e7. Peri-urban Grass Farming with Dual Purpose Livestock

In this episode of The Grazing Grass podcast, Cal talks with John Lakey of Lakey Farm in Australia about converting CO2 into soil carbon by regenerative farming and their plans for the future. John runs an operation of sheep, goat and cattle on his farm in the volcanic plains on Melbourne’s outskirts.

Listen to this episode to learn more!

  • [02:31] – What is he producing on the farm
  • [03:07] – Why does he milk Jersey cattle
  • [04:26] – Doing ethical treatment of animals
  • [04:44] – Milk once a day!
  • [06:36] – The issue about grazing
  • [08:04] – Kind of forage he has there
  • [09:46] – The idea of Holistic grazing
  • [11:10] – Doing management on grazing
  • [12:12] – Moving away from fertilizer enhanced pasture growth
  • [12:49] – The technique of keeping the protein still in the stem, not in the seeding
  • [15:19] – Grazing the sheep, goat and cattle together
  • [16:45] – Monitoring the performance of individual animal
  • [18:41] – Electrifying plain wires
  • [19:00] – Mesh fence for the sheep
  • [20:44] – About dry sheep equivalent
  • [21:06] – Running 600 DSE on 20 acres 
  • [22:52] – The midday soil
  • [23:17] – Improving soil texture and increasing organic matter
  • [26:20] – His favorite grazing grass related book
  • [30:30] – Advice for new farmers



Cal: [00:00:00] Welcome to the Grazing Grass Podcast, episode seven.

John: [00:04:00] One of the big problems that farmers have period is they often think of themselves as beef farmers or sheep farmers. When the reality and the regenerative version of that are you're actually a soil farmer or a grass farmer.

Voice over: [00:00:17] You're listening to the Grazing Grass Podcast, helping grass farmers produce forages for livestock.

Cal: [00:00:25] I'm Cal Hardage host of the Grazing Grass Podcast and we're glad you're here today.On today's episode, we talk with John Lakey of Lakey Farms in Australia. He is our first guest from outside the United States. John's going to talk about his operation, what they're doing, and what they plan to do. If you've not subscribed to our podcast, please subscribe. You can find us on social media, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and we encourage you to share our post. Before we get to the interview one thing to note that partway through the interview my mic decided to die. Luckily, we were able to go ahead and get the interview recorded. John, we want to welcome you to the grazing grass podcast. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your operation?

John: [00:01:29] You asked me about the farm I'm happy to talk about the farm. So my father was a soldier settler after the Second World War. And came down to Summary where we are now. So we're on the outskirts of Melbourne, and Melbourne used to be 20 or 30 kilometers away. And now the outer suburbs are five or 10 kilometers away. So what they call Peri-Urban, I think, probably lots of similar issues to in the US. So we're on the volcanic plains here, which is best salt clays with lots of rock and stones, I packed my little four-wheel drive on the other day that I didn't see any grass, which is annoying, but it's a good problem to have is to have lots of faith. So we're coming out after a run of seasons where we've had wet winters and dry or cold springs and now, we want warm rain or warm conditions and rain, which we're getting this year. So it's a marvelous year for us.

Cal: [00:02:31] So what are you producing on your farm?

John: [00:02:35] So we're on 600 acres here, we run a breed of Ryeland Sheep, an old English group, which are fantastic eating some sign and goats. And we're starting a small dairy herd based around jersey cattle, and then the offspring again to our meat program. It's a beef jerky course. And we've been using cellar bulls for the last few years. And they've produced a fantastic calf. We grow them out for two and a half years. Oh, yes. And then we run them into our meat business.

Cal: [00:03:07] What brought you to those particular breeds?

John: [00:03:10] Well, what we're trying to do is develop a dual-purpose farm. So our silent goats will produce cheese as well as milk and the same with our cattle. So we have to milk them and there's a big demand now, I have to pasteurize the milk before and homogenized milk from farms in Victoria, the huge demand in the city. So we've got a pretty good market and to some extent, that was a little bit of a mind change from looking at the city and the PERI Urban situation as a problem. And see if there's some way that we could use the proximity of having a 4 million person market on our doorstep. And that's probably the biggest challenge is to think about how to exploit the fact where we are because we're not going to get bigger. It's not viable to buy more land. If we do that we have to go out. And even then, if you do get bigger, I see some of my Twitter family talking about selling wheat at 1980s prices today.

