Glen Torrie Pastures
CLIMATE CONSCIOUS: Learn how the family behind Glen Torrie Pastures plans to build a resilient and a sustainable farm for the future. Picture supplied by Pippa Mills.
A CHANCE conversation with her son about climate change set Wynyard cattle farmer Pippa Mills on a path of self-discovery and empowered her to become a "louder voice" for sustainable farming. Covering about 200 hectares in Tasmania's North West, Pippa helps run the small beef breeding and finishing farm 'Glen Torrie Pastures', alongside her parents Perina and David Kentish and brother Gordon.
Making the move from New South Wales in 2004 due to increasingly reduced rainfall and unpredictable summer storms and fires, Perina and David purchased the farm to breed cattle, build healthy soil and grow grass.
"Mum's focus on growing grass meant she needed a good grazing animal to work in the system," Pippa said, adding the 'Glen Torrie Pastures' brand was founded just prior to the pandemic, when she noticed a gap in the local market.
"I realised that I needed to be a louder voice when it came to supporting how we farm, rather than letting everyone blame the cow.
"Today, we see that our public image allows us to have discussions on 'how' we farm and how just growing grass is so much more," she said. "We are trying to connect community, build climate resilience and awareness and create a secure food local system."
Pippa's passion for farming and sustainability led her to find a way to meet the issues surrounding climate change and farming head-on by keeping stocking density low, diversifying paddock ecology and investing in sustainability.
"Our current capacity has been set by our family decisions to allow paddocks to be renovated with multi-species pastures, trees and ecology to be prioritised, while trying to have a lifestyle that fits growing children and ageing parents," she said.
"We are aware that the farm could carry more but [cattle], at this stage of our business and lives, we have a focus on building a sustainable business that will carry us all into the future."
With a deep desire to support future farming, Pippa said her focus will continue to be on water resilience in the coming years as the climate shifts, bringing with it flooding rains and deadly droughts. "We are looking at how the water moves through the properties and using trees and cover to hopefully buffer high impact events.
"Having our soils carbon base-lined means we have a much better idea of how far the plant roots reach into the soil and allow us to select and implement deeper rooted species that will help sequester carbon and hold water."
"Our replacement heifers [will be] selected and joined first, so we can keep a close eye on this group as they calve for the first time before the main cows start calving," she said.
"As most first-time mothers know, the first baby can bring a whole new experience (along with hormones) and we want to make sure the girls have the best experience so they can be great mothers for years to come."
Pippa said, while it would be ideal to retain all calves for growing out, it's necessary for small groups of unfinished cattle to be sold to maintain and manage the paddocks. "We have been lucky in the past few years as several groups of young stock have been purchased locally."
Calving 120 head this year, Pippa said Glen Torrie Pastures selects for temperament, marbling, shape, calving ease and fertility.
"We aim to select bulls with good birth-weights to limit the need for intervention. Over the years, we have seen our main breeding herd require less and less support simply due to prioritising these qualities when selecting bulls, without giving up frame size or carcase quality," she said.
"Black Angus are known for their feisty nature ...but we believe that, with settled handling, they produce some of the highest quality meat [and] are a breed that is well-known for producing a reliable product."
Selling a variety of quality cuts and value added beef products through the Glen Torrie Pastures website and via the Tasmanian Produce Collective, cattle are processed every fortnight based on consumer demand and finished quality of the animal.
"If they are not ready, we do not process. This means the business stays sustainable and the quality stays consistent," Pippa said. "Selling locally, and supporting a local food supply, has become a high priority as we see the current food system rely heavily on imported and heavily transported food."
Working to build a resilient farm from the ground up, Pippa said her family's focus is to achieve "a balanced, well-aggregated soil, full of biology to produce quality grass". To do this, she factors in the soil organic carbon (SOC), stock density, resting periods and pasture species.
"Our belief is that variety benefits both the soil (microbes) and the animals as they graze," she said, adding the use of herbs and non-traditional 'grasses', such as clover, chicory and plantain, helps to create pastures that benefit the soil.
"[This] means we are having conversations that extend our ideas and the possibilities and benefits of this type of farming."
Pippa said utilising grass pastures efficiently takes time, so the team use rotational grazing as a simple method of allowing the paddocks to rejuvenate.
"As we renovate paddocks, we implement multi-species pastures, adding up to 15 or more varieties of plants to feed the soil and, in turn, the cattle.
"In high-growing months, such as now with spring, we aim to move cattle through paddocks quickly, so the moves are aligned with the speed the grass grows."
Like many farming families, the team behind Glen Torrie Pastures take pride in their land stewardship, raising livestock with care and developing a high quality, consistent product to sustain and delight local customers.
"It's been a fantastic journey to see how proud each member is of what we produce on-farm," Pippa said.
"As a family business, we are always learning and making sure that our activities align with our personal values and priorities."
*First published October 2022 for Tasmanian Farmer Newspaper - owned by Australian Community Media.