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
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
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
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.
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
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 .
Jigsaw Farms sees many benefits in trees and protected
§ 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
§ Habitat for wildlife
§ Prevention of nutrient build-up in waterways
§ Control of salinity
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.
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.
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.
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”.
Future: Challenges and Room for
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
§ We need to keep looking at how, through an intensive farming operation, we can be more water and carbon
§ 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