Paddock-to-plate farmers face up hill battle to rebuild

Paddock-to-plate farmers face up hill battle to rebuild

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HIP POCKET: Mark Henneysee and Kate Birch, Jillangolo Park, Tonimbuk, with son Billy, 11, did not qualify for financial government assistance in the wake of the 2019 Bunyip fires.

HIP POCKET: Mark Henneysee and Kate Birch, Jillangolo Park, Tonimbuk, with son Billy, 11, did not qualify for financial government assistance in the wake of the 2019 Bunyip fires.

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Jillangolo Park sells Red Angus meat direct to the public.

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With depleted winter feed supply after the Bunyip fires, paddock-to-plate producers Mark Henneysee and Kate Birch opted to sell a percentage of their breeding stock.

The couple lost 170 bales and silage along with 45 per cent of their pasture when fire tore through the region 18 months ago, putting a halt on their Red Angus enterprise which sold beef direct to the public at the Alphington and Coburg markets.

The decision to slash the herd on their 32-hectare Tonimbuk property resulted in a 50 per cent downturn in revenue for Jillangolo Park.

Related: Fire-affected land owners miss crucial funding help with rebuild

It forced Mr Henneysee to find full-time work and Ms Birch to reskill in dog grooming after losing her arts sector job at the start of the pandemic.

"It takes its toll working full-time and trying to run a farm," Mr Henneysee said.

Nine Red Angus cows with calves at foot and 14 steers were sold days after the fire.

Related: Regen ag aids bushfire recovery for Ingrid Green

Bloodlines can be traced back to the 1970s when Ms Birch's grandfather and mother, Frank Pearson and Barbara Birch, took up breeding Red Angus after purchasing land in 1956.

The cost of the clean up and repairs, including $20,000 on fencing, along with the trauma caused by the disaster meant the grass-fed operation has been scaled back.

"It's a long process now to breed up again and get our numbers to an optimal level so we can go back to one-a-month markets to sell our meat," Ms Birch said.

"We've spent $50,000 in replacing hay, fodder and fertilisers and had to reduce the markets we were going to because the loss of pasture initially meant we couldn't carry as many cattle."

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