At Neumgna, near the regional town of Maidenwell, Queensland, 160km north east of Brisbane, Skye Douglass and husband Glenn operate their family farm beef enterprise across approx 2660 acres of diverse land, nestled alongside national park and state forest.
Stemming from a long line of beef producers and butchers, Skye and Glenn have one core value that keeps their farm and business in operation: sustainability.
The pair produce and sell beef across South-East Queensland under the label HighBrit Beef with the majority of their customers located in Brisbane and surrounds. Their business operates like that of a collective with like-minded farmers offering a unique paddock to plate service.
For the Douglass family, the value of sustainability is one of utmost priority and has its roots in their desire to leave something for their children –
Maye (14), George (12), Audrey (10) and Isla (6).
“My background is in environmental science, so I came into this being a ‘greenie’ and being sort of labelled as the ‘greenie’.
“But when I talked to my husband and we discussed our approach, he was always of the opinion as to why would we do it any other way.
“It’s really important for us, it’s not just about ‘oh this is a flavour of the month thing’, it feeds into all of our decisions that we do here.”
As sole operators (with the assistance of Glenn’s dad and uncle), Skye and Glenn, run approx 400 Hereford cross Black Angus breeders.
The pair actively manage every aspect of their farm, from the soil to the in-house butchery and delivery service. Their aim is to bridge the gap between farmer and consumer by being as transparent as possible.
“We make it a point that there is one of us, at least, on every delivery. It’s a commitment from us to our customers. We make sure they know that they can contact us, that we’re around, in the end it’s all about that open line of communication,” Skye said.
“It’s the transparency that a lot of our customers value, it goes to the the hashtag #knowyourfarmer, #knowyourfood movement and I’m really happy to talk with them openly and honestly about what we do.”
Better connecting consumers with food and fibre production is no small task with a number of misconceptions about the agriculture industry highlighting the knowledge gaps consumers have when it comes to how their food and fibre is produced.
In her discussions with customers, Skye said the main thing that surprised her was just how little people who eat meat know about the process behind it, even those who she knew to be educated about agriculture.
“I am always struck by how little people know and what a big space it is to educate, even in terms of what animals in the paddock you eat.”
“We’ll have people come here and say, ‘oh look at that bull he’d be great eating’ and for us that’s shocking and we have to say no you don’t eat the bull!”
This lack of knowledge has also impacted the orders that Skye receives on a daily basis, with a handful of consumers only wanting steaks and sausages and unaware of the concept that those bi-products are only a portion of what comes off a beast.
“We’re different from other paddock to plates where they say you’ll get a quarter or an eight of a quarter of a beast or a half a beast.
“We have a 10kg, 20kg and a 40kg pack and they have slightly different cut ratios but in doing it that way, everyone has to have a portion of top side and everyone has to have a portion of silver side.
“We have flexibility around that, but people have to understand that if you’re going to share in this animal you need to eat the whole thing.”
With a number of promising business ventures in place for the future, Skye’s business has rapidly expanded over the past few years with consumers now requesting chicken meat, eggs and vegetables.
Skye has been able to reach out to like-minded producers and provide an almost ‘co-op’ like service for her customers but maintains that the most important thing for the longevity and profitability of the farm is sustainability.
“Our sustainability improves our profitability.”
“In terms of managing our herd, we’re able to hold animals longer into the dry season and we’ll always have a bit of extra food because we’ve got paddocks locked off and we’re moving animals into them.”
“We’re also nurturing our soil and our pasture; we’re not about just putting the animals in and having them mow it down to nothing.”
With an eye on the future and a number of sustainable and efficient practices already in place, Skye is confident the farm will be left in good shape for her children to continue on her legacy.
“We’ve already talked to the kids about the importance of sustainability, and they could tell me from a young age that the areas that we graze were originally the vine scrub that’s next door,” Skye said. (that’s why we have planted so many locally sourced trees)
“There’s a whole lot of things that we have learnt or know that we just talk to the kids about and that is how it is.
“You can’t help but pass that on to them, when they’re out there with you and they’re your values anyway.”