Michael, Ellie and son Jude farm on properties Willowlee and Kywong, a combined area of 800 ha, east of Narrandera in the heart of the Riverina, southern NSW. The property has been Gooden land since 1988 with four generations farming in the district over 150 years. Despite this longevity, when the millennium drought settled in between 2002 -2009 it took its toll. Neither the land nor profits were improving. In 2006 the family partnership was resolved and Michael and Ellie’s separate family journey began.
Michael ‘It was a huge decision to “go it alone” but I knew I couldn’t keep doing what we had always done. Even so, it took me another two years to finally have the courage to change to Holistic Management completely due to public pressure and family expectations to farm the “way my grandfather did ”.
Michael had sought out Michael and Anna Coughlan (long time HM farmers and also part of the 8 Families group) who connected him with Holistic Management Educator Bruce Ward. Then in November 2010 he made the change cold turkey and “it’s been the best decision that I have ever made in my life!’
Michael “I have seen increased diversity of grasses as well as slowly increasing ground cover, on what was initially a much degraded farming block. From our financial point of view, our cost of production has more than halved, while our average annual stocking rate has increased. In 2007-8 we fed $ 20 / DSE in supplementary feed, and in the last four years we have not fed out a grain of grain or a bale of hay (except to mulch the vegie patch!).
They now run a truly profitable grazing operation.
Ellie “Our farm is on the Murrumbidgee River floodplain, so it ranges from great grazing country to wetlands and wooded swamp areas. These offer a natural habitat for lots of plants and animals and we are seeing an increase in their numbers bit by bit.”
Michael “I love working with animals; breeding and managing them. It is great that I get to make a living out of converting sunlight and water into healthy produce. We genuinely want to make the world a better place one bite at a time. Climate change is very real and we believe that fundamental changes need to be made to the way we manage land, on a global scale, for this to be addressed.
Intertwined with this issue is one of human health.
Ellie ‘There would not be a health budget worldwide that can safely say; “Yes, we can cover our forecasted spending on health care”. The irony of these huge problems is that they are explicitly related; if in time we can change land use management from large scale monoculture cropping back to healthy perennial grassland, and in turn produce grass-fed beef, lamb, pork or chicken for the local consumer in a tight food chain, the people that are getting sick in the first place would not put as much pressure on our health system, and we would be simultaneously addressing some of our climate change issues.”
Michael, a keen rugby player who knows the taste of grass, gets great joy out of observing his cattle.
“The most pleasurable thing about grazing for me is the sound of a mob of cattle grazing a new cell of grass; the feverish and indiscriminate sound of grass being consumed. Also, working in the great outdoors everyday. It never really feels like work! “
Ellie “With our son Jude on the scene, it is just brilliant to be raising him in this environment where we know we are making a contribution to a cleaner world. We love it.”