All posts by WOF

April, 2021

Bees and honey! One of our members, Rosa, became an amateur apiarist, somewhat by default. She decided on this new skill when an unexpected swarm located on her Tynong cattle property.

For our April farm visit we gathered around her display of wooden hive boxes, smoker, bottles of extracted honey and her amazing protective suit, to hear the story.  There were many facts about these amazing insects. It was a highly informative and inspiring farm visit.

Rosa found willing help from an experienced local bee keeper who was happy to mentor her, and she joined West Gippsland Beekeepers Inc, a not-for-profit community group. Their broad aim is to encourage people to become involved in beekeeping by sharing knowledge, experience and resources.

Queen bees can live up to 5 years, laying 1000 eggs daily.  The worker bees, by contrast live up to 40 days, after the maximum 20 days they take to hatch. A hive is very well structured to ensure that its members entail workers, genetic sources, nurse bees and hive builders. The workers foraging for suitable flowers can range up to 5 km from their hives.

With massive almond orchards growing by the hectare up in far NW Victoria, the need for pollination has increased public awareness of orchardist demands for active swarms to get to work.  No pollination, no almonds, no honey!  Simple!

Anyone who keeps one or more hives of bees in Victoria must register with Agriculture Victoria as a beekeeper. Registration is free for small enterprises and hobbyists with 5 or fewer hives. It enables the department to conduct disease prevention and control .This includes disseminating helpful information including legislative amendments and biosecurity alerts and advice. There are around fifty such registered beekeepers in the Warragul area.

Our session ended with watching a frame of honey being emptied and strained, then a sweet tasting.  Many bought honey from Rosa, confident  it was both pure and local.

August, 2019

Osteoporosis!  This was the topic of a well attended information session WOFWG organized for its members.  As many such members have experience with animal nutrition, they also know the importance of their own dietary health.

Two endocrinology specialists, Drs Alicia Jones and Frances Milat, doing research out of Monash Medical Centre, gave a valuable and eye opening talk about this disorder. Osteoporosis essentially means fragile bones.  This condition can lead to ready fractures, to more falls and to avoidable trauma for sufferers and their families.

The causes, diagnosis, prevention, treatment and incidence of osteoporosis were all covered in factual detail.

A disturbing research finding was that Gippsland has the highest incidence of hip fractures per capita in Victoria.  This fact had WOF members speculating on why this is so. Is it diet, lifestyle, genes, bad luck or a combination?  Alicia and Frances added that their work to find an explanation is under way.  They also emphasized that a key aspect of their work is to improve the availability of bone health services to country dwellers, not just those in urban Australia.

Adequate intake of calcium rich foods, augmented by a supplement, access to sunshine for vitamin D or supplementation with tablets, plus weight bearing exercise are all part of healthy management routines. Bone density scans are recommended and are covered at no cost for those over 70 years old.

While osteoporosis might be seen more in older folk, it can occur in much younger ones too, especially in response to excessive intake of cortisone medication and caffeine drinks.  Good news is that dairy products and a farming, outdoorsy lifestyle, both features of Gippsland living, are recommended.  Alicia and Francis indicated that they were pleased to have a chance to present to a group of local women and that they would be happy to be invited to further such information sessions held by any group in the area. 

July, 2019

Kentsie Murray Grey Stud, Labertouche

Women on Farms members visited Melinda Kent at her Labertouche farm to hear about the business of breeding Murray Greys, and breaking animals in for the show ring and bull sales. Melinda and her family had a number of cows and calves standing quietly tied up in the stock yards. These animals were very calm with all the visitors.

Melinda has been showing stud animals and breaking in bulls for many years. In 2016 her home breed heifer at the Royal Melbourne Show was top of the breed. Melinda described her as a …”maternal, volume heifer with good feet”… typical of what she producing at home.

Although the day was cold the sun shone for the farm walk with all the animals calmly welcoming visitors into their paddocks, including the impressive bulls. Thank you for a wonderful and interesting day.

June, 2019

Hopefully few of us will ever have to deal with the problem of burned paddocks, but as we know, it does happen and a few of our member farms were badly damaged by fire in early March this year. A recent talk by David Shambrook of the Department of Agriculture, Leongatha addressed this topic at a Women on Farms meeting at Ellinbank.  Your newsletter editor was given special privilege by WOF to attend this normally “women only” meeting, and we thank WOF for this.