Cal: [00:04:12] Oh yes.

John: [00:04:12] So this sort of commodity prices is shocking, it's not moving. And it's an international market. So you guys are getting the same pressures away. And we're looking at the carpet foot model. I don't know if you know much about that.

Cal: [00:04:24] Tell us more about it.

John: [00:04:26] I will, basically you get the bulky of your milk overnight. So what we'll do is leave the calf on the cow during the day. So we milk once a day. And that becomes an Ethical Treatment of Animals. I do the inverted commas and also cuts our workload back. Apparently, the yields in the afternoon are nowhere near as big as the morning yields.

Cal: [00:04:43] Okay

John: [00:04:44] Which is what I used to notice when I was hand milking. So the argument would be with the prices so low as a commercial farmer you milk once a day. And that's where you get the bulky return. And you don't have to have the investment of milk in the second afternoon.

Cal: [00:04:58] Oh yes.

John: [00:04:59] And then what that does is these dairy cattle have got enormous amounts of milk, they can simultaneously give milk to you and raise a calf.

Cal: [00:05:07] Oh, yeah.

John: [00:05:07] Does that make sense?

Cal: [00:05:09] It does.

John: [00:05:10] So we end up with a beef product now. And that's why we're looking at pushing that beef model. And also then I've worked in Abbatoirs, where they've slaughtered potty calves taken away from their mums, and it's horrible as a farmer, it's not something I endorse.

Cal: [00:05:26] Oh, yes. And you're just getting started on the dairy part or have you done that for a little while or do milking?

John: [00:05:31] The dairies in our plans for the next 12 months? so we're building a house on another block of land. And we'll be setting up a dairy there, which we hope at this stage, we speak naively, I think outside, we intend to move that around and on a skid and take that out to the cattle on the path. And then break the milk back if we can find an affordable pasteurizer that will bring the milk back and process it on-site. Otherwise, we'll look around and see if we can tap into another small dairy that has a bottling plant at Ballarat not far from the other farm.

Cal: [00:06:03] Oh, yes. Yeah. And I assume raw milk sales are illegal there.

John: [00:06:08] Yes, unfortunately. Yes, they are. Even though we probably both grew up drinking raw milk. We don't have too many issues. It's just saying this cop launch. And I don't know why. It drives me bit nuts that they do this? Because I mean, you've got 300 million people in Europe that live on raw milk. And raw milk cheeses pretty weirdly. But they're not dying off in their hundreds. I think some of your states you can sell raw milk or not?

Cal: [00:06:34] Yeah, some you can't. It varies by each site.

John: [00:06:36] One of the things we seek we seeking to do, because we sell our marketing is vertically integrated. So I spend a lot of time in the ones do, yes, where we planted the vineyard, we grow the grapes, we pick the grapes, we make the wine, we market the wine and sell that as a product. And everyone cares whether the wine was picked from that side of the hill or this side of the hill, it's usually important when it comes to wool, or to milk or to meat, they don't care. The market doesn't care. But because we sell direct, we know that our product has to have flavor. And that's why this issue about grazing. And grass raised animals is about trying to build flavor into the animal. And because I'm looking at it purely from a human consumption point, and we want the most interesting, healthiest life experience for the animal, but also at the same time, build complexity. And of course, the cliche is that the broader the pasture, the animals are grazing, then there's a much greater chance of a more interesting taste. And whilst I'm reluctant to say slag or to criticize feedlotters. Often in Australian pubs will have beautifully marbled beef. The pub is a hotel, but they always sell it with a sauce. You can't get a steak. They're all selling pepper sauce, mushroom sauce. I said but the meat has its bloody flavor. Why would you need the sauce?

Cal: [00:08:04] Right? Yeah. You mentioned your forages, you want the animal seed a wide variety. What kind of forages do you have there?

