How life hurdles triggered farmers' new business direction
SOMETIMES, life can trigger business decisions for us.
Brad and Kirsty Zammit have run a cane operation at Victoria Plains, west of Mackay, for the past 17 years, but four years ago they were given a jolt.
"It will be less workload, less tractor work - I also work at the mines seven-on, seven-off, then I come home and work a full seven days here as well," Brad said.
"Four years ago, we had an eye-opener, Kirsty had breast cancer. There's just more to life than working every single day. It was time to slow down a bit, have a bit of a life, a bit of family time."
Happily, Kirsty is now clear of cancer, and is full tilt managing the farm. The couple has a son, Kasey, a thoughtful five-year-old in Prep.
In the past, they have had a few cattle on the 34Ha property, just enough for personal use, but now they are transitioning into a rapid rotation, small cell tropical pasture system.
By the end of this year's crush, the Zammits will have removed cane completely from their farm, although maintaining a lease for cane on a neighbouring lot.
Standing armpit-deep in a lush pasture of climate-appropriate mix of 35 per cent Mariner Rhodes grass, 20 per cent setaria "Splenda", and the balance made up of G2 Guinea grass, garnet burgundy bean, cavalcade centro, green leaf desmodium and Desmanthus, there is a deep mulching layer below, and Brad is excited to see the nitrogen-rich growth of legumes twining on grass, and to see the protein-rich fodder that will both feed his growing herd of Brangus and offer surplus for income diversity that is baled for hay and silage.
Brad Zammit is impressed with the level of nitrogen fixation his mix is showing. Note the nitrogen nodules in the root area. Picture: Contributed With a little under six months growth, the climate appropriate mix of vegetation is creating deep mulch and excellent moisture and topsoil retention levels. Picture: Kirili Lamb Garnet Burgundy Bean twining on Rhodes Grass in the Zammits' tropical pasture. Picture: Kirili Lamb
The move is paying off, and Brad is enormously thankful for the guidance of Barenbrug's CQ territory manager, Matt Lockwood, whose years in the business of stock and now seeds has let him offer advice on options for beef production as well as creating a customised pasture seed mix for the Zammits' country over the past nine months. The higher harder country on the property has other varieties in the mix like signal and panic.
Matt is also pleased with what they have been able to achieve.
"We've just produced over 100 bales in silage, getting about 20 tonne to the hectare," Matt said.
"It's a custom mix of mainly good coastal grasses complemented with legumes for nitrogen fixation, for soil health and biology, and we are getting good results already."
Planted only in October 2019, the pasture is showing plentiful and pronounced nitrogen nodes in the vigorous root system. It followed on from a pioneer planting of oats, and vetch as a legume, that was both grazed and baled.
"The steers were putting on around 1.2kg a day on that mix," Brad said.
Over time some cooler temperate seasonal species like oats and sorghum will be drilled down to maintain production through winters.
The next stage of the production shift, to start in a few weeks, will be installing the fencing for small cell grazing ahead of increasing the herd. 19 paddocks across 90 acres will be created as a stage one of the fencing program.
Thumbing a dog-eared, note laden and well-worn Barenbrug seed catalogue he picked up a few years ago, Brad said working with Matt has opened his eyes.
"Before I got to know Matty, I would just plant grass, buy a couple of steers and let 'em go- that was it," Brad said.
"But it's all changed, and we are going into it in a big way on a little place."
Matt reckons part of Brad's success lies in understanding of the country and of growing.
"When Brad was cane farming with his father, they knew how to grow really good cane and push the limits with production, getting an average of 44 tonne to the acre, against a group average of 32. So, they know how to be productive, and I said, you can apply the same thing to your cattle, it's all there," Matt said.
Customising a mix to the country and the producer is important for Matt.
"You've got to talk to your client, you've really got to get inside their head and get a view of what they are trying to achieve," he said.
"I always think and say to them: it's your paddock - you are the one that's got to get up in the morning and go out and have a look. Most people know what they want.
"Pasture is a long term thing. In 10 or 20 years from now, you still want to see and step into the paddock and know that this is exactly what you wanted, and it's what your thoughts and dreams were."