Climate change can present opportunities for primary producers. Learn how Nigel Kerin uses technology, innovation and a positive mindset to expand his grazing enterprise.

Jump in the ute with Nigel Kerin and you get more than your average farm tour. He's happy to challenge the status quo, and that includes the prevailing fear and negativity around climate uncertainty. For Nigel, our increasingly unpredictable weather and the variability that comes with it is not a threat, but an opportunity. It's a mindset that's had a big impact on the profitability of his enterprise and the expansion of Kerin Agriculture at Yeoval, NSW.


It used to be that seasons followed reasonably-dependable patterns but Nigel accepts this is no longer the case. Around his country near Yeoval, rain normally falls in winter with some summer storms. This allowed management of the country to match maximum feed levels in spring with maximum stocking density. The plan in these circumstances was to lighten the stocking load when feed started to run out, then bunker down and wait for the autumn break. But our increasingly irregular climate patterns have thrown these systems out of whack. Rain is now unpredictable, with long dry stretches replacing periods of regular rainfall, and major rain events delivering huge falls.

Following traditional farming methods which locked in with prior climatic conditions made little sense to Nigel. Rather than fight the change or hope that seasons will revert to more normal patterns, his mindset has flipped a threat into an opportunity.


Kerin Agriculture has taken an aggressive approach to the changing climate and found ways to make seasonal variability work for the operation. While it's OK in theory to make a paradigm shift, putting it into practice requires careful attention to detail to make the most of whatever the climate throws up. Nigel is all about the numbers and said this was essential to taking advantage of the unpredictability that has become the new normal.

Nigel will go through a set process to, in his words, 'battle test the decision'.
Nigel calculates the amount of feed based on the number of DSE (Dry Sheep Equivalent) days to give him a feed budget.

Should the climate deliver a surge in feed levels, Nigel will go through a set process to, in his words, 'battle test the decision'. What that means in practice is that he will make a feed budget by assessing the amount and quality of feed that is present in the paddocks. This process doesn't begin with a fancy app or a computer but with a pair of beige jeans. Nigel regularly makes feed assessments in a method he's developed which draws on the knowledge he's gained from completing the RCS, Grazing for Profit School, four times. He rides into each paddock on his motorbike and stops. He then looks around and visualises how long he could graze a mob of 2000 Merino ewes in the paddock until the feed reserves are depleted but with 100 percent ground cover remaining.

'That 100 percent ground cover for me means it has to be enough to cope with a 75mm downpour of rain in one hour without water runoff,' Nigel says. He then calculates the amount of feed based on the number of DSE (Dry Sheep Equivalent) days to give him a feed budget. The beige jeans come in because he writes his calculations on the leg as he rides through and accesses each paddock. And it's all paddocks that need to be assessed, Nigel says, every time. 'I get a total DSE days for the feed I have at that time and then I factor in that I need to have four months of grass (feed) at any time to handle my core stock,' he says.

'I have a grass bank and a money bank and I want deposits going into them all the time.'

The DSE information is developed into grazing charts, where trend lines (rising feed levels, falling feed levels) are then used to make decisions. There are five grazing charts, one for each of the properties Kerin Agriculture owns, and for Nigel, 'the trend is your friend'. The trend line tells him whether he has more grass than animals or more animals than grass.

Yet it is more than this - if destocking is needed, then the grazing charts say how many have to be sold to maintain that 100 percent ground cover, and, conversely, if there is a surplus of grass, how many DSE need to be bought to utilise it.

While the DSE carrying capacities are listed on Agriwebb, Nigel says the grazing charts with trend lines are the real indicator of whether to destock or restock.


Jotting down numbers on a pair of beige jeans might seem bizarre, but Nigel's use of grazing charts and DSE days has proved to be a winner for almost two decades. One of the best examples was a massive Angus heifer trade Nigel completed in 2020. Big rain grew good feed, and the Kerin Ag country was understocked. Nigel assessed the levels of feed, worked out how long he could feed stock knowing how many DSE days he had, and then set about buying more than 2500 Angus heifers to graze the country. The heifers were artificially inseminated to a well-known bull, and sold in calf.

To say it was a success was an understatement - selling joined Angus heifers at a time when the beef world wanted to restock generated millions of dollars in profit. They had been bought in late spring, were on the property for four months then sold in a swift turnaround. But there was little luck in this. It was careful financial management that allowed Kerin Agriculture to take advantage of the unseasonal rain and jump on the opportunity when it arose.

'We won't buy in stock unless we see the feed ahead of us,' Nigel says.

'We won't buy in stock unless we see the feed ahead of us,' Nigel says. 'You need to be able to manage stocking rate to carrying capacity, but you need to know who you are going to sell them to and you will know when the time is right based on your feed budget, Nigel says. 'We have to become better at managing the good times - in a wet spring, pastures will be grazed, and grow again, and grazed and grow again and if you don't get that feed eaten, it will become moribund and be worthless.' The big Angus heifer trade is what Nigel calls his 'Alan Bond' moment and he reckons these are few and far between. There are other examples though, of when being savvy about his feed base has worked well.

Feed budgeting and monitoring average weight gains using the Optiweigh system allow Nigel to forecast his business outcomes easily.

Five years ago, he was offered 580 well-bred Angus heifers for $2.80/kilogram. The business process kicked in. Nigel assessed his feed levels on an area of leased country, realised he could carry them for 12 weeks based on pasture levels, and said yes. Those cattle were sold at the end of the 12 weeks at $4.20/kilogram after gaining weight. That little venture was enough to cover the lease payments for the following three years. Underlying every decision is a strong understanding of the financial position and knowing how much can be spent, and an equally strong understanding of pasture feed reserves.

The finances mean he knows he can buy the stock, and the pastures mean he knows he can feed them.

The finances mean he knows he can buy the stock, and the pastures mean he knows he can feed them. He also pays little attention to long-term weather forecasts, preferring to base his decisions on assessments of his own country and feed base. 'The 2023 talk of El Nino had zero effect on our business,' Nigel says. 'If an El Nino is declared, then it doesn't change the amount of money we have in the bank or our grass budget.' Nigel's business mind means he sees himself as the chief executive officer, and believes his most important role at the moment is to make any change in the climate work for the business. He, in his own words, 'battle tests' every decision based on facts and figures and not emotion.

The Kerin Agriculture portfolio continues to expand. Much of that business growth over the past 15 years has been driven by "harnessing the opportunities created from a highly variable climate'. While some may fear change, Nigel says there needs to be a paradigm shift in the way farmers think about it - whether it is climate, new methods or even new genetics.

'When I hear of something new, I think about what it will cost the business if I don't change, rather than the cost to the business,' he says. 'We need to stop sabotaging our futures with past thinking and mindsets.'

Future plans

Kerin Agriculture is determined to continue to find the opportunities that come with the changing climate. What that means or looks like may not be certain, but making sure that the business can be responsive and proactive are two things that are set in stone. For Nigel, the change in weather patterns is not a threat but an opportunity, a challenge that could throw up a whole new way of farming - and that's exciting rather than daunting.