John: [00:08:13] The part of the farm that I'm running at the moment is mostly unimproved pasture. So it's best all plants with a lot of weedy grasses, we have a turfgrass called bentgrass, which is very dominant, and that can end up with up to 30 tonnes per hectare, according to the AG department of the root mass. So all it locks everything else out. But we have a vast array of remnant native grasses, which is what we're looking to bring back in. And that's wallaby grasses, kangaroo grasses, red-legged grasses. The first one is kangaroo grass is a see for summer active grass. Buster clover macro is a summer active grass at sea for the wallaby grasses. And there's another one that's very common here called weeping grass is actually it's a pretend to see for a lot of the native grasses will react to their perennials, and they'll react to summer rainfall. Whereas a lot of the exotic grasses, although cocksfoot, fescues. And Ferraris can all be very good grasses if they get a bit of summer rain, that much of our pastures will burn off in summer. And we won't see any activity in the pastures until early autumn. So I heard Lauren Stein talk about our summer be equivalent to your winter. So it can be so hostile, that nothing much moves. And the idea in Australia is to try and look at ways to rehydrate the landscape so we get all year round grass growth.

Cal: [00:09:45] Oh, yes.

John: [00:09:46] So what we're trying to do now, incorporating some of the techniques that savory talks about holistic grazing, where you graze hard, then rest, with a little bit of burning, a little bit of cover cropping. So we're doing some photo cropping. I'm about to sew down a mixed cover crop full of millet, sorghum sunflowers, clovers I would say mix. But the problem I have at the moment is my pastures are growing so vigorously. I don't have a chance to get them into the paddy, Right. So I'll be doing that in a month, in a couple of week's time. And so where we are to I didn't really introduce the area. We're about a 550-millimeter rainfall, it's about 20 inches a year. It tends to be spring dominant. But it's pretty even every month of the year, we might get 100 mils of rain in January or February, or we could just as easily get it in June or July.

Cal: [00:10:43] Oh, okay.

John: [00:10:47] So we're on the bottom end of Australia. And we tend to get Antarctic influences. So we could get a 30-degree change in temperature? In a day, so it could be 40 degrees one day. 10 or 15 the next day?

Cal: [00:11:00] That's in Celsius?

John: [00:11:02] Yes, I'm sorry, I'm not sure how to convert it to Fahrenheit.

Cal: [00:11:04] That's fine celsius works.

John: [00:11:06] About 110 Fahrenheit.

Cal: [00:11:08] Yes it would be somewhere around that.

John: [00:11:10] The Americans. Interesting. You hang on to your old dude. We do So the management here on the grazing, are we gradually moving the farm into more intensive grazing paddocks, down to 10 to 20-acre paddocks with their own water reticulation supplies, because we tend to get very cold southerlies and south-westerlies, and alternately hot or cold northerlies depending on the time of the year, I'll put my windbreaks east-west. And we're looking at using a lot of Australian native trees, we've got some of the most wonderful floors. I'm not so fond of the fodder on the farm as much, but the floor is fantastic. That hosts a lot of beneficial insects. So we're looking at incorporating a holistic approach.

Cal: [00:11:15] Oh, yeah.

John: [00:11:17] We're trying to avoid using herbicides and fungicides and insecticides. But saying that I'm about to spray a vineyard with copper oxychloride and sulfur to protect vineyards but they're like roses spines, they're very sensitive souls, unlike most of our pasture species.

Cal: [00:12:11] Oh, yes.

John: [00:12:12] So the feeling at the moment is to try and move away from fertilizer, enhanced pasture growth if you like, and try and find flavor by going into a regenerative approach in our grasses. But at the same time to me, I'm sitting here, I haven't had a haircut for six weeks. So we're sitting there trying to work out, what's my next step? I'll probably go out and spray top the bentgrass. Do you know much about this technique at all Cal?

Cal: [00:12:48] No, I don't.

John: [00:12:49 So what we need to do is like a person sitting, you want to pull some grasses back and some allow to go forward. So when we spray the top, sometimes called pasture freezing, but when we spray the top, the bentgrass, it flowers very light. So if we spray top that in just as it's about to flower, it stops the Plant City seed. So it keeps it in a vegetative growth cycle, which means when the cattle come through and graze it, the protein is still in the stem, not in the seeding.

