Support key to hatching success

IT started as an initiative to help small local food producers connect with customers and a decade later Sprout Tasmania is still going strong.

The organisation is celebrating its 10th anniversary and last week held a special event to celebrate its successes.

Sprout was originally started by Tony Scherer and Alice Percy, who recognised there was a need for an organisation to support up-and-coming local food producers.

Chief executive officer Jennifer Robinson said in 2014 the organisation held is first Cross Pollinate conference, which had now gone on to become a highlight of the annual Sprout calendar.

Another part of the organisation’s activities is supporting fledgling food businesses through its annual producer program.

About 40 producers from across the state have gone through the program.
One of those included in this year’s program is the Rosella Roost farm, which is owned by Anthony Ashe and Paula Dos Santos.

The couple moved to their Rosevale farm in the state’s North just before COVID lockdowns hit last year, with the aim of getting into a niche food-production business.

“We always wanted a little piece of Tassie paradise and to be self-sufficient and to produce our own food,” Mr Ashe said.
“We’d been following regenerative ag principals and other farms around the world for six or seven year.”

The couple started out experimenting with regenerative techniques using quail in their backyard in Hobart.

“We were both looking for a change in lifestyle and we both love food and love cooking and quality food,” Mrs Dos Santos said.
“So that’s one of the biggest things about Tasmania, there is quality food everywhere and we both love animals and Anthony is also interested in the science side as well.
“At the time we didn’t have any children, so we thought we’d take a leap of faith and try something different.”

They ended up purchasing the 8.5ha Rosevale property and made the move from Hobart shortly after.

As well as setting up a new business, the couple also welcomed the arrival of their first child, daughter Ayla, six months ago.

Since buying the property, they have been busy establishing their pastured eggs business. More recently they have also added meat chickens to the enterprise.

Mrs Dos Santos said while the property was small, it was ideal for poultry production.

The couple’s systems use cows to initially strip-graze the pastures, which are then followed by pastured layer hens a week later.

The hens are contained in a mobile chook tractor system, which is moved every two days. “We’re using high-intensity animal impacts to stimulate a disturbance in ecology and then we have a very long rest period and we are moving that around the whole farm,” Mr Ashe said.

Using this method, Mrs Dos Santos said they decided not to replant any pastures across the farm in the first year, but to wait and see what the animal disturbance could do to reinvigorate them naturally.

She said a diversity of herbs and grasses in the pasture was also valuable for the chickens. They couple currently run about 300 layer Hy-Line Brown hens and started collecting eggs from them earlier this year.
The recently introduced meat chickens are also run in a rotational grazing system.
The mobile pens are moved twice a day to ensure they have access to fresh pasture.

Mrs Dos Santos said because the meat chickens were more susceptible to being taken by predators the pens helped protect them from things like quolls and wedge-tailed eagles.

The meat chickens, which are a Cornish-cross breed, are also a good source of fertiliser and provide plenty of nitrogen for the pastures as they are moved through.
They are about 10 weeks old when they are ready to be processed at Latrobe.

While their growth rates are slower than chickens kept indoors, Mr Ashe said the flavour of the chickens was also better.

The couple said they had had a huge level of support from local restaurants, cafes and specialist retailers where their eggs are sold.

While it is still early days, they are also selling meat birds to some existing restaurant customers and butchers in Hobart and say the feedback has been very positive.

The couple say being involved with the Sprout producer program has provided significant benefits.

“They have been an amazing support,” Mrs Dos Santos said.
“In terms of information, but also with emotional support.
To get together with likeminded people and talk to them about new ideas or realising we have the same problems is just fantastic.”

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