketing career in South Africa.

For the past 21 years Gillian worked with David Taylor to build up the Pooginook Merino Stud at Jerilderie. In 2003 Gillian established Natural Instinct Wool Company an Australian manufacturing and marketing company that produce woolen outerwear for corporate wear. Currently Gillian manages Bibbaringa cattle property at Bowna east of Albury NSW.

Farm Management - Gillian Taylor
Gillian with her dogs Nell and Boots

 

About Bibbaringa

Farm: Bibbaringa
Region: Wymah Valley, South West Slopes, New South Wales
Commodity: Beef cattle
Farming area: 990 hectares
Email: gillian@bibbaringa.com
Twitter: @trees4change
Phone: 02 6020 3244, 0428 696 724

Our major priority is not production at all costs. Our major priority is getting the soil and the land into a good, healthy condition. We feel if we can do this then everything else will take care of itself and, in turn, accommodate for the varying climate.

See what Gillian has to say about:

Being in tune with nature

Even though I was not brought up on the land, I always had an affinity with it. As soon as I left school I became a jillaroo. In the early 1970s, I was the only jillaroo in the Riverina.

Before we bought Bibbaringa, my husband David and I owned and operated Pooginook Merino stud in the Riverina region. The Taylor family [David's family] owned property north of Jerilderie since 1913.

In 1992 we started managing Pooginook holistically. We started in a drought and continued to refine the process of holistic management.

When you're on the land you become very attuned with nature. You notice when birds are coming and going, what the insects are doing and how it all relates to impending weather. Your projections aren't always right but they often give you a good head start to make management changes.

So we've just built on what our forefathers have taught us and the knowledge that we've accumulated over the years. We try to be seen as leaders in land management in whatever climatic conditions we're in.

Increasingly variable rainfall on the South West Slopes

The area we are in, on the South West Slopes of New South Wales, has had quite reliable rainfall over the years.

When we moved in, we thought we were buying into a more reliable rainfall area (the long-term average for the area is 750 mm). We've been here seven years and we've had 750 mm only once I think. We've had 1 metre one year and we've had 350 mm another year.

We've only been here 7 years but I think the climate has become more variable here, and more of our neighbours are agreeing. The variability is not going to change, so we have to manage for that variability.

Getting the soil right at Bibbaringa

We bought Bibbaringa back in 2007 for two reasons: a change of scenery and a new challenge.

Gillian Sanbrook

Overlooking Lake Hume in the southern slopes of NSW

The land [at Bibbaringa] looked stressed but we could see it had good bones. Too many animals were being run on it and as a result, there was no ground cover. I think there were 600 cows, 90 horses and about 1500 sheep taken off the place just before we bought it. After several years of drought, there was hardly any moisture in the soil profile and the dams were empty.

We wanted to put in place the holistic management practices we learnt and adapted over time to restore this block of land. That meant getting the soil right, getting moisture and structure back into the soil, getting cover over the soil so plants can start recycling nutrients into the system and get all the microorganisms functioning in the soil.

For the first 2–3 years we destocked to let the property heal.

We could have spent hundreds and thousands on reseeding the place but we just allowed the land to rest because the seed base was there; all it needed was rest, rainfall, some agitation from the cattle then more rest.

Making decisions for the whole of the enterprise

Our major priority is not production at all costs. Our major priority is getting the soil and the land into a good, healthy condition. We feel if we can do this then everything else will take care of itself and, in turn, accommodate for the varying climate.

We can do this because we have no debt hanging over us, which influences the way we farm. This does not mean that you cannot run holistic management without a debt. We started holistic management at Pooginook during a drought and with a manageable debt.

Holistic management is a decision-making process where you look at how the decisions you make affect the whole system rather than just elements of it.

Gillian Sanbrook

Upon buying the property, Gillian and David set out what they would like their property to look like in 10 years's time. This included realigning paddocks to better trace natural barriers, and plant trees.

Our decisions can be as wide-ranging as buying cattle, buying land, agisting property or buying machinery. You ask yourself if that decision affects your animals, land, soil, your community: anything important in the process. If you're happy with the outcome then you can make the decision knowing you've thought it through.

In our business we aim for ground cover. If we get our ground cover right, everything else seems to look after itself.

