Category Archives: 2013

November 2013


This month the Women On Farms group attended a 1400 acre farm near Willowgrove where Ben and Sarah Cumming manage a beef cattle property, assisted byJim and Amy Vaughan . Composting farm green waste materials is their developing way of improving pasture.

Animal health and grazing management is of prime importance to these farmers. They have found that increased quantities of fertilizer is needed to produce required ph levels these days, so ,with the help of an agronomist and soil testing, they are using compost as a soil improver with pleasing results.

The compost is layered in windrows over 100metres in length on a slope on the farm. The windrows run up and down the slope as crossways would catch water against the rows. Old sileage ,straw and square hay bales are used along with sawdust and other green waste materials from local farms. The green waste is helpful in providing good fungi in the compost. The ideal temperature for the compost to activate is 55-65 degrees, as the weed seeds are not killed below 55 degrees. If too hot the “good bugs” are killed off , so destroying the bacteria needed to improve the soil. The more variety of waste green materials , the better for resulting compost. A huge Composter machine valued at over $60,000 is used every 1-2 weeks to turn the windrows , and so aerate the composting materials which take approximately 12 weeks to decompose. It is 3m wide and can turn the materials up to 6 ft high . It can be folded to tow on roads for use on other farms. Sometimes water is added to the materials as the composter moves along the rows and also dripper lines are used to keep the materials moist whilst decomposing . After the turner has moved through the windrows the temp drops to 35 degrees. The “good bugs” lay dormant in the hot composting process but generate after it has cooled down. Turning the rows too frequently slows down the composting process.

During autumn the compost is spread at various depths depending on the needs of the pasture. This is when the soil is still warm and the rains are hopefully falling to wash in the compost and so improve the biology of the soil. Lime is added also to improve the ph on the farm.

Each year the paddocks on the farm are monitored with soil tests for deficiencies such as magnesium, selenium and copper. This year there was less capeweed .

Gardeners can purchase trailer loads of the compost from the farm.

After lunch we were shown the cattle yards which have been re-designed. Much planning with consideration for the safety of both animals and workers has been made. Calf races , fencing, races,gates and raised walkways for attendants have all been designed for time-saving and less stress movement for the animals , and easier access for transport collection. “Cooler paddocks” for holding the cattle after running in the mobs are also used. Educating the calves with quiet handling provides a more safe and contented herd on the farm.

Improved farming techniques arise from continual trialling and careful planning as was shown on this informative visit.

September & October 2013

September and October activities were each held on very contrasting spring days. From idyllic blue skies and warmth in September, when we visited Jindivick, to October gales, slanting rain and mud, at a dairy visit at Drouin South – all fun!

Jindivick’s elegant Broughton Hall is a sixteen year old garden evolved from a former cow paddock. With careful planning, a strong eye to the landscape and a stronger understanding of plant cultivation, the two acres of garden beds are designed with the back drop of the Tarago Reservoir. This garden walk was followed by a meander through the fascinating Jindivick Country Garden, a stylish, rare plant and garden sculpture nursery.

In October, Daryl Light at Drouin South and his herd of Jerseys and Guernseys provided an information packed introduction to robotics in the dairy. Eighteen months ago, the dairy process was changed over to fully computerised milking. This entailed a massive commitment of time, effort and innovative thinking. Daryl showed how the new dairy is designed to minimise cow stress. In fact, it is such a comfortable place that some cows wander in at their will several times per day. The key aims of robotic dairying are both labour saving and production improvement through detailed record keeping on each cow’s milking history.

With automation at every step, including the washing of udders and controlled gate access to cattle races and paddocks, longstanding traditions such as the farm dog can be almost redundant!

Members appreciated the level of financial investment required as well as the confidence of the farmer to handle high technology in the farm environment.

Complementing Daryl’s herd management is pasture development, with an emphasis on promoting dung beetles and minimising artificial fertilisers. Finally, when there is any spare time, this modern dairy farmer, adds to and maintains his growing collection of rare David Brown tractors, some of which proved to be great conversation pieces.

Women of all ages are welcome to join Women on Farms. The key criterion is an interest in farming and farming women. There is no need to be actively farming to participate. For more details contact secretary, Hilary Steenholdt, ph.5997 7395 or go to our website at for the monthly program.

For enquiries about this article, contact: Mary Hughes, Ph. 03 5628 4195.

August 2013

Cost effective herd improvement is something all cattle farmers seek. The August meeting of Women on Farms West Gippsland focussed on the contribution of artificial insemination (AI) of dairy cows and how this process has progressed the productivity of many dairy herds in our area.

At his Darnum property Rod Cameron of Cameron Genetics presented on how he developed his AI business, as well as on procedures and practicalities. Rod came into the field from a dairy farming background. Over fifteen years he has gradually worked up an enterprise which sees him in the classroom as well as on farms inseminating cows. In providing three day courses on AI, mainly to farmers themselves, Rod is able to share his knowledge and to help dairy farmers help themselves. The practical course includes reliance on a plastic model of a cow’s reproductive tract, so that new ‘technicians’ can refine their skills in such a manner that they can be observed and guided.