Cal: [00:13:18] Okay.

John: [00:13:20] And what we're trying to do by selectively doing that, we're trying to let grazing then come through and I'll take out all this the grass surface, which otherwise would have gone to seed and be unpalatable, very low proteins. They'll eat that and what they start doing is exhausted the root mass so it has to then use energy to grow again.

Cal: [00:13:38] Oh, yes. All right.

John: [00:13:39] These paddocks are full of rock of basalt bluestone. So I can't plow on these paddocks. I've got to be careful even taking a spray unit over the top. And what I'm hoping to do overtime, I break down that dominance of the grass I don't like, and then I open up the opportunity for some of the remnant native grasses to germinate and start to grow. And I'm seeing a little bit of success with that now. I'm seeing more wallaby grasses, more weeping grasses more than native grasses coming through that are often, I won't say, Polly, they're these fantastic grasses that will grow all year round and it's always fun to summarize. Now, I'm sure. Perhaps similarly to us in the US. We had some fantastic grazing results early on, but because everyone said stopped, they destroyed the pasture that brought the high yield? Oh, yes, yeah. And power balance over his approach to me. And I think there are probably many disciples who call on this common-sense approach to reducing the input. Part of it. The attraction is to say, well, what's used What's there? Because at the end of the day, I don't get paid by the kilo. Well, I do but I don't get paid like, like an average farmer. You sell the product and it's gone. I talk face to face with The customer, right and in that stage after hand, sell the product. And I get a chance to talk about how we farm. And if you can taste a difference. So it's very important we're not fooling ourselves that we have a different product a better product.

Cal: [00:15:14] Right? Yeah.

John: [00:15:15] And that's, I know I have that because I'm getting repeat sales.

Cal: [00:15:19] Yep. Very good. You also have the sheep. So are you grazing the sheep and the cattle together? Are you grazing them separately?

John: [00:15:27] No, we run the sheep, the goats, and the cattle together. But our calves individually. And our lamb individually. I'm running the goats. And they're kidding at the moment the goats.

Cal: [00:15:40] Oh, yes.

John: [00:15:41] So I've found in the past run, if I'm supplementary feeding, the cows will take over a feeder and one of the other animals added. So if I stop feeding in winter, then I'll break the herd, break the flocks up. But otherwise, I'll graze them all together. So I can try and get on top of the feed and have the multi-species grazing, I suppose going on all at the same time. And with the hope that the goats will take out the thistle seed heads and some of the woody weeds and the cattle will get that high impact grazing. I'm a little bit under stock this year. So it's going to be interesting. I run some ring lines up as the sheep drive me nuts because they just walked through got some hot wires. Cotton string wire, so they're lucky they taste so good Cal.

Cal: [00:16:24] Do they hold the goats pretty good?

John: [00:16:30] Yes the goats are good but what happens is you just need one bad egg and your goat, they all walk through it after that, and they smash it. But I spend a bit more time in the paddock so I might buy a paint gun, that I can find the sheep that I don’t like. Although I put cattle tags on the ears. So we spent a lot of time monitoring the performance of individual animals. So I know all the animals that have calves all that, usually the cows are pretty good but also all of the shapes I know which animals, dropped a lamb and then walked away from it. And they come into our meat program. As I say in the market, people don't like to hear this, but I took I like to use the words butchered, slaughtered because if you're a human and you're eating meat, you're part of the deal. You can't opt-out. I know a lot of people like word processing.

Cal: [00:17:15] Right? Yeah.

John: [00:17:16] But I kind of feel it's a bit mealy-mouthed, I'm taking a life to sustain life.

Cal: [00:17:21] Right? That's true.

John: [00:17:23] And people need to step up for it. We had a pet lamb in a market at Coburg a couple of months ago. And people were saying, well, I couldn't buy lamb because you had a lamb there. And we had her because she was ill. Unfortunately, she didn't make it or that she fed well that day. But we constantly seek to improve all those aspects of the business. So I got off-topic. What was I talking about?

