Family adapts to change in the face of environmental challenges
25 October 2023
Kerran and Melanie Glover describe their mixed enterprise at Lock, SA, as a ‘risk management tool’ – one which has remained sustainable through seasonal variability and other challenges to productivity.
Here’s a look at how they’ve adapted management at ‘Goldmine Hill Farms’ to remain productive in the Eyre Peninsula environment.
Adjusting the feedbase
Historically, the region’s high frost risk has seen legumes – and profits – take a hit. In response, Kerran refocused the feedbase program to medic pastures as a lower-risk option for the business.
“Some soil types don’t lend themselves to certain legumes, but medic can be grown across the board on a varying range of soil types – it’s effectively doing the same work as legumes,” he said.
“If we can get it to establish well, we're still getting the benefits of nitrogen, grass control and sheep feed.”
Along with medic pastures, vetch has proven beneficial to the Glovers’ feedbase by providing diversity and high nutritional value for finishing and growing lambs, while also complementing the cropping side of their business.
Tillage radish, as a mix with vetch, has also been promising. It adds diversity and biomass to increase stocking rates during key periods, allowing for greater rotation and rest for other paddocks.
Maintaining ground cover
Fragile soils on the Eyre Peninsula are susceptible to drift, so the Glovers place a high priority on maintaining ground cover to reduce erosion.
They use containment yards to keep sheep off paddocks and maintain their condition, and to retain ground cover over summer when sandy soils are most vulnerable to drift.
“On some of our fragile soils, if we overgraze too early, they won't recover and will be exposed to wind over the summer months,” Kerran said.
“The containment yards have given us more flexibility in the way we run our livestock – now we can rotationally graze in two-week cycles and better manage pastures.”
The containment yards are part of a major redevelopment phase to improve productivity, optimise efficiencies and create a positive working environment.
New facilities and infrastructure include:
- a new shearing shed to accommodate summer shearing
- an office available to all staff
- an autodrafter, sheep handler and bulk handler for the yards – helping to integrate electronic identification (eID) technology.
These facilities complement the existing systems on-farm, including laneways, water leak detection units and weather stations.
“The laneways allow us flexibility to have paddocks to crop or paddocks to pasture, and it centralises the way we can move livestock and machinery,” Kerran said.
“Four out of our five farms are linked through this essential network, which makes for an efficient use of labour.”
It reflects a new era of livestock management.
“We’re integrating containment yards, feedlot and eID technology to better manage our sheep,” Kerran said. “With the new shearing shed and yard facilities, it should be a great environment for all that work in our business.”
These facilities offer more than production benefits – it’s part of a staff retention strategy, which Kerran and Melanie believe is the most critical part of their operation.
“We currently have four full-time employees, and the most important thing is they enjoy working here and we give them an environment that's good to be around. What we do is based around our team and everybody being a part of that team.”
An integral part of the team is Goldmine Hill’s livestock manager Johan Kreik, who oversees the feedlot system.
In the past, the Glovers had to sell lambs to restockers when there was insufficient feed to carry them through – but Johan brought a new perspective to the business.
“He has a background in animal nutrition, feedlotting and auto feeders, so he's been able to help us implement these systems to finish our lambs ourselves,” Kerran said.
The Glover family
The autofeeders, in particular, have earned their place at Goldmine Hill, through:
- improved time management
- easy calculation of profit-over-weight gain with monitored pellet feeding
- easy set-up with manual stopping to prevent overfeeding.
One auto feeder supports 1,000 lambs, providing a nutritional regime of pellets with calculated minerals, vitamins and food protein.
Lambs enter the feedlot at 40kg and come out at 60kg, with a target weight gain of 300–400g/day for approximately 50 days.
“If we're trading stock through the feedlot, we look to source the lambs locally to reduce any biosecurity risks,” Johan said.
The Glovers harness a range of technologies and strategies in their polled Merino flock, including Australian Sheep Breeding Values (ASBV) and eID.
They monitor and select for traits such as:
- eye muscle depth
- post weaning weight
- clean fleece weight
- staple length
- breach wrinkle
- dag score.
“We have low-maintenance sheep with six-month shearing, so we felt like we could easily transition to be mulesing-free as the industry moved in that direction,” Kerran said.
The adoption of eID was also an easy decision, as a tool to better manage the traits of their flock.
Joining takes place in November (in the containment yards), and ewes are scanned in February to identify wet/dry and single/multiple – this year is the third season the Glovers have added litter size to scanning.
Lambing occurs in paddocks, with multiple-bearing ewes receiving broader access to nutrition (extra lick feeders).
During containment, a combination of legume-based hay, cereal hay and straw complete the flock’s diet, to maintain condition.
Since making these changes over the past three seasons, lambing percentage has increased by 15%.
“Every time we make changes to our ewe management we’ve seen a lift in percentages – it’s largely achieved by better access to nutrition and managing condition through the lambing period,” Kerran said.
Melanie runs the administration, book-keeping and finance side of the business. She uses a range of online systems, including the myMLA platform to access information on Livestock Production Assurance (LPA), electronic National Vendor Declarations (eNVD) and Meat Standards Australia (MSA).
“Over the years we've been using the eNVDs, I’ve found them really easy to use. There are resources available online so we can maintain our accreditations, but also all updates and info that might be relevant to what we're doing here with our livestock," Melanie said.
Aside from production and business, Kerran and Melanie love working together as a family.
“I'm pretty fortunate with the lifestyle we have – we don't spend each and every day together working but when it comes hand-in-hand with family, we seem to get things sorted when they need to be,” Melanie said.
While Kerran said farm succession isn’t a current priority, he acknowledged the challenge it can be – and that there isn’t a right or wrong direction, as long as producers are aware and can quietly plan ahead.
“I use independent consultants for advice on agronomy, marketing and human resources, and we work very closely with our accountant and bank manager. I found this of great benefit to our business in the past 10 years and, because of that, we're quick to adopt new ideas if I can see the value that will add to our business.
“I’m very proud of what we've been able to achieve in the past 10 years and I’m looking forward to what the future holds.”