Farm Vision Update – February 2015

In the About section, I wax fairly lyrically about the journey we intend going on to develop a profitable hobby farm. So where are we with that vision?

We have owned The Sables now for a little over 2 years, living in Brisbane and getting out there most weekends. Over that time, we have developed a feel for the changes in the country through different seasons, the effects of drought and rain and the seasonal variance we can expect.  There are so many little bioregions and unusual pockets of different species/hydrology to try to get our heads around and we have spent this time observing, recording and trying to get a holistic understanding of the property and its ecosystems.

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(rock paddock after rain)

There are still a number of parts of the property we haven’t set foot on – its difficult when you have undulating forest covering big sections. With 1200 acres and the variation that is there, it was always going to take a long time to get-to-know The Sables and I can see that process  continuing indefinitely. That is not a negative by the way, I love that variation but it does make farm management decisions a little more challenging.

The following is a snapshot of where we are up to. Going forward and after finishing the last few Cabin posts, I will be recording the outcomes of research into holistic management, forest management, pasture/grazing management systems and how Alice and I incorporate or don’t incorporate various elements into an overarching farm management plan.

So what have we done in terms of management to date? Firstly, we have set down the basic criteria which suits us and which we apply to any potential enterprise. These are in order of priority;

1) Low operating inputs in terms of time(labour) and costs;

2) A good return on equity invested (at least 5%);

3) Producing goods/products we can be proud of and would be keen to eat/use ourselves; and

4) Target a niche market

The following is a list of where we are with each current enterprise and new enterprises being considered.

Cattle

The property has been leased for the past 2 years and will continue to be leased until 10 October 2015. At that point we need to either re-lease (with someone else) or  run cattle ourselves which will involve overcoming a number of challenges. We have no stockyards at present, water infrastructure (tanks, troughs, dams) are lacking or need repair, fencing is ordinary in places and we need upskilling on animal husbandry. There are a few options and we will make a decision on this in the next month or so.

On the positive side, our little herd of 5 Murray Grey breeders (thanks to the generosity of Richard and Judy) is expanding with one calf having dropped and another apparently on the way. They are on agistment near Toowoomba and we are looking forward to seeing them this weekend. This is the proud mother and calf below;

cow and calf

We are doing a lot of research into preferable cattle species for our country, production models and costs which is ongoing and will form part of the farm management plan.

Rental

The cottage is rented and we are really happy with the return on it. We were originally receiving 140 a week. By laying a quick fence down one weekend to create a 15 acres paddock, we added this to the rental and now receive 210 a week. The current tenant is a woman with a child who rescues horses and I think there are 3-4 grazing her paddock at the moment.

The farmhouse restoration has stalled. We had problems with the builder and the cost of doing this at the same time as building the cabin was prohibitive in any case. Given the solid passive income that comes from the cottage and the interest we received from the local rental market when it became available, there is an opportunity there. Capital-permitting, we will try to resurrect the farmhouse or something else on that spot (given access to mains electricity) in the medium term.

Forestry

We have provided notice to the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry that we are conducting a Native Forestry enterprise over the whole of The Sables. This is regulated by a new self-assessable code of practice that the Newman government put in place. We are also looking into sustainable forestry certification schemes.

The intention in the short-term is to sell handmade breadboards/cheeseboards online and I am currently experimenting with different combination of wax/oil finish to get the right mix. Hopefully these will be available by Winter.

We are also currently preparing a forestry management plan which I want to have finished within the next few months.

Other enterprises

Native bee honey and hives, horseradish (or other cash crop) are also on our list to research and put some trials in place over the course of 2015.

Other Stuff keeping us busy

We have built the off-grid 1 bedroom Cabin over 2014 and that has been a massive enterprise. The total cost (including electricity system, fridge, 22,000L tank) has been around 20k (+/- 5k). The finishing touches just need to be put on now which should take about another month. It has been a long, hard slog and whilst we are both proud of how it looks, definitely looking forward to moving on with other projects!

We are looking into organic certification and are keen to go down this route for a number of reasons but mostly because it aligns with our beliefs and will add value to the niche products we intend to produce. The timing for this and complications it raises for the cattle are obstacles we are currently looking into.

We applied for a subdivision of the front section of the property. This was approved, surveyed and is now lodged with council prior to registration at the land titles office. If we intend to move out to the Farm in the next year or so, we may need to sell the smaller section to lighten the debt load which would reduce the farm we retain to 800 acres. It is an ongoing discussion and whilst changing the metrics of what we can produce on the farm to some degree, should not otherwise be detrimental for the vision we have for the place. If we did this, the farmhouse and cottage would be gone so development of that area (including farmhouse restoration, new dam etc) will only occur if the decision is made to keep both sections.

We have put in a road, developed and costed the water infrastructure plan, built 2 sheds, bought a quad bike, cleared a number of acres around the dam, put in a gate with box assembly at the farmhouse/cottage, put in a new driveway, put down a gravel bed over the dam spillway and a few other small things.

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The next 2 years are going to involve us choosing which path(s) we wish to take with the property and a whole range of important decisions which will have long term consequences. Whilst a little daunting, we intend to take slow, steady approach, conduct in-depth research, keep costs to a minimum and test all decisions to make sure they are aligned with the holistic goal/direction we choose. Its a big task purely in terms of the research and you will see this unravelling in posts over the coming period. More to come.