Rotating stock to maintain ground cover

We use a grazing plan to help manage the movement of our animals and, most importantly, the ground cover in our paddocks. Obviously we still need to go out and check to see if the paddock is in a healthy state, but the spreadsheet at least provides us with a helpful guide.

Gillian Sanbrook

Gillian keeps track of her stocking rates for each paddock using a simple spreadsheet which she consults when moving animals.

We look at animal numbers going into a paddock and if they are weaning, and calculate how many days we can keep them in that paddock before they start to run low on feed.

We usually run about 400–450 animals in a paddock. Our average paddock size is about 10–12 hectares.

When we move the animals, we look at a spreadsheet to see which paddock has had enough time to recover and has enough feed in it to support the mob. Now we're working on 150-day rest periods, which means we won't reintroduce animals back onto the same paddock for 150 days. During growing periods we move faster: 90–120 days.

We rate the paddocks 1 to 10. Ten are the best paddocks. These paddocks have 100 per cent ground cover with a good ratio of perennial grasses and diversity of plants. Most paddocks are usually between 6 and 10 before we introduce the animals.

If we find we have more grass than we have animals we'll either agist or buy more animals.

Destocking based on seasonal forecasts

Because we've set our farm to be easy to manage, where we don't hand feed our cattle, we're firm believers of destocking before it's too late.

I believe 'too late' is when you're 6 months into a drought, you've run all your cattle through your paddocks and you have to either buy feed or sell your stock in a market where everyone else is in the same situation, so the price is low.

Taking too many cattle out of our mob slows down operations, but we at least know we have enough feed in our paddocks for the cattle we have left and we are getting a good price for the cattle we sell.

Gillian Sanbrook

Because Gillian's operation is not set up to manually feed cattle, she chooses to sell cattle during dry times to maintain the health of her land and animals.

It's already May and we've only had 111 mm this year [May 2013], which is well below average [250 mm].

We've been looking at the forecasts on Elders and the Bureau of Meteorology, and been speaking to a number of friends in the area who access forecasting from private forecasters and everyone is saying that there's going to be no significant rainfall coming in the next couple of months.

We like to check everything against the seasonal forecasts on the Bureau of Meteorology website.

With all this in mind, we decided to sell 100 cows and 50 weaners last week to leave us with 350 cows and calves. If we don't receive any significant rain in the next 6 weeks we'll take more cattle out.

Planting trees to control erosion, conserve moisture, give shade

Two days after we settled on the property [January 2007], we sat around an aerial map and started to plan how we wanted the property to look. We had two goals in mind: to segment the large paddocks and to plant trees.

The trees and shrubs we've planted have helped reverse the erosion and have protected hills and slopes from heavy rainfall. They've also allowed for more moisture retention and help shade our animals during very hot days.

Gillian Sanbrook

Upon buying the property, Gillian and David set out what they would like their property to look like in 10 years' time. This included realigning paddocks to better trace natural barriers, and plant trees.

We started with 24 paddocks and now have well over 55–60, ranging from 5 to 35 hectares. That number is growing every year as we recognise natural boundaries which start to emerge, and how we can better move stock.

The benefits of having more smaller paddocks is we can calculate stocking rates easier and make sure the animals going onto the paddock are grazing it uniformly.

When we first started planting trees on this property we focused on restoring fragile gully areas to help with erosion. During high rainfall events, rainfall was just gushing down the hills, taking a lot of dirt and rock with it. This was because there was little ground cover to slow down the water or hold the soil in place.

With the help of the Murray Catchment Management Authority, over 24 per cent of our property is trees. Some people say that we are sacrificing land but we've started grazing in these native vegetation areas again.

We believe it's important to run animals through native vegetation areas as they have a role to play in maintaining the balance of the system.

They stimulate soil surface with their hooves as well as prune the trees and shrubs. The secret is not to leave them in too long or introduce them too often.

In the early years we did not graze for 4–5 years, then let them lightly graze once a year. Now most of the original tree areas are in the grazing plan.

Interview date: 8 May 2013

Farm Management - Cattle watering
Cattle watering on Spring fed dam at Bibbaringa September 2011. 400 cows and calves and 220 weaners in mob on planned rotational grazing.
Farm Management - Trees planted
Trees planted in eroded gully 2007. The pasture is building up with rest and strategic grazing practices since 2007. Photo September 2011.
Farm Management - Established trees
Established trees in creek and spring area at Bibbaringa. Natural regeneration in for ground. Photo September 2011.