An investment in the future

THE use of a financial broker has allowed poultry producer, Joe Buttigieg, to pursue his dream of significantly expanding his integrated broiler, composting and broadacre farming enterprise in western Victoria. 

Besides operating a successful excavation and demolition business, Joe has built up a thriving poultry business at Mt Cottrell, 30 km west of Melbourne, over the past 15 years. The complex includes five massive 168 x 17 m sheds and a composting facility.

The business rears about 1.5 million birds a year. Arriving as one-day-old chicks, the birds are grown out for five to eight weeks and are progressively fed four different rations that achieve an amazing feed conversion efficiency of 1.55 to 1.56.

The enterprise gained RSPCA accreditation in 2018, a process that rewards producers for implementing measures to optimise the well-being of their birds. About 80% of chicken meat in Australia is now produced in accordance with RSPCA standards.

“We reduced our density from 55,000 to 45,000 birds per shed, installed perching and increased the depth of the bedding from 50 to 70 mm,” Joe says. “In return, we are now paid on a per-metre basis with a performance bonus instead of a per-bird basis.” 

However, urban encroachment means the business has a limited future in its current location. “We were planning to put in a sixth shed but in 2012 we were notified of a compulsory land acquisition for a freeway,” Joe says. 

“Two years later, the property was rezoned as an urban growth area. The writing was on the wall – we couldn’t stay here. We could either close down and retire, or move and expand. My team want to keep going.”

In 2020, he purchased a 480 ha broadacre property at Shelford, about 100 km further west. The following year he purchased a 352 ha neighbouring block. With a firm offer for the 44 ha property, Joe is now busily planning the construction of two poultry farms on the new properties. 

Joe has already secured a long-term contract with his processor and pending necessary development applications, he hopes start construction next year with the first birds on feed in 2024. 

Each farm will comprise four 190 x 19 m sheds with state-of-the-art automated ventilation, feeding systems and solar power. Phase 1 of the project will require more than $15 million in sheds and infrastructure, such as roads, electricity and water. 

With Australians now consuming about 50 kg of chicken meat every year, about the same as beef, lamb and pork combined, the venture is more than expansion. “This isn’t just about us moving – it’s a serious commitment to bird welfare, biosecurity and food security,” Joe says. 

“A lot of older producers or those with older facilities are getting out – we’re going the other direction and building even better sheds. Bird density per shed is going to keep falling and we’re all for that – and that’s why we need more space in terms of sheds and land. 

“The sale of this place will allow me to scale up at Shelford. Ultimately, there’s scope for up to eight farms and we have plans to purchase more land if that becomes available.” 

The move will also ramp up Joe’s fertiliser business, which already supplies more than 6000 cubic metres of organic compost to local cereal farms, market gardeners, orchards and vineyards each year.  Joe is also looking to develop a timber shredding facility to provide bedding material for the poultry farms. 

Nimbus Partner, Gus Pettitt, has played a pivotal role in the planning and financing of the project. “I knew Gus from when he was with Suncorp and I was looking to finance a sixth shed,” Joe says.

“We remained in touch and he has since arranged financing for the purchase of the new farms and machinery, refinancing for my existing loans and overdrafts. I need money to build the new sheds at Shelford and in the meantime, we have to continue running our existing businesses at Mt Cottrell. 

“Gus helped me to refinance to new bank that shared our vision for growth and got me a more competitive rate. One percent is almost six figures a year and in the future, it’s going to be even more. We’ve gone from being reactive to proactive in terms of finance.

“Gus’ knowledge and help has been invaluable. He knows about farming, he knows about finance and he knows my business. He has really broadened my horizons by helping me to expand rather than retire. This is a big step for us. He’s my No. 2 man. I call him every second day, if not every day. He takes a lot of the phone calls and paperwork away from me. I couldn’t do this with a bank manager.”

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