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About Us

 

Jigsaw Farms, the 3,378 hectare family property of Mark Wootton and Eve Kantor fifteen kilometres north of Hamilton in Western Victoria, integrates forestry, carbon and indigenous plantings with high-productivity grazing on a large scale. The mixed grazing operation consists of a fine wool sheep flock and  a prime lamb operation. About 600 hectares have been planted out to hardwood timbers, mainly Spotted Gum (Corymbia maculata) . The underlying focus of Jigsaw Farms is to integrate a profitable, highly productive stock and agroforestry operation while adhering to environmental guidelines, based on the understanding that looking after developing the non-pasture areas of the farm actually assists productivity.  

 

The farms currently run over 50,000 Dry Sheep Equivalents (DSEs) in a high input production system. The farms also have over 320 ha of biodiversity and agroforestry plantations that act as a carbon sink, amongst other things. These farming practices demonstrate ways to lessen the impact of climate change and have resulted in a more adaptative and resilient farming system. 

 The whole enterprise is made up of 6 properties totalling  3,378 ha ( 8347 acres) with environmental works and agroforestry on 18% of land area. Large connected tracts of revegetated waterways, farm forests and wetlands play a vital role alongside 25,000 adult sheep and 25,000 lambs that are run on high-input pastures (average Olsen P of 18).

  

 Livestock : Sheep & Cattle 

 

 

 

Jigsaw Farms grazing operation consists of 100% to a sheep (fine wool merinos plus a growing prime lamb) operation.  

We run a fine wool merino system that is based around 25,000 ewes. The male offspring of these ewes produce wethers for either our own wool producing operation or what is increasingly more likely for the MENA (Middle Eastern and North American ) markets. We have our own Merino stud. Our aim is to move to a true dual purpose sheep or what we refer to as a Super Ewe that will replace both current sheep enterprises. We are focusing on both muscle and genetic fat in our selection process. 

 

Grazed paddocks run at an average of 20-22 DSE per hectare. This is close to double the district average and in the top 5 % for the area. The farms operate at over 15,000 DSE per labour unit. Farm planning , extensive internal laneways and a reliable water delivery system help to reduce labour. 

 

 We are constantly looking for ideas that lower our methane output from our stock such as increasing growth and reproductivity levels. 

  

From a grazing point of view, if you improve fecundity levels to increase lamb or calf numbers on the ground per breeding unit, you will be more profitable , your methane impact will be lower and it will cost less to run that animal because it will be a better converter of the feed put down its throat.   Carbon sense definitely makes economic sense. 

 

Pasture

 

Silage

 

Growing grass and managing it well is core to our business.  Jigsaw Farms has a high input grazing system where  summer and winter active cultivars of  phalaris, fescue and clover mix perennial pastures, along with the water systems,  are the life blood of the farms.  We have an active pasture renovation program, with regular soil tests and pasture analysis.  Newer pastures are being sown that will make better use of summer rainfall events, predicted to increase with climate change. Traditional annual grasses are on the way out, in favour   of these perennials and Lucerne, which reduce the need to buy in supplementary feed. 

 

Water Storage 

 

 

A critical part of our high input farming operation is  an efficient and reliable water system.  

We have moved away from multiple small dams with high evaporative drying rates of up to two metres per summer.  Instead, there are fewer dams that are bigger and deeper, where the water stays cooler and evaporative rates are slower.   

This series of deep water storage dams range from 20 to 45 megalitres in size. They provide water needed to fill a series of 2 to 3 megalitres sized turkey nest dams or tanks that are positioned on the highest points around the farms. Airwell  and solar pumps push water up to these dams, which then naturally reticulate the water to troughs in the paddocks. 

 

Trees for Biodiversity and Agroforestry

 

Since 1997 Jigsaw Farms has revegetated over 600 ha with indigenous trees and shrubs or timber species, including more than 250 ha of Spotted Gum (Corymbia maculate) and small areas of Southern Mahogany(Eucalyptus botriodes), Sydney Blue Gum (Euc. saligna), Sugar Gum (Euc. cladocalyx)and Red Ironbark (Euc. sideroxlyn). New forests are 45% permanent farm forestry. These are to be managed on a cycle of harvest and replant. Planting tree and shrubs is not seen as taking farmland out of production , but as actually lifting grazing production .

