Farmer Vicki Jones is living the dream

As promised in an earlier post I am now delighted to share Vicki Jones’ presentation from the Naturally Resourceful Conference in Mitchell this month.

I am confident Vicki’s story will move you just as much as it did me

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Hello my name is Vicki Jones……………………

Yes Jones one of the most common names in the phone book and I am married to a farmer, so I am Mrs Jones the farmer’s wife. I love what I do as a farmer’s wife and am very passionate about the land.

I suppose this came about at a very young age as I grew up on a cattle property on the western downs and even though I initially chose a different path, I have ended up just where I wanted to be. Lucky I guess or you could say well planned.

For the last couple of years as my involvement in the local land care group grew, I found myself volunteering to be the Chair of Mitchell & District Landcare. I did this because I believe in the foundations of land care and not only does it give us access to factors that affect our land scapes and environment it also allows us to be a part of a very important group of people who also have the same goals and love for their land.

For those of us who are fortunate to own a piece of this wonderful country, land care is a major part of our lives. Most of us get out of bed every morning with the intention to care for our land and to make it better for our future generation. We do this because we have too…. we are the ones with the money on the line, we can’t afford to get in wrong, we have to keep searching to make things better. It is easy for others who do not have any money on the line to have an opinion of what we as farmers need to do, or better still what not to do. However it is those of us that are the resourceful ones that are in the pilot seat of our future and chose this life because we can and it’s what we as people of this land do.

 

I will just give you a brief background. After leaving boarding school many years ago I went on to study dentistry and worked for Queensland Health on and off for 20 years having breaks for children and other pursuits. Dentistry is not all it’s cracked up to be as nobody likes you and it actually has the highest suicide rate of all professionals.

I did have a career, but as a wife and mother I always put my family first. For the first 10 years of our marriage we worked and lived on Bruce’s family dairy farm near Toowoomba and as seeming to be the theme of a couple of the speakers I heard yesterday, this was also not what it was cracked up to be.

Bruce had always wanted to have his own cattle property. It was his lifelong dream and as I had grown up on the land it soon became mine as well. After working on the family dairy farm for 15 years it became apparent that his dream was not going to happen unless he did it himself.

In one of a few heated discussions with Bruce’s parents, about our decision, we decided to walk away and make it on our own. Bruce’s dad told him that if he left the family farm to go west, that he would go broke.

So with these words from the man he admired most still ringing in his ears he packed up his young family and moved west. We bought all that we could afford, a small cattle property south west of Mitchell.

Just to give you an idea of the scale of how small. The surrounding properties and the regional average is about 20 – 60 thousand acres and we had purchased 2500 acres. So we don’t have a very big ship, but what we do have is our own boat and we can paddle it where ever we chose. And we chose to do the best with what we have. We could not buy this place and run it like both our fathers would have, because it was not big enough and it needed to pay for itself. If it was not profitable it just became and expensive place to live.

Oolandilla Park” was the beginning of our dream.  The only thing a bit tricky was that it only ran 80 head of cattle. The house had never been lived in, the fences / yards were all falling down and in terms of type of country, south of Mitchell was not a best street kind of suburb. As we found out from all of the comments from the locals. So we had some work to do. We were wondering what we can do to give us the biggest bang for our buck, as we realized that something had to change or our dream was not going to happen.

Slide1

 

With the help of MDLA, Queensland Murray Darling Catchment & farmbis my husband and I were fortunate enough to be involved in a pilot study  being participants in RCS’s Grazing For Profit School in early 2007. Sixteen local farming enterprises attended the course and up to 4 enterprises continued on the Graduate Link and Executive Link modules. We were privileged to have Terry McCosker as our facilitator. We took on this information with great enthusiasm and applied the grazing management principles immediately. This has since proven to not only change our business forever, but also our personal lives. It heightened our awareness of our environment and taught us to love our grasses just as much as our cows.

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When we started to measure our ground cover & grasses in March 2007 we found that we had 23% ground cover and 5% desirable grasses.

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We immediately changed our grazing management to include rotational grazing of livestock, fenced off dams and boundary fenced for feral goats and kangaroos. Don’t get me wrong we still have some kangaroo’s, we just now have a sustainable level. Before they were in plague proportions and not very healthy. The rotational grazing has allowed us to rest each paddock for 12 months of the year every year.

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By changing our grazing management for only 2 years we had been able to increase our desired grasses by 1000% and the litter has improved by 350% giving us an overall ground cover now of 90%. While doing this we were also able to increase our livestock numbers by 325%.

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 After a while the wattle suckers and a few other species started to come up pretty thick and we became a bit concerned. We had neither the time nor the money to address them.

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We left them alone and concentrated on what we did want and not want we did not want and that was grass. As we were monitoring our grass we discovered that the suckers were changing. A scale/moth/grub or something was getting into them and they were slowly dying. Where the woody weeds had been the grass was higher and thicker.

We also noticed that due to the higher stock density that the cattle were now changing their diet to include some of the woody weeds. Things were happening that we know not much about, but however were changing for the good.

Slide8

During this time we have also been monitoring our microbial activity and water cycle.  The microbial activity and fungi within our soils are becoming more evident and the water cycle is increasing positively. This has allowed us to have an increase, in usable rainfall. Rather than having water running away, we now have moisture retention with less rainfall.

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We are always on the lookout for worms and what’s happening in the soil and until this year we had not found any live worms, but when we did we celebrated. These things are the life blood to our soils and if we can have an increase in cattle numbers and have worms popping up in the paddock then we must be doing something right.

Map

Until a few weeks ago we did not know that this map existed. Our eldest son was doing an assignment at school and he found the map. As you can see it clearly shows what’s happening with the ground cover and the moisture retention.

Other things that we have done to increase our profitability have been courses such as

  • KLR Marketing
  • Low Stress Stock Handling
  • Advanced Stock Movement and Dog School

One of the courses that we have been attending for the past 4 years is the Livestock Movement course which introduces the working dog into the enterprise. We have learnt so much form these courses and implementing the strategies, has made such a difference to our bottom line that we have fallen in love with the working dog an now have our own registered stud “Dunyellan Working dogs” and have been training and breeding kelpies and collies for sale as  a hobby. Like we needed something else to do.

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So, the big question is, are we there yet, have we achieved our dream? Well not quite, with everything that we have implemented we are not quite viable, but are pretty close. We do realise that we need to have a larger scale, however with what we know now, we definitely know it’s not about how much land you own but what you can do with it.

Slide13

Bruce and I have always built our lives on goals and trying to work out in what direction we need to go next, which is the most beneficial to our lives and our business. We know that it does not matter where you are today in this state of your lives or business because that is only a temporary indicator.

This conference is helping to provide the tools for you to take the clay of your life in your hands and mould it to your dreams. Just like moulding real clay, it’s not about the results but the process of the moulding that counts. Look and speak in the direction that you want to be and never look back.

 

Without these opportunities and courses we would not be where we are today. So, thank-you to MDLA and QMDC for allowing us to move our business forward.

 

Author: Lynne Strong

I am a 6th generation farmer who loves surrounding myself with optimistic, courageous people who believe in inclusion, diversity and equality and embrace the power of collaboration. I am the founder of Picture You in Agriculture. Our team design and deliver programs that inspire pride in Australian agriculture and support young people to thrive in business and life