The main points made were:

  • It takes a long time to restore pasture and infrastructure after a fire.
  • The degree of pasture damage varies with fire intensity, fuel load, pasture species, fertility, soil type and timing of follow-up rains.
  • Of particular note, fertility will not be altered long term by fire, but there will be increased potassium initially from the ash deposits. Clover loves potassium and may get an initial boost as the ash is absorbed into the soil. Planting sub-clovers may be indicated to take advantage of this factor.
  • Lighter soils will be more adversely affected than heavy soils.
  • Annuals are more susceptible to fire although some perennials will tend to die, while newly sown pastures will probably be badly hit.
  • Weeds will be the first to recover and there will usually be a flush of broadleaf weeds like Capeweed. Capeweed is a source of cattle feed, but it must not be fed as the only feed to hungry stock because of the acute risk of nitrate poisoning. Hay or other nutrients must be available if stock are put on a Capeweed dominant paddock.
  • Soil temperatures at the surface can reach 600 degrees C and typically around 50 to 150 Degrees C in a cool to moderate burn Soil below 15 mm deep is not changed by more than 10 degrees however, – a key reason to consider planting deep rooted grass species in fire prone areas.
  • Perennial grass survival has been measured at around 40% in a hot fire, and 80 to 98% in a cool fire. Annuals are much worse hit. Sub clover can fair a little better but its seedbank still reduces by 60% in a moderate fire. White and Strawberry clovers survive moderate temperatures, while lucerne survives even hot burns.
  • Since Dock, Sorrel, Onion grass and Capeweed all survive very well, there may be a need to oversow with grass seeds to provide competition to the weeds. Weed control with herbicide may be needed also, or instead of over-sowing.
  • Immediately after a fire and after a drought, it may be useful to conduct a trial in a one metre square section of dry pasture by irrigating it and seeing what regrows. This can assist early decisions concerning the need or otherwise for resowing.
  • If weeds have gained purchase, heavy harrowing, or spray grazing may be worthwhile with or without resowing, depending on the survival rate of desirable grass seeds.
  • Keep stock off burnt pastures for 6 weeks or more to maximize growth of surviving plants.
  • If spray grazing is indicated (eg a heavy crop of Capeweed has taken over) BUT cattle cannot be introduced at the desired time a few weeks after herbicide treatment (eg due to a lack of fences), then slashing or mowing should be considered in place of the desired heavy stocking.
  • Don’t fertilise unless soil tests indicate this is necessary and then don’t fertilise until there is enough grass visibly growing to use the applied nutrients.
  • While early June is still not too late to plant perennial ryegrass (soil temps of 5 to 10 degrees C are acceptable, enabling 75% germination in 10 to 15 days), sub clover may be a better bet if sowing in June. Perennials are needed to ensure ground cover.
  • Whilst pasture assessment immediately after a fire is optimal, by June, it is still worthwhile to look between the weed plants and weed areas of burnt paddocks, to assess whether a Spring sowing of a perennial, or a Spring millet crop followed by resowing perennials next autumn. It may be preferable to wait until the following autumn when better assessments will have been possible and a more complete pasture renovation can be undertaken in those parts of the farm needing it.
  • Speeding up a return to pasture cover and density is a high priority after a fire. The pasture plants should be encouraged to set seed in the Spring following the fire. This can be assisted by avoiding heavy grazing pressure in the mid to late spring period, and by not cutting the pasture for hay or silage in this first post-fire spring season.

Expect 50% production in the first Spring after a pasture burn, and a complete recovery could be 12 to 18 months or more to get back to full production.

November, 2018

Rachel Needoba’s unique dairy products have an equally unique name.  Milk and yoghurt are produced in small batches, pasteurised, bottled and sold under the label, ‘Butterfly Factory’.  The logo has an image of a blowfly, not a butterfly.  Rachel explains that all insects are important to biodiversity.  Further, dairies and flies go together. It is an inspired name devised by her young daughter!

As Butterfly Factory products are very much hand made by Rachel herself they have none of the commercial aura of more profit-focussed dairy products.  At the same time, there are food safety requirements, regulatory systems and factory standards which apply, whether 400 litres are processed daily or 4 million.  In summary, the approach which Rachel has taken is more personalised.  Anyone who purchases Butterfly Factory milk or yoghurt, stocked by a select number of Melbourne and Gippsland outlets, two being in Warragul, might gain assurance that the milk is from one dairy farm only and handled and packaged by Rachel herself.

