Why are horse owners 'accidental grass farmers'?May 12, 2021
Why are horse owners 'accidental grass farmers'? By Raylene Garwood
My Tasmanian friend.
Most horse owners don't consider themselves farmers or primary producers. In the past, horse owners have been regarded as environmental vandals, property management pests, and generally marginalised by all serious and fair dinkum rural organisations.
The reality is very different and sometimes it takes a change of perspective to see where we fit and how important we are.
Try this: think about your place and perhaps ten of your mates' places. A couple of small blocks, maybe a few 5-20 acre spreads and maybe a few bigger blocks, upward of 50 acres for the lucky ones. Some will have spring-fed dams (ponds), others river frontage or creeks running through them. Plenty will have some infrastructure like yards, possibly a stable block, arena, or maybe all or none of the above. Some will be flat, others undulating, yet others would scare a mountain goat and some are wet all year.
Some will be located in villages, on the outskirts of towns or not far from the city, after all, we all need to work to fund our horse addiction. Some will be further out, in rural zoned areas and some will border bush, forestry, or 'real' farming enterprises.
Now, in your mind, stitch them all together: all those itty bitty blocks that are dismissed as hobby farms. Starts to look fairly big, doesn't it? In fact, if you think about your Council area and mentally add up all the land used for recreational horse grazing, we are talking about a substantial packet of land.
Not only that, we are adaptable. Grass farmers range from inner urban out to the rural perimeter and, unlike our full-time professional counterparts, we are a relatively young, gender-biased demographic. The average age of a full-time farmer in Tassie is 65 yo and, invariably, it's a male-dominated sector as farms are handed down, father to son.
Accidental Grass Farmers aren't patrilineal, generational farmers and that has its disadvantages, no doubt about it, the value of legacy knowledge is immense. But what about the new, accidental grass farmers: usually women, usually professional, usually trying to balance career, kids, chaos, and horses. Often hungry for new ideas but too scared, too isolated by traditional rural expectations to ask.
By having horses, not only do we have an indirect influence on the horse industry economy (farrier, vet, feed store, fencing supplier, saddlery; mechanic, float (trailer) manufacturer, rug repair, stallion owners, AI technicians, clothing store; machinery business, book store, fencing contractor, community groups and even equestrian craft artisans) all rely on our daily, weekly or ad hoc spending for their daily income but we also have a very direct influence on the environment, whether our own paddocks, our club grounds, horse-friendly camping areas, arenas or trail access.
None of this is recognised as 'farming' and, for far too long, a vital and integral section of the community has been ignored, dismissed, or diminished. No longer, no more!
Change your perspective, maybe only one paddock at a time, but please realise that, as a group, horse owners have a pivotal role to play in Tasmania's (and the worlds) rural and agricultural landscape: paddock to plait has a certain ring to it
Great article that gets you thinking
This article was posted on the Accidental Grass Farmers - Tas Facebook group (www.facebook.com/groups/753301631348513) and reproduced here with the kind permission of the author Raylene Garwood.
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