Back and better than ever

30 November 2017

After fire destroyed their property in 2015, Troy and Nette Fischer's resilience, goal setting and careful decision making, along with support from the community, has ensured a return to productivity in less than two years.

Every producer has no doubt, at times, wished they could start with a clean slate and design their paddock layout, yards and pastures from scratch. For the Fischers, extreme circumstances led to a fresh start.

In November 2015, a fire engulfed 80,000ha in South Australia, including the Fischers’ property, where it destroyed 650 White Suffolk stud sheep, 1,000 rolls of hay, sheds, machinery and 35 kilometres of fencing.

In the days following the fire, Troy and Nette, along with Troy’s parents Brian and Rhonda, turned their immediate focus to the management of the surviving 550 ewe and ram lambs.

“We had so many questions: where to run these lambs, how to replace the breeding ewes, how to use all the offers of help, will our insurance come good and where do we start? It was overwhelming,” Troy said.

According to Troy, a critical part of the post-fire management was dividing up key roles.

“No one person could keep on top of it so, very early on, we divided up the workload and gave individuals areas of focus,” he said.

“We also made a decision to accept all offers of help.”

Job allocation

Troy focused on the stud flock rebuild, while Nette handled the resources required for the rebuild; most importantly, procurement of key infrastructure, insurance and financial management. Brian focused on livestock transport and fences while Rhonda ensured helpers were fed and looked after.

Agistment was found within five days at a fellow stud breeder’s farm at Farrell Flat, which ensured their ovine Johne’s disease MN3 status was not compromised.

The flock rebuild focused on three main goals:

  • conduct the annual stud ram sale in September 2016
  • ensure enough lambs were dropped in 2016 to have a ram sale in 2017
  • continue genetic improvement.

About a month after the fire, Troy asked six White Suffolk stud owners to contribute elite breeding ewes to an embryo transfer program. All agreed and Troy selected 20 ewes, which produced 300 embryos. Another stud breeder loaned 70 stud ewes to obtain a drop of lambs. The Fischer family also purchased breeding ewes.

A flock of 800 ewes and 300 rams returned to the property in April 2016 and were housed in a confinement feeding yard.

Biosecurity

“Biosecurity was a big issue for us; we were bringing in sheep from nine properties across Australia and were quite anxious about the risk of introducing new diseases or weeds to our farm,” Troy said.

Every sheep was drenched and vaccinated on entry into the feed yard and drenched again before being moved out to the pasture paddocks. The Fischer family also decided to feed all of the donated hay in the feed yard to reduce the risk of foreign weed invasion.

Post-disaster management

Pregnant ewes were managed according to Lifetime Ewe principles, receiving hay up to the late stages of pregnancy, when they were also supplementary fed grain. The ewes were moved out to pasture just prior to lambing in July and August.

With numerous decisions to make as part of the rebuild, the Fischer family sought advice from professionals and engaged a consultant to help them with whole-farm planning and decision-making.

“The fire gave us a unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to re-evaluate how the farm was set up. We also had a lot of decisions to make, down to what type of fencing we would erect, farm layout and key machinery purchases,” Troy said.

“It was really important to have someone with an independent view to look at our business and provide advice on which direction to head and where to focus our limited financial and labour resources.”

Next steps

A central laneway is being built to aid stock movement, all gateways have been widened to a standard 10 metres to ensure easy machinery access and sheep yards are being constructed to improve labour efficiency.

Two years down the track, the Fischers’ farm productivity has increased. A wet winter in 2016 contributed to rapid pasture growth and broke crop yield records at harvest.

LESSONS LEARNED

  • View disasters as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to change.
  • Adequate insurance is critical.
  • Divide the workload and develop appropriate time frames.
  • Make calculated decisions.
  • Seek independent advice.
  • Accept offers of help.
  • Look after each other, exercise tolerance and take time off for physical and mental health.

More information

Troy Fischer
E: troyfischer@bigpond.com
Making More From Sheep modules on planning, pasture, grazing and genetics.
sheepgenetics.org.au

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