Fire a catalyst for change

12 February 2016

When fire swept through South Australia’s lower north region in November, Troy Fischer had just 10 minutes to get his young daughter out of their house to safety.

The inferno burnt the entire 440ha property at Wasleys where Troy and his wife Nette operate a cropping enterprise and their Ashmore White Suffolk stud. Heartbreakingly, they lost their entire breeding flock of 500 ewes.

Two months on, Troy has a pragmatic approach: “We’re just thankful for what we didn’t lose,” he said.

“Somehow, 550 lambs survived – we think they sheltered in a creek and the fire passed over them – so we have our rams for this year’s on-property sale and ewe lambs to rebuild our flock.”

The Fischers have hit the ground running, turning the crisis into a catalyst to move their business forward.

Their first step was to find agistment which wouldn’t compromise their disease status. They secured stubbles at on another breeder’s property at Farrell Flat, near Burra, and will run their surviving stock there until sowing begins in April.

They will then bring stock back to Ashmore, for confinement feeding until the season breaks.

The Fischers had a two-year drought proofing strategy, with 1,000 rolls of hay distributed in four locations on their farm to minimise fire risk. However, the size and intensity of the blaze meant that all of this fodder was destroyed.

“We sat down with Daniel Schuppan, an animal production specialist, to develop feed budgets based on the energy and protein requirements of our different classes of stock and to calculate how much grain and hay we will need,” Troy said.

“While we are hoping for an early break, we have developed a feed budget to carry us through to June if necessary.”

The Fischers received some donated hay and grain, and will purchase the shortfall to meet livestock demand.

With the help of volunteers from BlazeAid, the Fischers have pulled down 10km of burnt fence lines. They sought professional advice to redesign fencing, and will build a new laneway to enhance stock movement between the two sheep yards on the farm.

“We are turning this into a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to improve our property design,” Troy said.

From a cropping perspective, the Fischers managed wind erosion with remedial cultivation on the drift-prone sandier soils. They will plant two vigorous grazing cereals – Moby barley and Outback oats – in April (dry-sown if necessary), ahead of their usual cropping program.

In the aftermath of the fire, the Fischers have drawn on as much information as possible, attending local fire-recovery sessions and working with professionals to access nutrition and property planning advice. And while he admitted it was something producers often find hard to accept, Troy said it was important to accept assistance and donations as every donation helps you get back on your feet that bit faster.

The Fischers have a positive outlook and have started sourcing ewes to kick-start their stud again. Several leading studs on LAMBPLAN have offered some of their best ewes to run an embryo transfer program to help the Fischers start replacing the elite females they lost in the fire.

“The support and generosity from the local community and the sheep industry has been amazing,” Troy said.

Contact: Troy Fischer E: troyfischer@bigpond.com

Read the first part in this series on fire recovery where animal production specialist Daniel Schuppan shares some steps, tools and resources to help restore productivity to enterprises affected by bushfires.

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