When Susie Bate went from the city to becoming a farmer, she soon realised that a lot can be said for questioning the processes that have been in place for decades. Our chief Mobbler, Jock Lawrence, had the pleasure of chatting with Susie on how her willingness to learn and ability to question the status quo helped her shape the way they farm at Benacre and why she now says “the way we graze is fundamental to the health of our world.”
“My personal history was that I was in financial markets for most of my twenties and thirties, and then nine years ago, we came up here. We were Melbourne born and bred and had nothing to do with agriculture at all. I had no desire to start a farm, I didn’t even know it was on our radar.
Susie’s husband, Jack had an opportunity to get out of the business he'd been in for 30 years. “It had become a publicly listed business. So he got out, and has always wanted to have a crack at farming. And so I just came along for the ride.”
When they moved to the farm, they had the support of local farmers and landmark (now known as Nutrien Ag Solutions), who helped them get started and offered support; “and after a few years, I just thought, ‘whatever we're doing, it's not working’. We had a lot of animal health issues and our pastures weren’t improving.” This realisation changed everything for Susie and Jack at Benacre, and started their curiosity in questioning the recommended conventional practices.
One recommendation was to treat their livestock for lice before every shearing. “I said, but hang on. My kids had lice at school, and you can only catch it from someone. So how are we getting lice if we don't have a joining property with the sheep? We just put this horrible chemical, which has really nasty stuff, on their back just because we've been told to? So we don't do that anymore, and then the same thing happened with drench."
“Why are we drenching our sheep? How do we even know they've got worms? So we started doing worm counts, and now we barely drench a sheep. And of course… then I found out that drench kills dung beetles. And we're trying to promote dung beetles.
"But once I started realising the problems, I went okay, I'm going to need to sit down and really understand what this all means. And it took me a long, long time to get my head around what drench was. And I was staggered. How many people don't understand drench? I haven't really spoken to a farmer that fully understands it. So I think people do it because they're too scared not to do it.”
These very simple questions started to change their whole perspective around the way they should be farming at Benacre. “We haven't given our stock a pre-lambing drench for three years now, and all of a sudden the dung beetles came back."
Revitalising the soil at Benacre was the first step. “I then started questioning the fact that we were putting tons of lime or gypsum on the soil. We did soil tests. We knew we were low in calcium, low in trace elements. We did a plant leaf test and were low in everything as well. No wonder we had animal health problems because we've got serious shortfalls. We have green grass but it hasn't got good nutrition”.
In the beginning, Susie says she was “looking at it purely from a land management point of view. I knew we needed to work it out, go back to basics. And when I first came up here, I went into the secondhand books and for some reason, I picked up this book from Pat Colby because I'd heard her name, and it was a dollar. It was about animal health. And I totally subscribed to a lot of what she said. She's very into mineral nutrition and animal health.”
“Now that we know that our trace elements are lacking in our plants and soil, we have started feeding them mineral lick. And it's a lick of just all natural minerals, sulfur calcium, dolomite, salt, seaweed, copper, all those things.”
As an example of the benefits of using mineral lick, Susie has reduced her mortality rate at lambing “last year, we lost something like 18 out of a mob of 600 ewes while we were lambing. We had like seven prolapsed ewes, which is a calcium problem, and touch wood we've only had three this year. They're healthier, and with all that loose mineral lick, when it comes out in their dung, it then goes down into the ground, especially now that we've got dung beetles eating the dung, burying it underground in the soil. So those minerals are being recycled into the soil as well as helping the sheep. Yeah, it’s pretty cool.”
“The whole idea is we're feeding the underground biology. And if we can get the underground biology working functioning better, then the plants will function better”.
“We are definitely trying to regenerate our landscapes,” said Susie. “This word regenerative has become very overused”. “I think that I love nature and I love watching things grow and I don't like killing things. We're bringing in biodiversity”.
Susie’s advice for today’s farmers who are thinking about changing some of their farming practices to be a bit more attentive or more environmentally adaptive way is to “do a good holistic grazing management course and download Mobble”. “If you are not monitoring where your animals are, you might as well not do a grazing course. So you've got to have Mobble and you've got to start looking at how long you're grazing and resting paddocks. For a grazing course to even have any impact, you can't have a grazing course without Mobble”.
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