Bianca Tarrant’s love of social media used to mildly annoy her partner, Dave McGiveron.
- A NSW farming couple are using social media to sell direct to consumers
- The business has helped their struggling beef operation and given 50 farmers a new, secure market
- It comes after drought, bushfires and the pandemic hit the local farming community hard
“I do love Facebook,” Ms Tarrant laughed.
But it turned out to be a good use of her time.
It gave her the idea to set up an online business, which saved their struggling beef operation and has given 50 farmers a new, secure market.
Social media a surprise money-maker
The new business was born from a painful start.
In 2017, the couple bought 1,300 hectares at Baryulgil near Casino in New South Wales.
Within months, drought hit and beef prices fell.
“A lot of our cattle got sold but we still had a big debt,” Mr McGiveron said.
“We didn’t really know what to do.
Ms Tarrant set up Our Cow on Facebook to sell their beef direct to customers.
In the first month they sold six cattle, but growing demand saw them sign up other beef producers by offering a generous set price to tempt them away from unpredictable auction sales.
“They know what they’re going to get for their animal before their calves hit the ground, so they can budget and plan,” Mr McGiveron said.
A welcome boost for ‘the little guys’
The business started with twin missions: to give farmers a set price and supply customers with grass-fed beef.
“We have so many customers that just want that grass-fed, the free-range, the organic side of things, and they want to know the animals are being looked after, that they’re not industrially farmed and that our farmers have sustainable farming practices,” Ms Tarrant said.
Stephen Thomas, a beef producer in Dorrigo, New South Wales, used to sell to feedlots but now supplies the couple with three quarters of his cattle.
“Price fluctuations have always been our biggest enemy,” he said.
“With Dave and Bianca, you know what’s coming in at the end of the day, so we can budget.”
Customers soon asked for grass-fed lamb and free-range pork and chicken, so new suppliers were added.
Holly Maricote’s family are set to expand their small free-range pork operation north of Casino because of the set price, which she said “blew us away”.
“We’d approached butchers in the past, wanting to sell our pigs, and the price wouldn’t even cover the cost to feed them,” Ms Maricote said.
Consumers connect with farmers
All the meat is labeled with the name of the farmer who supplied it.
Customer Gavin Grace has stopped shopping at the supermarket.
“It just gives you a connection with the food and the grower and a face to put to the name where the money goes to,” he said.
Casino lamb producer Peter Brown believes customers will pay more for peace of mind and transparency.
“Their business model will resonate with the Australian customer, and at the end of the day agriculture will be driven by people that live in cities, not by people who live in the bush,” he said.
He called Ms Tarrant and Mr McGiveron a gutsy pair of “disruptors”.
“At first I thought, ‘this is suicide’; you can’t compete in a marketplace set up the way it is in the beef industry in this country,” Mr Brown said.
With some stock agents helping the couple find livestock, he thinks their dream of a national network will work.
“Once prices come back down, you’ll see a lot more people wanting to be in Our Cow,” he said.
“I think they’ve got a future.”
A fresh start after tragedy
Business is booming now but not long after they launched, the 2019 bushfires destroyed three quarters of the couple’s farm.
“Country that had burnt a few days before burnt again like it was full of fuel and there was nothing there,” Ms Tarrant said.
The firestorms killed two neighbours and hundreds of cattle.
“It was Armageddon, every day a real dark glow over the sky, the orange sun coming through the smoke and the clouds,” Mr McGiveron said.
With their grass gone, they had to sell their cattle and focused on the online business.
In the three months while their valley burned, Ms Tarrant processed meat orders while Mr McGiveron spent hundreds of hours on his bulldozer, tractor and log skidder, cutting fire breaks around the district.
Then came the COVID pandemic and demand soared.
They now have 50 suppliers and 10,000 customers.
“There are a lot of producers out there that have said, ‘We’ll do this paddock-to-plate,’ but they’ve taken it to the next level,” beef producer Stephen Thomas said.
Rain and lush grass mean the couple can restock, but their days of selling cattle through saleyards are over.
“It’s not just about our future anymore,” Mr McGiveron said.
Watch this story on ABC TV’s Landline this Sunday at 12:30pm or on iview.