A Farmer Case Study – Sam Johnson, Young, NSW

Sam Johnson
Sam Johnson

Location: Between Boorowa and Young on the South West Slopes of NSW

Size: 1500 Ha

Soils: Alluvial on the flats and light sodic clay subsoils with low pH on the slopes. Traditionally runs 4-5 dse/ha.

Enterprises: 210 Angus cows; 30 sows (Commercial crosses but tending towards heritage breeds such as Berkshire and Hampshire). The aim is to turn off finished products 12 months of the year and not to have store pigs.

Cropping: The farm has never been cropped. No hay is made nor fed.

Other animals: Cattle stocking rate is tempered by the estimated 1500-2000 ‘roos.

Labour: 6 units of labour of whom 5 are family members.

History: On the farm about 15 years and prior to that had an intensive small farm elsewhere producing eggs and meat birds.

Approach: Holistic Cell Grazing using hot wires rather than permanent fencing in order to regenerate the landscape. The hot wire gives Sam the flexibility he needs in managing his pastures. Water is delivered to the areas as designated to be part of the rotation. The cell grazing routine over a 15-year period has helped to increase the perennial (native) species in the pastures.

The pigs are moved in rotation rather than staying in the one location, which is often the norm with free range pigs. The grower groups have 40-50 in number. They have portable housing and portable feeders. The paddocks are created with hotwires. An area of 5ha will grow out 50 pigs without degrading the countryside.

Biodiversity: “We try to create as much biodiversity as we can within the woodland ecology of the area. It is an altered ecology…foxes, introduced animals and plants are part of the environment. We have to work with what we have and try to create as much opportunity that will survive in this environment.

Realisation moment: The 1982 drought and its impact on the landscape was a life changing moment. At that point the family started to take an interest in holistic cell grazing and the role it could play in regenerating the landscape. Alan Savory “gave me another way of looking at grazing which made sense.” Joel Salatin was the one that demonstrated the virtues of a polycultural system and how to market your self and not be a price taker. “He put all that in focus for us.”

The farm also had one of the few remnant areas of natural pastures on it that “we felt we could use well.” The entry into pigs was based on (1) an aversion to trading cattle, and (2) losing control of the marketing of the product. We decided to move back towards “direct selling and pigs were the ideal resource to use.”

Marketing: Pigs are killed at the Cowra abattoir and the carcasses are cut up on Sam’s recently built on-farm approved butchery. The cut meat is then sold direct to the consumer primarily through the Canberra markets held every Saturday. 30% of his products go to restaurants and cafes and the remainder to the public.

An online ordering system facilitates the orders. No individual deliveries are made. With 6000 people attending the Canberra Markets each Saturday the buyers come to him rather than the reverse, which is time consuming.

As it stands demand exceeds supply.

Labour Management: The family work the farm as a unit and allowances are made for members to take time off when they need it.

Ecology Mindset: Sam promotes his role as being that of a “gardener of the landscape.” He seeks to combine conservation with production values so they work in unison. He is critical of monocultures and their increasing role. Sam has always appreciated permaculture and polyculture. His influences in terms of books and training courses have been Joel Salatin (Polyculture), Alan Savory (Holistic Cell Grazing) and Bill Mollison (Permaculture). After the 1982 drought Alan Savory provided the answers to the devastated landscape – it was all about how the pastures were being managed.

The years of cell grazing have led to an increase in the natural pastures of Wallaby grass, Micro Lena, Red Grass and Box Grass. Ryegrass and Paspalum are becoming more common.

Diseases: No problems with disease. The pigs are moved constantly so the rotation minimises diseases. “We don’t vaccinate, drench. No medication of the feed. If there is the odd animal with a problem we will give it a penicillin shot. Because we are moving the animals off their manure we are getting no clostridial diseases (scows). The cows are vaccinated for lepto’ but otherwise nothing else. ‘The virtues of moving livestock onto fresh pastures on a regular basis is just a no brainer in terms of breaking the disease cycle.”

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