Farming is a fundamental activity, in that it is a close management of life’s essentials – soil, water, sunshine, animals, plants and human endeavour. However, technology definitely has a vital place. In fact, agriculture can be very high tech indeed. In many instances it is technology and farmers’ capacity to innovate and change which can lead to great advances and success.
Visiting an award winning, sustainably run dairy farm was proof of this. At Drouin South on ‘Minniebanks Springs’, the Mills family has a 3 unit robotic dairy. Solar power is collected, effluent is stored, treated then re-distributed as a soil improver, and fences are simple electric wires. Use of a camera equipped drone assists in monitoring changes and recording progress.
Trevor and Anne-Marie Mills with their two children, Andrew and Kelly, run this picturesque 122ha (305 acre) property, milking 195 cows in peak times. Since taking over the farm from his parents in the 1990s Trevor aimed to enhance the environmental aspects of the farm by protecting all remnant vegetation from livestock and creating extensive new habitat for nature. All waterways have been fenced and turned into wildlife corridors. Bird and animal life are now abundant and in coexistence with the dairy herd.
In 2014 a decision to replace a herringbone dairy with robotics was based largely on reducing reliance on human labour. Three years on the cattle are calmer at milking times and Trevor reports the dairy is performing smoothly.
In recent years the Mills’ revegetated wildlife areas, protected waterways and treed, healthy paddocks have won regional, Victorian and national recognition under Landcare awards.
‘Minnieburn Springs” is a delight to visit, with its healthy paddocks, stands of native timber and distant views. Importantly, as a 2nd generation farmer, Trevor has prepared the farm for passing on to the next generation. Not only is milk produced but calves are raised for the export market. Should the children continue with the farm, the balance of modern practices with inherent respect for the environment will be theirs to continue.
While we live in a traditionally cattle farming area, both dairy and beef herds, there has been an increased presence of goats. With their versatility as providers of meat, milk, fleece and companionship, goats are clearly popular animals. Goat meat is a valuable protein for a huge percentage of the world’s population. Still in the ‘niche’ category in Australia, goat flesh is gaining popularity.
Boer goat breeds are the recognized meat animals. At Yarragon and Willow Grove the Lyons family breeds two strains of Boers, one mainly white with a red head and the other red all over. The Boer was developed in South Africa in the early 1900s. The name is derived from the Afrikaans (Dutch) word boer, meaning farmer.
What a lot Women on Farms members learned about the husbandry and characteristics of these animals! Judy Lyons presented her detailed knowledge, acquired from personal experience, of goat farming and marketing. The primary care includes worming, vaccination, hoof care and early castration of the males. The gestation period for does is five months, and if a multiple birth occurs hand feeding any rejected kids adds to the chores. Fortunately, fresh cow’s milk is usually adequate until the kids can graze.
These goats do better on pastures which re not too wet and where there is roughage such as shrubs to graze. Minerals blocks are used to improve paddock nutrition. When it comes to slaughter the closure of the Giles abattoir presented a challenge. Halal slaughtering demanded by some customers can only be done at a Kyneton facility, adding to the time and expense. Farmers markets in Pakenham and Dandenong have proven to be successful outlets due to the greater numbers of ethnic and Moslem customers. Regulations require that only live animals can be sold directly from the farm.
Interestingly, the Lyons’ biggest market at present is in young goats, sold as pets! No wonder, as they are endearing, innocent youngsters. However, from the time of kidding, several wary alpacas guard the kids from fox and dog predation.
What would a farm be without a dog or two? Farming women value the affection and usefulness of a kelpie, a heeler or even a mixed breed mutt. When WOF went to learn about the greyhound racing scene at Logan Park, Warragul, another dimension to the world of dogs became apparent.
Different aspects of greyhounds were presented. Firstly, Adrian Scott, General Manager of the Warragul Greyhound Club, outlined the club structure, weekly calendar of events and importance of the racing dogs scene. He made it clear that this is more than a sport now but an important, viable industry with economic benefits for the community. Several statistics were presented to support this: close to 80% of participants in the sport live in regional Victoria, that in 2015/16 nearly $300m. was generated in direct spending through training, racing and wagering, and that the Warragul Club alone has four FT employees plus a pool of paid casuals.
