2 minutes with Lizette Snaith
OCCUPATION: Co-owner of Warialda Belted Galloway
Lives: Clonbinane, VIC
Lizette and her husband Allen have been breeding Belted Galloway cattle for over 30 years, their property is in Clonbinane just north of Melbourne up the Hume Highway. You will see Lizette at a farmers’ market on any given weekend, with a roster of family and friends working on the stall with her. I first met Lizette at a farmers' market conference in Lancefield in 2009 and have admired the way she runs their family business with an emphasis on happy cows and a paddock to plate approach. We chatted to Lizette about life on the farm…
What are the challenges on relying on farming for your livelihood?
It would have to be income. Like any small business owners (particularly farmers) we never know what our income will be. Especially as it is driven a lot by the seasons….if it doesn’t rain, grass doesn’t grow. Right now our production has had to reduce by around 40% due to the ongoing dry period. Sure, we have had rain, but over the last 18 months we are way down so the steers aren’t growing how they normally would. And probably the other main issue is trying to get time off. I suspect that the difficulty for us is that we do markets on the weekends and even though we try to have Mondays off it is impossible as we need to get cutting sheets into the butcher and work out that week’s deliveries to the restaurants and cafes we supply.
How much does it cost to grow one head of cattle?
Hhhmmmmm…..in time and money?? It is probably around $1000 - $1200 per meat steer but then you have to add the time component: 9 months gestation and 3 years to grow. Certainly not a quick process, especially because we only feed them grass.
Once a year, you turn the farm into an event space and host an Asado, tell us about that?
In August 2014 we had our first Asado-style day. We managed to squeeze 70 odd people onto tables in our home and sat down to a delicious meal but we had more people wanting to come. So April 2015 we ended up with 180 people and a completely different style of event … a completely outdoor Asado, cooked and eaten out there.
This year we went all out and ended up with 400 people that allowed us to put a whole 320kg carcass on the fire. 26 hours of cooking and it was ready to eat and as we had finally managed to rebuild our shed (burnt down in Black Saturday) we were able to offer seating and tables :-)) I think that Allen & I like to be challenged and that having on-farm events like this we certainly are, but it does also inspire you to get lots of stuff done and cleaned up. The thing about Asado is that we are a little nuts about eating the whole animal - and although you might not get a med-rare piece of scotch you will get to eat everything!! And it’s all delicious.
How do you choose which restaurants you supply to?
Right now, we aren’t supplying any new venues because we have barely enough beef for our existing and very supportive customers. But when the season gets back to normal (and it will) then usually it’s to do with the chefs ability to be flexible, creative and to NOT want only prime steaks. Amazingly this still seems to be the most asked for cuts and as only 15% of the carcass fits into this category it is impossible for us to supply. If restaurants and chefs want to support small, local, seasonal & ethical producers they have to pass on our philosophies (& constraints) onto their customers. You can’t do that and only want steaks - it just doesn’t work.
The other thing is, we talk to our wholesale customers most weeks so that we can work out what they want and need and what we have available – it’s a juggling thing. If someone wants to do a dinner using Rump Caps - I need to keep these out of the farmers’ markets for weeks before to build up enough stock, so clearly that means there is great planning on both sides. We also tend to gravitate towards restaurants that really are happy to talk to us and that try to understand what we do. We have a few places that take whole sides of beef which makes it much easier for us to clear 100% of what we produce and that is very appealing to us. It puts the onus on the chefs to use all sorts of cuts and I really think that the good ones can :-)
What do you do on those very rare months of the year that have 5 weekends and there's no farmers' markets for you?
With only 2-3 months a year when that happens we try really hard not to book anything in. So that we can do what we feel like, we can either stay at home and puddle around without any pressure, or we can visit friends or have friends visit us here, so long as we aren’t committed to anything it feels like a holiday!
You can follow Lizette and her life on the farm on Instagram @warialdabeef