Cal: [00:17:46] Well, we were talking about grazing.

John: [00:17:48] Mixed grazing.

Cal: [00:17:49] Yes, mixed grazing.

John: [00:17:51] Look, a couple of years ago, I had some goats kidding. And the steers were tremendously interested in the kidding goats. And they drove the mothers away from the young and actually broke the legs of the young kids. But those were steers they are complete whackers the cows are much more settled and easy go. That he will have any problems there. The calves could be a bit of trouble and sometimes because of the size difference, we can have some issues that my fencing here is a mesh fence. And we have an electric hot wire on top. So it tends to be pretty good to block most species going through. So I don't have the issues. I think a lot of places I see use a lot of barbed wire fences in the years or is it a bit more mixed than that.

Cal: [00:18:37] Yeah, a lot of five-wire barbed wire fences.

John: [00:18:41] We tend to steer clear of that a little bit. And a lot of our farmers will use plain wires. You need to be in a situation with plain wires and then electrify them. But you need to be in a position where you can monitor that because once the fence goes down, it's a psychological barrier, not a physical barrier.

Cal: [00:18:57] Right.

John: [00:18:58] That's how they're built. Once a fence electric is out of it. It doesn't take the animals longer certainly if you've got heifers and bulls to work out whether there's any charge in the fence, but the sheep are on a mesh fence because it was a physical barrier. But as I'm finding with goats, I had to redesign and keep redesigning fences the goats are so flexible, so nimble and so agile and smart that they're quite difficult to keep in.

Cal: [00:19:20] They are.

John: [00:19:21] A bit of tie they're the challenge and I often look at my wife, I noticed that they're all in a windbreak around a dam or ivory vegetated grazing my trees. I'm looking at my wife thinking I had a rifle that day. I would not have been responsible for what I was doing.

Cal: [00:19:37] Yes.

John: [00:19:38] But as these goats have gotten older, they are a little bit less flibbertigibbet, they tend to stay in the paddock.

Cal: [00:19:45] Very good.

John: [00:19:46] There's a fantastic demand for goat meat.

Cal: [00:19:49] Oh, yes.

John: [00:19:50] And sometimes in the markets it's a little bit of a niche because everyone's got lamb and beef. But we're the only people in most of the markets we sell in that have goats. So it's been an interesting diversification grazing management of all these animals will probably end up spending I'm not quite at that high-pressure grazing level yet that some of the experts talk about we got 500 pounds. I think Gabe was talking about a million pounds of animal there for half a day. Do you use dry sheep equivalent at all as a way of measuring the number of animals that pasture can carry?

Cal: [00:20:29] We do not here we use animal units here. Which animal units basically a big cow.

John: [00:20:36] Okay, so how many sheep would equal a big cow.

Cal: [00:20:38] About six, five, or six? It just depends on what university did the research.

John: [00:20:44] Well across Australia we'd use a term called dry sheep equivalent, which would be a dry Ewe or a Merino. So a ewe without lambs would be one DSE, a ewe with lambs would be two or three DSE. A steer or bullet could be 10 DSE up to 15. And a milking cow with the carpeted foot could be 20 DSE in her grazing demand.

Cal: [00:21:05] Oh, yes.

John: [00:21:06] So at the moment, we'd be running about 600 DSE on 20 acres with goats and cattle and kids lambing. I'd like to get that up much higher and graze more short term. But I've got other planning issues in the background that we're working towards as well. And once you get under 20 acres, even on a small farm like myself, the paddock can be quite irritating to sell it down. If it's a five-acre paddock, all you do is turn corners. On a 20 acre paddock with my seed, I can say that down in three-quarters of a day. So it works and ultimately I'm planning to use some of these portable troughs that I'm seeing in discussion groups on the web, and then more intensively graze with younger beef animals or something that won't go through fences. Also, I'm looking into using father trees. So I'm sure I take a Sasaki or tree leucine is getting a bit of a reputation for a high protein tree. And also we've got lots of native trees in Australia that have high protein as well. Some of the salt bushes are typically used on areas that are degraded, and they use the rip back in. And these trees are resistant and it gives people a long rest period. And then the trees can be grazed. So they run into trouble times. And also why rehabilitating salted areas and damaged areas. Not a big issue in my part of Australia. But it certainly is an issue once I get a couple of hours north up here, then there's certainly salts schools that are not uncommon.

