Nuffield Stop: Willmot Cattle Company
I had the privilege to spend a couple of days with Stuart Austin, the general manager of Willmot Cattle Company based out of Ebor, NSW. Stuart is a student of holistic management and a graduate of the Grazing for Profit program in Australia.
The owners of Willmot are very passionate about regenerative agriculture and Stuart has been fortunate to have them fully behind his push to create a profitable business while enhancing the landscape. They have been exploring the possibility of selling carbon credits from their pastures and have been working with a couple different companies to develop protocols to document carbon in the soil. Regen Network is one of these companies and is looking at using NDVI technology to correlate and monitor soil carbon. Stuart figures if they can increase soil organic matter by 0.5% over a three year time period it will make the costs for the initial soil sampling and resampling to verify gains. I am always skeptical to sell carbon credits as I wouldn’t want to be held liable if something out of my control were to occur that causes a carbon loss.
With the recent rains Stuart has been busy restocking their ranches with trader cattle. We went to the Tamworth Regional LIvestock Exchange and it was quite a contrast to what I am used to in Canada for a cattle sale. Cattle don’t leave the pen and the auctioneers are on a catwalk up above the pens and buyers and auctioneers move along from pen to pen selling cattle. It is a very efficient low stress way to sell cattle. In trying to think why we don’t embrace this technique in Canada two things come to mind; the added infrastructure and cost that would be necessary to keep buyers/auctioneers warm during the cold winter.
Cattle prices have taken off recently and with the rains Stuart was able to get ahead of the market buying for the last few weeks, trusting his grass management and forecast that the Maiagraze app gives him. Stuart and the Willmot team are behind the development of the grazing management program Maiagraze. This program allows them to keep track of the grazing plan, records of all the different mobs of cattle, keep inventory of the current forage and predicts future growth using a 12 month rolling average precipitation. This allows stocking rate decisions to be made well in advance of any forage surplus or shortfalls, particularly important with the recent drought and the
Willmot cattle company and a few other farmers that I visited with were grazing trader cattle, selling and buying feeder cattle or thin cows to put weight on. It was good to see people utilizing the sell/buy method of trading cattle. To make the cattle trading enterprise more viable Willmot Cattle Company has recently invested in a third farm that has irrigation on it. This will allow them to grow more summer feed during the dry season and let them stay in the market, avoiding major price swings in the market that they would otherwise be sidelined for in the dormant season. This is particularly valuable in Australia as stocking rates can vary dramatically with the boom or bust rainfall and forage growth.