 

  

Agroforestry at Forest Dam

 

 Jigsaw Farms sees many benefits in trees and protected waterways: 

§  Future income from wood products 

§  Biosecurity- protection of stock from OJD and other water-borne diseases. 

§  Shelter for stock welfare and productivity, especially calving, lambing and after shearing 

§  Shelter to lift winter pasture production by 6-8% through a reduction of the wind chill factor on pastures 

§  Contribution to climate-change mitigation and adaptation 

§  Habitat for wildlife  

§  Prevention of nutrient build-up in waterways 

§  Control of salinity 

Biodiversity 

 

Protecting and improving biodiversity is a high priority at Jigsaw. Large scale integrated revegetation corridors are typically more than 60 metres wide, following the advice of the Birds Australia  (Birds on Farms by Geoff Barrett, Supplement to Wingspan, vol.no.4, December 2000). Many plantings are based around salt scalds or remnant trees, including ring-barked red gums with hollows. Seasonal bird surveys by local ornithologist Murray Gunn since 1999 have confirmed that, using birds as an indicator,  biodiversity is improving. Over 158 bird  species have been observed farms compared to the 45 that were originally observed when the properties were purchased and the overall numbers of birds have multiplied many fold.  

Research was completed in 2008 at Jigsaw and other sites in the region  by Rohan Clarke and his team from Deakin University ; in checking the impact of revegetation and retention of remnant vegetation on biodiversity, positive results were found. Woodland birds, frogs, butterflies and native mammals were found to take advantage of connected shelterbelts and remnant vegetation , which also provide shade and wind protection for stock and pasture.   

Wetlands 

 

All creeks and waterways have been fenced-off and 65 ha is dedicated to wetlands and dams. Wetlands include ponds of various depths (some ephemeral, some deep) catering to a range of wildlife and stock needs. 

 

Carbon offsetting

 

Jigsaw Farms participates in several carbon offsetting projects to both offset its footprint. It is estimated that carbon storage  of new forests while they are actively growing will outweigh all of the on-farm agricultural activities. 

 

§ Jigsaw has sold wool for carbon-neutral Italian Quatha fashions, launched at the Pitti Filati trade show in Milan, through The Merino Company. We provided offsets through tree planting: 84 bales of 19 micron wool equated to 830 tonnes of carbon equivalents needing to be offset.   

  Historical

 

 

Jigsaw Farms has its roots in a strong historical legacy . Many of the prior owners were committed to changing to more sustainable farming practices to ensure that their properties would be productive into the future. Two were Potter Farmland Plan farms : Helm View, owned by the Milne family and Willandra, owned by Peter and Julie Waldron. The photos above are of the same view of Helm View in the early 1980's, 1990's and 2000's.

 

The Potter Farmland Plan involved 15 demonstration farms set up in western Victoria in the mid-1980s by the Ian Potter Foundation. Farmers were given dollar for dollar support to redesign their farms according to land type, incorporating revegetation along fence lines. “Whole farm plans”  looked at whole landscape change. Andrew  Campbell, who managed the Potter project and went on to become Austarlia’s first National Landcare Facilitator, regards Jigsaw Farms as “the best practical example I know of large scale revegetation and remnant protection integrated into  productive agriculture”. 

 

The Future:  Challenges and Room for Improvement 

 

At Jigsaw Farms, we see our business as a process of trial and error: being open to new ideas, adaptable and being  nimble are all important. We take risks and therefore get some things right and some, wrong. 

There are a number of challenges we are facing : 

§  Geographical spread is an option that might diversify risk management in the years ahead.  Our farms are all within 10 kilometres of each other. Strategically, it might be wise for us to look at something in a different climate zone. 

§  We need to continually  improve the resilience of the farms so  that they can withstand more difficult climate and market conditions. 

§  We need to keep looking  at how, through an intensive farming operation, we can be more water and carbon efficient. 

§  We are still far too dependent on outside resources,  be it energy or fertiliser. We need to ‘close the loop’ where our farming systems are supplying more of our own energy and fertiliser needs 

§  And we need to …….not go broke along the way!  

 

Mark Wootton and Eve Kantor, Jigsaw Farms