Cal: [00:22:38] So in your area, you have mainly pasture with a lot of rock. I mean, besides urban spread, but mainly pasture with quite a bit of rock in it and then you're planning windbreaks.

John: [00:22:52] Yep, well this area here collars is the best helpline. So it's volcanic soil. Okay, with patches of red volcanic soils are fantastic. We're about 400 meters altitude, so we rise quite quickly. We have these heavy wet soils that go. I've heard them described as midday soils, I don't know where I've got this term from, but they're too wet before midday. They're perfect at midday and they're too dry after midday.

Cal: [00:23:15] That's a good term for it.

John: [00:23:17] When I started reading about a farmer trying to build organic matter and rehydrate soils, then my ears pick drying up because I'm looking to improve soil texture, and increase organic matter all that stuff. So we're seeing it enquire here. When I started listening to that sort of approach, there's a lot of traditional farming outside with a lot of fodder conservation. But after looking at what I've done here in the last few years, my pasture hay was only about three or 4% protein. So it wasn't very good. And I think a lot of stuff that gets cut in the region is more to fill cattle up not to fatten them. And I'm not sure how often people look at their analysis of their fodders. But it's a problem that I get the cattle the sheep I needed and the cows will take a belly full because it's there like standing at a bar, and they'll empty the feet. So trying to improve those proteins because one of the feedbacks that we have is, we're selling 10 to 15 lambs a month through the CSA and through farmer's markets. So we're not like your traditional farmer here, who will take the entire flock though they'll draft the lambs off, and they'll sell all the lambs in December or January or whenever they're finished. And then their stocking rate goes from 600 animals, for example, they'll have that stocking rate, they just keep the mothers all the lambs go, we have a constant grazing pressure because we're either trying to get ready to join or we're trying to fatten the lambs, or we're trying to finish ewe so they're able to land properly on a good condition. So we start to break our flocks up when we've got those conflicting needs. So in the last month or so with shape, you can't have them on to go to pasture, or the mothers get too fat and the lambs are too big, you end up with a whole lot of lambing problems. When the ewes have lambing problems, they also then have parenting mothering problems. So this year, for example, we've joined our maidens in June, they are polyesters. So they're an English breed of sheep. They won't join 12 months of the year, they only join when the days are getting shorter, months which is our autumn, so your spring and summer. So we joined our maidens in June about 80% joining right in June at 10 months of age. And we've only had two problems with lambs at the moment. And about 30, I think there's 46 of those. And most of those are lambing really well and mothering really well in a paddock on their own. But because I've got them in their own paddock in a small flock, they're mothering well, but it means I've missed up my holistic grazing approach to having all these hoof prints on the same paddock at the same time. Cal, you dropped out? Can you hear me, Cal? I can't hear you? Have you muted yourself? Cal, I think I've done it.

Cal: [00:25:59] It was here that my mic decided to die. But we were able to continue the conversation with john replying to our famous four questions. So our very first one, what's your favorite grazing grass related book or resource?

John: [00:26:20] I'm a bit of a teenager in the sense that in terms of books attempted to through few, I think it's sometimes people become a bit obsessed with the next conference or the next book or the next experience. And last, it's always good to lean over the fence and talk to people. What I've started to try and do now is actually started putting into gear using stuff I learned years ago. But I've always been thinking about, or how do I do that? And what's the perfect timing for it? And now tend not to worry so much about timing and more about just having a crack at it and see what worked.

Cal: [00:26:57] What did you learn?