Women on Farms members visited the small factory in Warragul to observe and hear these points and to see how Rachel’s environmental and nutritional values are integral to her final products.  Much of what she has learned has been prompted by time she spent living in rural France where consumers appreciate and seek out grower marketed ‘local’ foods from the source.

The dairy herd supplying the raw milk is paddocked near Poowong.  The Fleckvieh breed, being dual purpose, has its origins in Swiss Simmental cattle.  They are reportedly easy breeders and produce  milk with good protein levels.  Their management entails once daily milking and being fed only on grasses and hay from the same farm. For dairy consumers who might have concerns about intensive cattle feeding with concentrates, grain and additives from unknown sources, this approach appeals.

Like so many of the solo producers whose farms we visit and whose produce we admire, Rachel is almost a one person band doing everything from pasteurising, dealing with bureaucracy, delivering, bottling, marketing and more.  Those of our group who sampled the milk and yoghurt were favourably impressed.

July, 2018

Women on Farms members had a lovely drive into the hills to Noojee. A warm fire and a warm welcome at the Outpost Restaurant awaited them. A twinkling Christmas tree and decorations everywhere provided a festive atmosphere.  Everyone was able to catch up while looking at the interesting photographs and old logging tools. A warm Christmas dinner with all the trimmings was appreciated with the plum pudding, custard and cream to finish. Thank you to the wonderful owners and cooks for a great day.




June, 2018

Tracey from ‘Renegade Drones Australia’

  • The most popular drone for amateurs is the Phantom 4 which are made by DJI in China
  • CASA is the regulator for everything in Australian air space.
  • A visual line of sight must be kept by any drone operator, this is a CASA requirement
  • Drones are only allowed to fly to 400 ft high because small aircraft are only allow to fly down to 500ft. Airways can alert you to all other aircraft in your area so no crashes occur.
  • The 400ft zone is measured from the distance above the land you are flying above, so if you fly your drone from a hill out over a valley care must be taken to keep the drone below 400ft at all times.

What can drones be used for?

  • Drones can be used to check crop health, they have a data card inserted that can record information on crop health that can then be removed and inserted into a tractors computer. This enables the farmer to only spray the areas of the crop that require spraying rather than the whole crop therefore less chemical spray is used. It can also be used to measure the height of pasture but not with great accuracy. The $45 thousand dollar drone (Monty) was demonstrated by Tracey. It is used for crop health surveillance and is controlled manually. The dual sensor camera photographs plants and does comparisons between photos of plants to average out what a normal plant should look like and what is different to normal. This data can then be removed from the drone and inserted via SD card into a tractor so that the right plants can be sprayed. Drones like Monty will be used flat out in the growing season but at the moment is only doing one farm a week on average.
  • Drones can be used by farmers on large acreage to boundary checks, although I’m not sure how this can be done if you must keep your device in line of sight at all times.
  • To be able to fly you need to be able to see 1.5km which is V.L.O.S (visual line of sight), but there is also E.V.L.O.S. which is Extended visual line of sight, and B.V.L.O.S which is Beyond visual line of sight, which could be used for example if the drone were flying on a ship with an obstacle between the drone and the operator. There would be a person with radio contact to the drone operator who would be within L.O.S and he would be in relaying information.
  • Another way drones are being used is to inspect high voltage power lines, battery life is not an issue in this role as they can apparently clip on to the power line and re-charge.
  • Drones are used for underground photography, ground penetrating imagery, locating water and archaeology.
  • There are drones called Illeos used in confined spaces like chimneys, mines, pipes tunnels and drains

What drones can’t be used for

  • Drones can’t be used to film at horse events or other sporting events
  • Drones must not be flown over a fire (bushfire, house fire etc.) because it has the capacity to interfere with observation aircraft or bushfire attack aircraft.
  • It is illegal to film children (if they are not yours or you do not have parental permission)
  • All footage is supposed to be accessible to CASA when required
  • Drones can cause panic in birds, wildlife, sheep and other animals. Magpies will swoop them and other predatory birds may attack them.
  • There is a free App called “can I fly” made for phones so you can’t say you didn’t know you weren’t allowed to fly there to CASA as an excuse if caught doing the wrong thing.
  • They can’t be used in public places without permission.
  • Most drones cannot fly in mist, rain, hail or snow as they are not sealed, but ‘Splash drone’ is and it can take pictures underwater.
  • Drones can’t be flown within 30m of people or buildings (except for paparazzi apparently)



