Integrating Poultry into their Pasture Systems with Lance Gillespie

Lance Gillespie has a background in dairy farming but has been on a journey discovering biological farm practices, soil health and the opportunity for integrating poultry into a livestock farming system. This led to the creation of Pastured Poultry – a business that Lance runs which sees him importing, selling, assembling, and distributing chicken trailers to large scale farmers and small block holders nationwide. Lance is also involved in facilitating the Manawatu Regenerative Agriculture group and provides soil coaching to clients. 

The Journey to Pastured Poultry

Lance’s journey to farming started growing up in the city of Palmerston North until he was 10. His mother grew up on a farm and his father, a business retailer in town, saw the passion that his sons had for farming, and they moved to the country. Alongside his brother, Lance purchased a dairy farm and a dry stock farm, which saw them milk cows in the Ruahine Ranges for 17 years. During that journey, Lance became inquisitive about biological farming (more commonly known as regenerative farming these days) which set him down a path that led him to explore the benefits of adding chickens to pastoral farming operations. 

“Partway through that journey, I started dabbling and thinking about what was known as biological farming back then, as opposed to the regenerative agriculture today. And on that journey, I’d met a guy that became my business partner in the chicken trailers and he was my soil coach and we sort of worked together and formulating plans for our farm. And one day we were standing in the paddock having a conversation, and he was telling me about the Lunatic Farmer. And I didn’t really know much about the Lunatic Farmer back then, but I did a bit of research and it turned out it was Joel Salatin from the US, and he was running pasture chickens on his farming operation over there. So, Dennis and I started talking about this and thinking, well, you know, why can’t we do it here? There’s an opportunity for us and an opportunity to support farmers into adding diversity to their own farm businesses. So back in 2019, we started working with a company in Australia and started importing mobile chicken sheds. It was a sideline gig at the time and it’s sort of grown from there and today, it’s basically my full time job and farming a bit on the side. So that’s sort of how we ended up in that. It’s a lovely mix of running chickens and livestock, cattle, sheep. And it’s a pleasure to see the chickens running around out in the farm behind the cattle. So that gives me a buzz. And yeah, now I can spend time coaching with farmers and helping them work out what’s the right size chickens for their operation and help them work through it. Some of them are fairly green and don’t know where to start and some of them have been doing it for a number of years and wanted to add to their business.”

Integrating chickens into livestock systems has many benefits such as picking out bugs that you don’t want in the soil, eating grass grub and Porina, as well as putting fertiliser back on the soil as they go. Lance has seen the benefit of chickens pulling cow poo apart, and within hours the grass has been exposed to the surface again so you don’t get all these dung patches everywhere. This approach fits well with Lance’s take on sustainability, which guides the way he approaches farming systems. 

“My thoughts around that is I take it slightly different slant on it and I call it Regeneration. I think of sustainability and sustaining where we’re at and I think of regeneration is moving forward and regenerating. And then there’s the degeneration on the other side of it. I like to think of it as regenerating of life and soil and biology and everything within the soil and the environment. So that’s how I look at it.”

Addressing the low hanging fruit regarding sustainability, and facing the challenges in front of us

Lance describes himself as someone who has always been an early adopter in a number of things, whether it be regarding fertiliser inputs, plastic recycling on farm, and continues to want to find new ways to help create sustainable future for his community. 

“…thinking back to the dairy farming time, I was quite happily to be looking at different fertiliser inputs and that sort of thing. So uh, I’ve been dissolving urea back in the day, for many years had been adding biological stimulants. So that to me was an easy opportunity to reduce some cost of inputs and be working with the environment too so that today, if I had to fit with the nitrogen caps, that wouldn’t have phased me because 30 units of N per year was never a problem. I was always recycling my bale wrap, so that was another easy one that sort of allowed it to be used for something else. I’ve been doing that since the inception of Plasback but I think you can now, you know, that there’s opportunities out there for us to be providing food to our local community, so that seems like a great opportunity where we can be working in that space too. So yeah, I’m sort of thinking a little bit about that. What could I add on my little block where I could be supporting and providing something, whether it’s pumpkins that I could grow or garlic or eggs or whatever, you know, so there’s certainly opportunities out there for different people and their environments to be working sustainably within a community environment.”