John: [00:26:59] Look, I suppose one of the best books I've read would be Gabe Brown's book is it dirt to soil, He writes really well. Really readable and approachable. I'm knee-deep in holistic grazing violence ivory but he actually makes you think it's real brain torture, to actually sit down and be honest about why you're doing what you're doing and what are the outcomes that you want. Because often you get stuck on a treadmill, you don't think about these issues. I've got a stack of books I've in front of my entertainment area, which I'll have to work my way through, including quite a few books about Australia. There's a champion who's written a book, Bruce Pascoe has written a book about how the Indigenous Australians what we call the Aboriginal Australians, how they survived, and what pasture species and plants they lived on. And why it is that in Australia, we mostly don't cultivate a single native plant. I think macadamias might be one, but they were taken to a why and bred up there, not not in Australia, and we brought the species back to Australia. There's probably, on one hand, you could list the species that they lived on. For we think now 60, 70,000 years, we're running. They're probably a handful of species that we use. And people are looking at farming things like kangaroo grass. I'd love to do a kangaroo grass beer. So kangaroo grass is also elephant grass in Africa. I'd love to do a kangaroo grass beer because you'd absolutely kill with the millennials. It would be money for jam. To get to your question. I really like Gabe Brown's book. There's a sense of wonder in the way Gabe Brown writes that I really enjoy I think it's a big part of farming that you don't have everything under control. And you're in hillside God's hands. I know you Americans are very fond of your God. But there's the stuff that's so much out of your control you can't deal with the rain. You can't deal with the floods, hail storms, the winds. I mean, effectively farmers get a pandemic every season. Somewhere I saw incredible floods that were destroying silos in the US last year signing that you plan for and you live with and God knows how we do.

Cal: [00:29:20] The second of our famous four what tool could you not live without on your farm?

John: [00:29:27] What tool could you not live without on your farm? Look, I hate to say it because I really don't enjoy it but crunching numbers on a laptop. And using XML without getting too far into it is a big part of just tracking our breeding and our progress of our farm animals. So especially the sheep now, we're still only small players, but we've got a couple of 100 years and just to work out which of those so we've actually increased our flock from a handful of shape up to 200 They drive me nuts. But I keep track of who the mothers are, and who the good mothers are. And I start to slaughter the ones that don't perform go out of the flock. And we'd like to think that they're made news this year, we've taken a huge step forward in coming up with a program that we can reproduce. So I could say a pH meter or soil sampler or ground tension device. But I suppose it's what between your ears? Isn't it? My wife's tapping her head? Sounds but what's between the ears? What's important?

Cal: [00:30:30] What would you tell someone just getting started?

John: [00:30:33] One of the big problems that farmers have period is they often think of themselves as bee farmers or sheep farmers when the reality in the regenerative version of that is you're actually a soil farmer or a grass farmer. And the biggest thing for becoming a good grass farmer is you've got to learn the grass species, and what their needs and requirements are, and how you can graze and manipulate that system to get a good outcome for whatever animal that you're putting over the top of it. Does that make sense Cal? So people often say things like, that's a native grass. And what they're looking at is a paddock full of weedy grasses, none of which are native, and none of which are very good pasture grasses. It's just a remnant pasture that has survived a couple a hundred years of flogging in Australia possibly could even be longer over in parts of the US or other parts of the world. So the best thing people can do, I think, to become a good grass farmer. And there's a second issue there that I mentioned early on, how do you get 21st-century prices in a market that, let's say, the mid-1980s. And that's a struggle to see somewhere either you have to value add. And that can be very tricky. I'm down the pathway here. If we keep rolling along successfully, we'd love to build a micro abattoir. So we could slaughter and vertically integrate our entire production and controller.