WOF members had some very apt questions and comments to make, given the dairy links in the group. Relevant to good conception rates are that cows must be in heat, in good physical and nutritional condition, that the semen is sound and that the technique is sensitive and accurate. Semen used by Rod is not collected locally but from other businesses which do the collection, both here and overseas. Holland, New Zealand the USA and Canada are regular sources. Rod explained that 95% of his business is with dairy rather than beef herds. He added that it is also now possible, for some considerable extra cost, to choose the sex of the semen – that is, more heifers and fewer bull calves can be planned.

As for his own cattle, Rods enjoys his herd of British White cattle. With their unusual markings, black ears, muzzle and teats, often with spots, these docile cows stand out in the paddock. Rod praised them for their easy breeding and calving as well as for their charming looks!

September 3 is the next meeting – to be held at Jindivick, with the emphasis on unusual plants and spring gardens.

Women of all ages are welcome to join Women on Farms. The key criterion is an interest in farming and farming women. There is no need to be actively farming to participate. For more details contact secretary, Hilary Steenholdt, ph.5997 7395 or go to our website at for the monthly program.

For enquiries about this article, contact: Mary Hughes, Ph. 03 5628 4195.

July 2013

Soil Aeration

On the first Tuesday of the month Women On Farms West Gippsland ladies leave their farm duties to investigate a wide variety of agricultural activities in the local area .Early July’s meeting was at Martin Vogel and and Di Percy’s property at HeathHill where we were privileged to learn about Soil Aeration.

Martin has had many years of experimenting with improving soil PH to increase productive pastures and crops on his various properties from Denilquin and north eastern Victoria to his more recent property in west Gippsland. In 1994 he purchased a very run-down 28 hectare on the sloping hills on the edge of the Strezleckis where the ground was poorly drained boggy soil covered in large areas of tussocks, blackberries and bentweed. Now we see fresh lush pasture in the well planned paddocks to produce excellent grazing for beef cattle.

After much careful planning, Martin has fenced off boggy seepage areas to collect water in a series of small dams to drain into a shallow creek which meanders along the gullies through his property to the Lang Lang River. These wet areas are returning to a natural vegetative state with some extra plantings of various eucalypts. Irregularly shaped paddocks are the result, and they provide welcome shelter to the cattle grazing there.

Martin explained how the compacted soil was worn down by animals constantly treading over the ground. It needs to be aerated to allow the microorganisms in the soil to do their work in assisting healthy soil. The fungi and bacteria in the soil need air to survive and eat the humus in the soil, so releasing nutrients for the growing plant roots.

By using soil aeration techniques such as the Agplough and Aerator, fine lines about 18 inches apart and 6 inches deep are cut into the soil to allow nitrogen to escape and water and air enter the into the soil . Much improvement in PH levels has been the result without having to add expensive amounts of lime. The depth of the topsoil has increased and the temperature of the soil remains more constant throughout the year-Martin says the soil temperature is 10 degrees throughout the winter months and only rises up to 12 degrees in summer.

The beef cattle are moved frequently from paddock to paddock grazing down to ankle height pasture and then Martin follows through with aerating, or mulching or mowing, or harrowing. In the earlier years of preparing the soil he was aerating up to 8 times per year but gradually decreased the need to now only a few times annually. Damp soil is needed for the aerator. He is very pleased with his results and no longer bothers with looking at soil tests but instead knows he is growing good quality grass for his animals.

Women on Farms meet on the first Tuesday of the month to visit a different farming enterprise. It is open to all women with an interest in things rural not just those on working farms. For more information phone Hilary on 59 977 378 or look at the website

April 2013

Women on Farms, West Gippsland traveled to the hills south of Yarragon to visit Clivden Alpacas. Lindy and Bill Smith bought the 52 acre property in 2007 which had been part of a larger property. There was only a dam and 3 paddocks but with the most magnificent views across the valley with a patchwork of different coloured paddocks overlooking the township of Yarragon. The Smiths lived for a long time in England and this reminded them of the English countryside they loved.

They built a new home and sheds on the side of the hill and moved in one week before the 2009 fires of which the possibility was quite frightening for the newcomers. Bill worked interstate so Lindy decided to farm an animal she could handle on her own, that wasn’t too big and was environmentally friendly. She chose alpacas and also chose just to have black ones as she thinks they look magnificent against the green grass. The alpacas are environmentally friendly because the soft pads on their feet do not damage the soil.

Lindy has 33 adult alpacas some of which have cria at foot. Alpacas are very hardy, almost never have birthing problems and are easy to care for. The wethers are sold to farmers in pairs as guard animals for stock. They will guard sheep, goats, cattle and poultry as long as they are bonded to the stock.

There is an emerging meat industry for alpacas. This new industry will provide an outlet for the alpaca breeders’ excess stock. The meat is very lean and sought after by gourmet and restaurant chefs. Bill cooked alpaca sausages for the group to try and they were extremely tasty.

Clivden Alpacas have their fleeces processed into yarn. The yarn is naturally very black and contains no dyes or chemicals. Lindy has a variety of alpaca products she sells at markets and field days. She has also written a children’s book about “Archie the Black Alpaca”. The Smiths also breed Belted Galloway cattle. For more information on alpacas the Australian Alpaca Association has an informative website and also a booklet that is an introduction to alpacas and contains most information anyone would need to know if they were considering becoming an alpaca owner.

Women on Farms meet on the first Tuesday of the month to visit a different farming enterprise. It is open to all women with an interest in things rural not just those on working farms. For more information phone Hilary on 59 977 378 or look at the website