When it comes to being in a good space to face the challenges in front of us, and stopping change from being overwhelming and all encompassing, Lance has two key ways he deals with these pressures. Firstly, he is a big advocate for having honest conversations and getting things down on paper to get it out of his head. 

“I think we can all put on a brave face but underneath that we’ve got to be realistic with ourselves and we’ve got to be honest and have honest conversations with ourselves about we were at and where we’re going. And have conversations with our partners and our team about things. What I do is there’s been times where I think, crikey, how are we gonna get through this? Well, let’s write a list and let’s sort of write these things down on paper, and let’s prioritise things that need doing and prioritise the thing. And it certainly makes a big difference when you can start ticking a few things off and you can see it rather than it all being stored up in your brain and not having an old paper, just even just to get it on paper, certainly makes a big difference for me.”

Secondly, it’s about making sure you have off-farm interests and opportunities to get beyond the farm gate and socialise with different people. 

“I think there’s a lot to be said about off farm interests and getting out the farm gate and socialising and mixing with people. Last year my daughter, she’s a Pilates fitness instructor and personal trainer, she said ‘Come along, Dad, come along. We’re gonna hop on a  reformer machine.’ Well, I didn’t know what the hanging reformer machine was in her Pilates studio. So now on a Monday night, there’s eight guys in class there and it’s just about guys hanging out and having a laugh. So that’s really key and I do another class on a Wednesday; it’s just meeting different people and hanging out with different people doing different things. We need to take this opportunity to get out of our environment and do different things. I volunteer with Triathlon New Zealand officiating at triathlon events nationally. So that’s some of my summertime gig and that that evolved from watching the kids be involved with it. And I’m thinking, well, I could add some value here or I can do something. So putting back into the community in different ways. Yeah, it’s very rewarding and it gets us meeting different people in a in a different space. “

The importance of taking care of the top paddock and knowing your values

When it comes to farming advice or things to address for sustainability on farm, health and wellbeing is top of mind for Lance, and in particular the topic of mindset. Lance’s wife, Katherine, works in mental health and resilience, and one exercise Lance has undertaken with her has been to identify his core values which has had a great flow on effect for how he approaches decision making. 

“I think that it’s so important that we’ve got our values nailed and we understand our why’s, what we believe in and what we stand for and that that helps us guide our decisions on a daily basis. I reflect on my core values, and I call them the two F’s and three C’s, so family, fun, connection, community and collaboration. So, I think we’ve touched on all those sort of things today, which sit very highly for me. So yeah, I encourage anyone to have our values and know who we are and what we stand for.”

 Lance stresses the importance of mindset for a practical way we can implement sustainability on farm and the importance of getting things going good between the ears.

“It comes back to having our top paddock, our six inches between our ears, in a good space to be able to function daily, and we look at sustainability well, that could be on farm, it could be within our own mindset. So that’s my takeaway. If we can seek support and work on our mindset, well, that’s certainly a great place that we need to be in and it it’s more evident today than any other time, I think with the pressures and challenges that that life has thrown at many people.”

Lance’s business and the Sustainable Development Goals 

When looking at how the SDGs are integrated through Lance’s approach to life and his business from the full podcast conversation, there are a clear top five: 

 

Goal #15: Life on Land was evident in Lance’s passion for soil health and the biology within it. 

Lance’s passion for local food security and the want to create impact to ensure resilience within his community shows great alignment with Goal #2: Zero Hunger and Goal #11: Sustainable Cities and Communities. 

Goal #17: Partnerships for the Goals was evident as Lance reflected on the necessity to let our partners and teams understand what is going on for us to help us to be more resilient in the face of challenges. 

Goal #3: Good Health and Wellbeing is also high on Lance’s agenda with his acknowledgement of the importance to get off-farm, recognising the positive impact that physical activity and social connections can have on your overall wellbeing and your ability to handle the stresses of life and business. 

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