General information

  • Fly neighbourly, don’t be an A-hole (Do to others as you would like them to do to you)
  • The Chinese company DJI is the major player in the drone making industry, other companies are; Alia, Foxtech and Kestrel.
  • Each drone has a unique identifying number
  • Drones can be programmed to follow the controller, even if the controller is in a car
  • Fines for the misuse of drones start at $6000
  • 2 People are employed to search u-tube for inappropriate footage taken by drones
  • A drone has a 20-40 minute battery life depending on the speed setting that has been used however the U.S. military are working on an electric drone that can stay airborne for 5 years without having to land.
  • As soon as the battery is dead a drone will drop, so they have a low warning and a critically low warning. These warnings can be manually set.
  • ‘Foxtech’ have a petrol generator powered drone that can fly for 5 hrs.
  • Lithium batteries can catch fire.
  • Batteries cost $250 each
  • In the A.C.T there is a trial being done on Burrito deliveries that are being delivered by drones.
  • There is little done in the way of maintenance and repair. Just get a new one. Dispose of batteries thoughtfully!
  • Not every drone is fitted with GPS equipment
  • The Australian army wants to train all soldiers on the use of drones.
  • They can handle winds of 35-40km/hr and can travel at about 47 km/hr and up to 67km/hr in sports mode
  • They are capable of automatic take offs and landings and will wait for instructions from the controller
  • The control screen will give a read out of height, speed, how many satellites it is receiving
  • China has access it information from your drone including where it flew but does not have access to what you recorded because that is stored on the SD card.
  • When flying inside a building there is limited access to satellite therefore no GPS so the drone will have difficulty holding its position.
  • Another name for drones is an Unmanned Arial Vehicle
  • Tablets are attached to the controller for a bigger clearer picture, the tablet is used to control the picture that the camera takes.
  • Drone registration will probably be required in the future.
  • The fixed wing drone which Tracey had on display was made mostly of polystyrene foam. It is launched by throwing manually and is easily broken, but parts are cheap to replace. For example the body which is often damaged on landing cost about $200.


  • Apparently we are not entitled to privacy in our own homes.
  • You cannot shoot a drone out of the sky, severe penalties apply
  • If a dog is annoyed by a drone and grabs it and breaks it, penalties do not apply!
  • Technically we own the airspace above our homes but CASA will be changing this

Pilots Licence

  • It costs $3.500 to do your remote pilots licence
  • It can be done at Lardner Park, you need 5hrs supervised flying time before final assessment
  • CASA runs the final theory exam.
  • During training you will be taught using drones without GPS capability and obstacle sensing equipment so that you learn to avoid hitting obstacles.

April, 2018

Saffron Willis, from Mirboo, South Gippsland on a sunny day was a wonderful. setting for the Women on Farms Discussion Group farm visit. Phyll and Ted Tierney are producing saffron, which they sell at farmers markets. Amazing views combined with beds of saffron, their purple flowers alive with bees were impressive.

The productive area of well-tended raised beds was the site for over 600 blooms picked in the morning harvest. Twice daily pickings go for six weeks from mid March to the end of April. After an early picking the stamens are picked out by hand with tweezers, into the dehydrator then packed for sale in bottles.

After the busy picking and weeding season a slight break occurs prior to the digging up of beds that are three years old for separation of the corms in October/November and replanting by mid January. Corms multiply from three to six corms annually. Sorting and replanting is a major undertaking in both time and effort.

Phyll and Ted support the Koonwarra, Cowes, Warragul, Traralgon and Inverloch farmers markets. Saffron is available for sale in small glass bottles. Jars of “Saffron Salt” are also available. Corms are available for sale after November.

Instructions on the infusion and use of saffron, along with complimentary recipes, combined with a fountain of knowledge from Phyll is happily provided. Saffron used in cooking should be infused prior to use for best results. This differs from just adding to the dish as is often the practice in televised cooking shows. Saffron can also be made up as a tea. One cup a day has been reported have many health benefits. As an antioxidant and anti inflammatory agent reports of improvement in degeneration of the macula of the eyes and joint pain are often shared.