Sheep, cattle and chickens may seem like a strange livestock grazing system to some, but for one Manildra family it is helping them with their regenerative and holistic approach to grazing management to allow them to be diverse, while operating a paddock to plate business.
Lamb that tastes like lamb, and chicken that tastes like chicken is the aim for Rodger and Katherine Shannon, who have been operating Carbeen Pastured Produce (CPP) for the past five years on their 549 hectare Manildra property, Carbeen.
They had previously been running a grazing enterprise, when they started researching using chooks within the system.
"Chickens are a complimentary enterprise - you are not sacrificing one enterprise for another," Mr Shannon said.
"You compare gross margins to see what enterprise is going to weigh up against each other, but by introducing a complimentary enterprise you can vertically stack the enterprise and they can benefit each other while generating greater cash flow."
Within the system, the chickens benefit the cattle as they spread the manure that helps fertilise the pastures.
"The waste material (manure) is great to harbour flies and bugs that produce larvae that the chickens eat as a great protein source," he said.
"Chooks spread the manure out, it radiates from the sun and is taken up by organisms in the soil and taken up by the plants.
"The chickens remove any parasites in the manure helping to break the life cycle. Ingesting them does not affect the chicken as they are not chicken parasites, and vice versa with the cattle."
The chickens also benefit with cattle ideal for digesting long lignified grass that the chickens cannot.
"This allows green shoots to come through, perfect for the chickens to digest ... just a bit of the tips for good nutrients," he said.
The Shannons currently run 200 ewes that are joined to White Suffolk rams, 2000 layer birds and similar numbers of meat birds at the ground at any stage.
While previously running a trade cattle enterprise, they now are running an aggistment based business with about 170 cows.
"Developing CPP a lot of time and labour is tied up in the chook side of things, changing from a commodity based business to a direct marketing based business, and developing systems and customers, as well as a lot of research into how to get the product into the market place and to consumers," he said.
"It was a lot easier to get out of the cattle enterprise as we didn't have to be across the market - it helped streamline things. We will go back to trading in the future."
The Shannons grass finish all their sheep and aim to have the most diverse pasture they can. "We have a mixture of both native and improved species ... we want to build diversity and resilience," Mr Shannon said.
The chickens, while free-range, need to be supplemented with a grain based diet to make the commercial operation viable.
"Layer birds are run in movable trailers to go anywhere on the farm, while the (meat) chickens run in movable hutches of 80 birds per 3m by 4m hutch that is moved everyday," he said.
Meat birds don't move around as much, especially when close to processing weights where they are carrying 500g of breast meat.
"But they forage and scratch and have access to direct sunlight that provides extra vitamin D, and grass and bugs to get a better nutritional profile," he said.
Currently processing all their products at Tablelands Premier Meats, Canowindra, Mr Shannon said the customers want different weights in the chickens, depending on where they are going and what they are being used for.
"With birds hitting the ground all the time, we have the flexibility to process at different times. Early for restaurants or carry them through to bigger birds for larger families," he said.
Finishing their sheep on grass means finishing times vary, but they are not pushing for early finishing lambs. "We turn off lambs at six to 10 months ... 22kg to 26kg (carcase weight)," he said.
"Direct marking allows us to do that. It gives flexibility and gives better depth of flavour - customers like the flavour of our lamb, slow growing allowing it to have the ability to develop depth of flavour and it isn't an intrasmucular fatty type of lamb.
The Shannons are in the process of installing their own butchering room to allow for better quality control of the product and flexibility.
"We want to do a few different things including introducing more value added products, such as chicken stocks, to increase the value of lower priced or waste products," Mr Shannon said.
"Spent hens (finished their lay cycle) will be butchered and turned into chicken stock or bone broth, whereas at the moment they are a waste product."
The Shannon's market their products online and direct through small retail outlets, restaurants and cafes.
They attend Orange Farmers Market as a marketing tool rather than a primary sales platform.