Martin Royds has been farming outside Braidwood, in south-east New South Wales, for about 15 years.
His learning curve over those years has been as steep as the hillside where he runs cattle above the Araluen Valley.
Over time, he realised some of the established farming methods he had adopted were not working, including the way he fertilised his grazing land, and managed pests.
One of the biggest problems was the damage thousands of feral goats were causing to the landscape and vegetation.
A bare landscape is transformed
“This screed slope was bare, there were no bushes, shrubs, anything,” Mr Royds said, standing in a now densely forested area.
Locals had been hunting and killing the goats in the area around Araluen and Majors Creek for years, trying to get them under control.
As the land regenerated, however, it became difficult to continue hunting the goats, who had more places to hide.
Finally, Mr Royds enlisted the help of Local Land Services to remove about 90 remaining goats from his property, after government funds became available for landowners affected by the Black Summer bushfires.
The most recent round of aerial culling took place two weeks ago, and authorities are cautiously optimistic they eradicated the last of the animals that have plagued the area for so long.
But locals know goats are clever, and can adapt to any kind of predator, even learning how to hide from helicopters.
Despite these remaining concerns, farmers have also witnessed the slow regeneration of the landscape since they started slowly culling.
The once bare land has flourished without the goats, and will only improve now they are mostly gone.
Trees are able to grow again, and grasses and shrubs are returning.
In spite of this success, Mr Royds disliked the waste inherent in leaving the goats to decompose, which he said only encouraged more pests to flourish thanks to the added food source.
To tackle that problem, he enlisted the help of friend Gerry Gillespie, who had developed an eco-friendly and organic way to compost animals that was beneficial to the environment.
Mr Royds said he had been buoyed by knowing he could recycle the goats, which when left on the ground or in landfill only contributed to greenhouse gas emissions.
For seven years, he has been using the organic composting method and wants it to become a widespread practice.
How feral animals could supply organic fertiliser
Queanbeyan resident Gerry Gillespie has been lobbying governments for years to recycle culled feral animals.
After a career in waste management, he had started to despair over the waste that came out of the necessity that was feral animal culling.
“We could actually get a huge amount of benefit from that.”
Mr Gillespie, who spent his life working in recycling and organic waste management, said he had perfected a safe and reliable way to convert the organic material of dead animals into fertiliser.
He said it was a game-changer because it would save farmers paying for chemical fertiliser, and would be far more effective than what was currently being used in mainstream farming.
It would also remove the dead animals from the environment, cutting down on a food source for other pests still roaming the landscape.
In addition to using his approach to recycle wild goats, he is also set on applying it to the problem of wild pigs in the Cape York region, where they are decimating the local turtle population.
“Australia has a lot of pests — we estimate that at the moment, in Cape York alone, we’ve got something like 10 million pigs,” he said.
And it is not just goats and pigs — camels, brumbies and foxes are also destroying habitat and contributing to species loss, while about one million wild donkeys roam about the Kimberley region.
Their carcasses are left to rot on the ground, a source of frustration for Mr Gillespie and Mr Royds.
Mr Gillespie said all of these species presented a missed opportunity, a product that could be either composted or macerated into a sustainable fertiliser product, instead of causing further damage even after their death.
“And farmers can do that on their own property and turn their feral animals into an asset,” he said.
“But what that gives you though, more importantly for the farmer, is an organic form of nitrogen rather than using chemical nitrogen on their farm.”
He said they would have the added benefit of the nutrients inherent in the pests, instead of using chemicals that had the reverse effect on soil.
“You put that onto your soil and you’re killing off the microbes, and it’s the microbes that make your soil healthy,” he said.
“Fertiliser is one of the most outrageous expenses that agriculture puts up with in this country — it’s a huge, huge expense for farmers.
Mr Gillespie said he was at the stage where he hoped to secure government funding in the near future to first tackle Cape York, but he would not be stopping there.
He said organic composting also had the potential to act as a revenue-raiser for governments, such as in the ACT, where kangaroos are culled annually due to over-population.
“We’ve done all the science, we’ve done the report, we’ve done a huge business plan,” he said.
“The idea is if we sell the product for about $3 a litre, then we can pay the person who shoots the feral animal about $1 per kilo for the animal, so suddenly it puts a huge amount of value on feral animals.”
Leaving the land a better place
Mr Royds has watched his land and his paddocks flourish in the seven years since he adopted Mr Gillespie’s methods. He composts feral pigs in strategic locations, and when it rains, that water carries the natural fertiliser across his paddocks.
He said he had also saved significant amounts of money, and doing away with mainstream fertiliser, while his soil became healthier, and he no longer had to re-plant grasses every few years.
“Costs us less. Soil’s better. Happy animals,” he said. “It’s a no-brainer, as they say.”
He said he was more than just a farmer, but a custodian of the land, and wanted to see it become as healthy as possible.
“I’m a regenerative farmer, and I like to leave the land in a better state than I found it.”