DANIEL Kelton of Alexandra’s Holistic Pastoral wants to see the land he is farming transformed to “waist high grass, wet all year round despite ever-increasing dryness”.
“I want to experiment with how I can influence the local climate, what we can change as a community with this system of regenerative farming.”
Not only does Daniel believe that regenerative farming can arrest global warming on a local scale, he also believes that the system makes good business sense and encourages other farmers to explore it.
Four years ago, Daniel and his partner, Aldona Baranowski, moved to Alexandra from Sydney.
Daniel had grown up in country New South Wales, in the central west.
His family was of a diverse background with Aboriginal, English and Irish ancestors, and an intriguing history in lighthouse keeping, stock work and orchards.
Daniel’s father was a jack-of-all trades who spent a significant part of his life as a shearer in New South Wales and Western Australia.
His mother was from a farming family who would buy stock from Queensland and drove it down to New South Wales, farming on the roads as they didn’t own their own farm.
Daniel’s own childhood was one of shearing and hay carting.
Aldona had grown up in the Blue Mountains.
Her parents were Polish immigrants and had been born in a displaced persons camp in Poland, before moving to Australia.
Self-sufficient they lived in a then-rural part of Western Sydney, with the Blue Mountains’ bush becoming Aldona’s playground.
It was in the Blue Mountains that Daniel and Aldona met, with Daniel working as the bushwalking guide on a hike that Aldona took.
Years later they would find themselves in Sydney with a young family, but with a yearning to get out of the city.
Daniel applied for numerous jobs, and it was a job as an outdoor education teacher at the Rubicon Outdoor Centre that tempted the Keltons south.
Knowing nothing about Alexandra and little about Victoria, the family took a leap of faith and relocated.
Holistic Pastoral was born out of the family’s belief in only eating meat that they had produced and killed themselves.
The interest generated from their endeavours rapidly turned into an enterprise as others wanted to know where Daniel and Aldona were getting their meat.
With the realisation that there was a huge demand for meat that people could trace the origin and know the background, the family geared their production towards a commercial market, and two years ago Holistic Pastoral sold its first meat.
Holsitic Pastoral does not own the land they farm on.
They borrow, trade or lease the land from people who want to rejuvenate their properties, and currently have 300 acres available for regenerative farming, with interest only increasing.
“It’s friends or people who’ve got in touch with us, who want their land looked after,” Daniel said.
“Which we do.
“We fence, we repair dams and we give people meat.”
“We feed the community with meat that we produce, and we look after the lands that are not being used.”
Daniel explains that though the set-up costs are minimal, and that they have no bank debt, the enterprise itself is labour intensive and time consuming.
The family graze their Wiltipoll Dorper sheep in a cell, secured by portable electric fencing designed for rotational grazing.
The size of the cell is dictated by stock numbers and the amount of available feed, however Holistic Pastoral often opts to run 100 sheep in a 50 by 50 metre square as a rule of thumb.
“There’s not much grass in the area so we move the sheep every day and the results have been amazing,” said Daniel.
“The sheep take the top part grass, they manure the ground, they take care of your weed problem because they’re trained to eat everything inside the cell, and the pass-on effects have been incredible.
“The sheep are not eating next to where they shit the day before, breaking pathogen cycles, and all of a sudden we can run an organic system, with no drenching or foot troubles.”
The land itself has also seen a complete transformation, with the family only grazing when the grass is ready.
The grass needs to go through a full cycle, and Daniel waits until the grass has a couple of dead leaves on it before re-introducing the stock.
“When the grass is high the animals trample it feeding the soil, the fungus, the worms, the bacteria, and ultimately converting the grass into soil carbon,” he said.
“For pastures depleted by over-grazing, we are returning food and carbon to the soil.”
Daniel sees grazing a pasture too soon as the biggest challenge for farming.
“Issues with stock density or grazing a piece of land for too long can be rectified,” Daniel said.
“It’s the length of the grass and the depth of the roots that is crucial.
“To combat global warming we need full length pasture pulling carbon out of the atmosphere and putting it back into the soil.
“And when a pasture is left to rest it’s amazing what comes up from dormant seed stocks in the ground.”
As an integral part of their grazing management the Keltons run meat chickens after the sheep.
Commonly known as Broilers, the chickens are purchased as day-old chicks and housed in a handmade brooder before being released into the paddock at roughly three weeks old, depending on the season.
Protected by an electric mesh fence and able to roost in a specifically designed enclosure, the chickens are free-range until 10 weeks of age when they are sent to the abbatoir.
Commercial chickens raised in sheds are processed at five weeks of age, however Holistic Pastoral believe in growing their chickens out to 10 weeks.
Holistic Pastoral processes 100 chickens a month, and sell out every time.
The chickens are sent to an abbatoir in Keysborough which is the only abbatoir in the state that accepts poultry from small time farmers.
Daniel and Aldona also run cattle in their rotational grazing model.
Initially they started with 20 head of cattle, bought as poddy calves.
“We took whatever we could find,” Daniel said.
“A fair few dairy breeds, Red Angus, Square Meaters…they all shit on the ground, they all eat grass, they all convert into beef.”
This year however they did bring in some breeders, four Jersey house cows with heifer calves at foot, which they use for milk as well.
The decision to run Jerseys was based on the desire for a smaller more efficient cow that would impact the environment less, and was also light in colour as the paddocks the family use sometimes don’t have shade.
The temperament of Jerseys was also a huge consideration.
“Our system quietens down the animals,” said Daniel.
“However if we can’t move them around and work them, they become hard work and a liability.
“And if we can’t train them to our fences then we don’t keep them.
“We found Jerseys work perfectly in our system.”
Staying true to their system and ideals is the main consideration for the Daniel and Aldona,and has determined the direction in which Holistic Pastoral has grown.
They plan their grazing for a year ahead, to ensure that they have grass all year round.
Should they get it wrong or the season throws them a curly one they de-stock.
Everything has been considered and factored in, so that Holistic Pastoral never fights the system, they always work within it and ideally complement it.
“We don’t want to grow big, we want to stay small and stay local,” Daniel said.
“And we set our own prices, so we’re not at the mercy of the market.
“We’re producing food, we’re pretty small but it’s probably the right way to grow from the ground up.
“In the planning stages we asked ourselves ‘What’s important if we’re going to do this?’
“The land has to come first,” Daniel said, “If we choose the right animals and run them in the right way, we produce this clean meat, we have happy customers and everything comes from that if you’ve nurtured the land.”