So next year, we plan to have our own boning room. So we set up our own butcher shop on the farm with a commercial kitchen. So we can value add to all the bits and pieces at the moment. So to exploit it. So my wife's got a wall of preserves here. And she's we're doing soaps and stuff like that. We would love to start doing other products that in Australia require us to have a commercial license and a burning room. So this grass farming thing is you chasing fiber. But if you're turning off a really good animal, why would you just sell it to an abattoir and not put it to a butcher and you don't get any credit. The thing about it is somewhere other to make that money that value-adding sticks in your hands. And I think this concept of trying to make farming attractive, so hopefully more younger people will get into it. And what drives people out of farming is that there's no money there. The returns are not taken by the farmer. And I've read some stuff and papers from Metro from one of your websites in the US where they reckon in the 1915 people were getting about 50% of the retail price would go to the farmer, I'd hate to think what that value is today. These issues are universal issues. If you go around the world, all the farmers are graybeards are older. And that's a big issue for the world. It's a big issue, there's a whole lot of knowledge and experience that will disappear Cal. And it won't come back and it won't be replaced by corporate farms. And it won't be certainly won't be replaced by whatever the latest vegan burger being produced. I'd like people to start connecting back to farmers. And that means I'm not sure I think farmers markets and CSA is huge in the US. We've actually set a model up here, where we invite people that they can come and have a picnic on the farms as long as they don't mind the snakes, well COVID settles that back Cal, schools we don't mind come have a look at the farm and see how we farm. Maybe then you give people some information, some context to say, well, I know what social media people are saying. This is actually what happens on a farm is how it works. And some of it isn't good for the animal. We'll try and make it give the animal the best life they have. So I think they end up having one bad day in their entire life. And that's a trip to the abattoirs. In fact, with the sheep. They're often not even aware of that. It's more of one bad moment.

Cal: [00:34:16] Where can others find out more about you?

John: [00:34:19] Okay Cal. Well, the last one is yes, we're on Facebook, we're on a website, there is plenty of Lakey in the US I have discovered. So we've got https://lakeyfarm.com/. So we Australians have hijacked the American commercial website. We're on Instagram is as Lakey farm, and also on Facebook. I follow him on Twitter. But I'm a bit of a rabble-rouser on Twitter, so you probably want to leave me alone there. Certainly depending on which way your politics go. It's exciting times Cal I'm having at the moment around the world politically. I think unfortunately, I let you know, the old Chinese curse may you live in exciting times is the curse. You really want things to be mundane. You milk the cow you cut the high that's it, rarely gets snows and dries off again, no exciting times. So we're on Instagram as Lakey Farm on Facebook as Lakey Farm website https://lakeyfarm.com/. We've got a brilliant young lady that does a lot of social media for us. And she also does a lot of our wine labels as well. I don't know how we got by without her. She's fantastic. So I meant Tracy and I can run the farm and run the business and grow the business now. And a lot of the social media stuff gets looked after for us which today is a big part of doing business anywhere, it's your front door. And the fantastic thing about Facebook love, Mr. whatever his name is, it allows you to put your product in front of hundreds of 1000s of people that might not like it, you may get some horrible responses, but you can always block them. But it gives you an opportunity to communicate with people that were just not possible going back 10 or 15 years, Cal. And that's how we started this conversation marveling at the technology. And the changes, what I'd love to find out was that farmers doing the CSA model are into what they call the subscription economy. Right. So like Netflix, you can sell the same product over and over again. And it's one of the reasons we'd like to start doing milk because we don't have to slaughter the animal to get the product.

Cal: [00:36:17] Thank you, John, for today's interview. We really appreciate it. And I want to thank John for dealing with the technical issues we had. You just listen to the Grazing Grass Podcast, helping grass farmers produce forages for livestock. Be sure and visit our website at grazinggrass.com. And for all of our listeners out there. Please subscribe if you're not subscribed also share this episode. You can find grazing grass on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. We post about each episode on there, take one of our posts, and share it. We greatly appreciate it. Also, we've added on the website a spot for you to ask your question. I know you're listening out there and you're thinking Cal, you messed up. This was a great time for this follow-up question. Now it's your opportunity. Go to the website and put in what guest you thought I should ask the question to, and what question I should have asked them. And if you'd like to go one step further and hear your voice on the podcast, record an audio file, telling us who you are and what question you want to ask. And lastly, but most importantly, we are looking for guests if you know someone or maybe even you who's using rotational grazing. You are using regenerative agriculture. You are a grass farmer. Go to the website. Click on be our guest and find out more about how you can be on our podcasts. And until next time. Keep grazing.

powered by


Your information could be here. Email Cal at GrazingGrass.com for more information.


  • Holistic Management by Allan Savory (Amazon*)
  • Dirt to Soil by Gabe Brown (Amazon*)
  • Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe (Amazon*)


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *