IN 2000 when Paul and Samantha Crock shifted their cattle herd and lives from Phillip Island to their new property, Biran Biran at Hoddle, near Fish Creek, they had landed on a “blank canvas”, according to Mr Crock.
And in the short-time since, they have worked diligently to improve the environmental credentials of their home and also to grow a business they have newly developed, Gippsland Natural Meats (GNM).
Over-looking Corner Inlet and Wilsons Promontory, it is hard to imagine the wet-under-foot Biran Biran as anything but the lush, tree-lined and immaculately-kept property it is now.
But what one sees is evidence of the hard work of the pair who started with a whole of farm plan which has now been implemented to about 90 per cent of the property, Mr Crock said.
“We have fenced off gullies and untractable areas; we’ve worked incredibly hard on eradicating weeds such as thistles, ragwort and blackberries,” Mr Crock said.
“We have worked on tunnel erosion and put in access tracks; we’ve fenced to land type to improve management.”
On the north-facing hills deep-rooted perennials have been planted and remnant vegetation has been protected.
This last step has resulted in the return of swamp wallabies, koalas, echidnas and a recent lyre bird spotting.
Paddocks have been divvied up into roughly 3.5ha paddocks across the entire 80ha property to facilitate a cell grazing strategy.
This work has been integral to their immediate business, but also that of GNM.
Producers who market their product through this label and its two brands Enviromeat and Gippsland Natural Beef, must run their cattle in a free range and natural environment on grass pastures, free of hormone growth promotants and in compliance with Meat Standards Australia (MSA) guidelines.
To further qualify for the premium-priced Enviromeat brand, producers must have completed an environmental accreditation developed on the ISO 14001 standard.
For the Crocks, achieving accreditation meant documenting work either already undertaken, or in progress.
They are one of 30-plus producers in the Gippsland region who are qualified to provide beef for the Enviromeat brand.
The on-farm MSA guidelines are equally important to the environmental and taste credentials of the brand and again, are relatively simple to follow.
Animals must be on a rising plane of nutrition at all times, social groups maintained and temperament monitored, Mr Crock said.
After shifting to Biran Biran, the Crocks doubled their herd size through joining their Bimbadeen Brangus cattle herd and the former owner’s Angus herd.
Initially they had an autumn-calving Brangus herd and a spring-calving Angus herd.
“We put a Brangus bull over our Angus cows and a Poll Hereford bull over the Brangus herd.”
This ensured one mob would self-replace the other, but also resultant calves from the Brangus herd would have triple-hybrid vigour of the Angus-Hereford-Brangus.
Due to recent trying seasons, numbers have been reduced to about 60 breeders and over time, the Brangus content has been “watered down”.
Still, the lasting effects of the Brangus has meant a larger frame and ease of calving in the Biran Biran herd.
“If we can get the same vigour out of the Angus calves that we get out of the ‘super baldies’, then we’ll keep going, otherwise we’ll go back to introducing a bit of Hereford again.”
All cattle are raised in a pasture-based system and any supplementary hay or silage has been cut on the gently sloping hills.
Weaned at nine to 11 months, calves are run as a mob and grown out to about 460 kilograms liveweight, which equates to a carcase anywhere between 230 and 300kg.
Cattle are processed locally at Radfords in Warragul, which is Meat Standards Australia licenced.
From here, they enter the business Mr Crock founded with Gippsland producers Bob Davie and Bill Bray, GNM.
The brands at GNM’s core were first launched in the early 2000s by the Gippsbeef group of producers. In 2009 the two brands were bought by Mr Crock, Mr Davie and Mr Bray – all members of the previous group – after the Gippsbeef co-operative disbanded.
Mr Crock said while the brands may have been ahead of their time when started out, “traction” with the newly-formed GNM was being gained.
“In the past, no one has cared about where their meat came from, but this is now really changing with chef’s chasing provenance.
“We’re trying to carve out a brand reputation for top quality Gippsland beef using the MSA system to ensure people get a good eating experience.”
* Full report Stock & Land.