‘It is a grass roots sport,’ said Adrian, with Logan Park races on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Training trials are held on Wednesdays and Fridays.
‘Brandeen Bailey’ an attractive calm, lean, competitive greyhound bitch owned by local, Trevor Allen, was introduced. Trevor talked about her successful racing career, his feeding and training regimes and costs. Distances raced are between 300 and 720 metres, with speeds up to 70 kph achieved. ‘Bailey’ was to race that night and showed us her winning physique.
Finally, we heard from a GAP representative, the Greyhound Adoption Programme, funded by wagering proceeds. GAP assures that dogs no longer in competition or which are unsuitable for racing can be adopted out to the public. Dogs are assessed, de-sexed and prepared for a future, loved family existence as ‘couch potatoes’. The adoption fee is well subsidised and adoption rates are high.
Victorian state regulatory controls and codes of practice are in place to maximize the animal welfare and ethical practices of the industry. Drug swabbing is routine. With there being an annual ‘Melbourne Cup’ for greyhounds, prize money earnings can be up in the millions for owners of very competitive dogs.
On a wintry June day Women on Farms members visited Gembrook to hear the history of Mountain Harvest Foods. This business is managed and run by the Failla family, led by brother and sister, Anthony Failla and Christina de Sousa. The family is passionate about growing potatoes at Gembrook, and more recently, sweet potatoes at Bundaberg. They have also developed a facility for ‘value adding’ by raw product processing at Gembrook.
Christina is now the CEO of the production business, with Anthony managing the operations. He continues to run the Gembrook potato property, while their parents remain active in the farming business.
Their mother’s parents, originally from Italy, began the Gembrook farm. Their father also came out from Italy to work and he stayed. Christina reported that her parents worked hard to grow the best potatoes, in time, expanding both farm and family. Christina’s mother’s better English meant she was always an integral to the business for contacts, working with politicians and agricultural people for improvements to the potato industry, especially in promotion of health and benefits for local farmers.
A passion to achieve the best in production was passed on to all the children who pursued off-farm careers, but the farm eventually drew them back.
At the outset, most of the farm produce was sold to supermarkets, now only a small amount is so sold. Due to increasingly tight quality specifications for potatoes in the retail scene, processed product was developed. Now Mountain Harvest Foods has a processing facility to make potato cakes and sweet potato chips. Today, much of the produce is value-added, with the factory also processing other food lines when space is available.
Relationships with customers and supplying a quality product to meets consumer needs have been at the forefront of the business from the beginning. When Christina talks about the family business, their families, workers, suppliers and customers, a passion for doing a job properly comes through. Her talents as a former practising psychologist and Anthony’s engineering background, combined with vision and courage, collectively ensure the ultimate outcome – wholesome Australian food!
On a cold, rainy day Women on Farms members and some visitors took a coach ride to the Desalination Plant at Wonthaggi. The plant is almost hidden in the sand dunes and plantings on the approach. Kangaroos calmly watched the latest visitors to drive past the well planted and sculptured landscape.
A warm welcome was given to the group and an informative talk was presented. The room held several interesting story boards and displays. After the presentation everyone had a more informed view of the project. The plant was in full operation but no noise came through the triple glazed observation window. A coach tour of the very neat and tidy site ended the visit. Thank you to all for the great visit.
A visit to the State Coal Mine at Wonthaggi was next on the days activities. A cool lunch was taken in the BBQ area sheds while the wind and rain continued. The group then broke into two for a guided mine tour. Into cages on a small trolley train the group descended into the mine. Disembarking into a spacious tunnel tales of how the coal was removed, pit ponies activities, dangerous, cramped working conditions and the miner’s support of each other in the working groups kept everyone interested. The first group returned after an hour but the second group were underground for two hours without realising the time.