Out N About

Women on Farms meet on the first Tuesday of each month and visit a different farming enterprise with some local to the Warragul region and some further afield.

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. Women from all farming interests are involved i.e. beef, dairy, sheep, fruit growing, goats, alpacas etc. 

Over the years we’ve visited a wide variety of farming businesses  with a summary of many of these visits found in the below links.


Jude Conway, and her extended family, run a small farm high above Yarragon with a fantastic view.

They have vegetables, chooks, sheep and cattle, some of which they kill for their own use. Jude does relief milking and milks a house cow or two.

She is experimenting with soft and hard cheese, butter and fermented milk products.

View more photos Nine Mile Honey 


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.

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The Terramirra Park Deer Farm in Koonwarra was the venue for our May meeting. Jill and Michael Vella purchased the property 40 years ago, and initially had little knowledge of deer farming. It was after an appointment as a livestock manager for a deer farm at Fish Creek that Michael’s expertise, knowledge, safe handling and management of deer was acquired. The Fish Creek farm had a holding of more than 3000 deer but after 7 years it was closed deciding the company would go in a different direction.  After the Fish Creek farm closure, they decided to continue farming deer on their own property, purchasing 20 deer from the sale. Their farm was originally a dairy farm and over the years Jill, Michael, and son Tim have completely refenced the entire property and improved and maintained the pastures with a biological approach to soil health, always ensuring a good supply of calcium for strong bones and antler growth.  At any one time they have about 250 head of deer grazing their farm, with the different breeds kept separate with careful management. They have red deer, sika deer, fallow deer, and elk with some small herds of chital and hog deer. The herds free range and are supplementary fed with hay and grain only when needed.  With the closure of the Wonthaggi abattoir, they are now forced to transport the deer to Colac to be processed. They manage to value add to their product by having a nose to tail approach to processing the deer.  Venison is supplied to butchers and restaurants, with their product favoured by the Farmer’s Daughters restaurant in Melbourne which showcases Gippsland products. Their venison and deer products are also sold via an On-Farm shop and online sales.  Additional parts of the deer such as the ears, bones, antlers, hoofs and hide are sold as dog treats while whole dried antler sticks, dried tendons, pizzles, and sliced and dried velvet antler tips are all highly valued for use in traditional Chinese food and medicine. The red deer antlers can grow up to a metre in height in 110 days and are particularly rich in calcium and testosterone.  Antlers are shed annually in early spring with stags producing their best quality antlers when they are 4 or 5 years of age.  There is little need for vets as the herds are disease free, with their main stock losses coming from predation by eagles, losing almost 40 fawns in a bad season. Orphaned animals are often bottle reared then sold as pets for tourist attractions.

Deer were originally imported from Canada and Eastern Europe, but importation to Australia is no longer allowed. In the 1990’s deer farming grew in popularity with about 600 deer farms scattered throughout Victoria.  Today there are less than 60 deer farms Australia wide.

Jill and Michael’s passion and respect for their animals was clearly evident, showing an intimate knowledge of the various instinctive and behavioural habits, growth rates, mating cycles and calls of the assorted breeds. Our visit was concluded with members being treated to a tasting session of venison fillet and sausages.


osteoporosis talk
Osteoporosis bone
Kentsie murray greys
Kentsie Park Murray grey stud
Kentsie Murray grey
Kentsie Murray Grey

Margaret Young’s daughter, Dr. Morag Young has a PhD in Medical Science from Monash University.  She is currently at the Hudson Institute of Medical Research situated at the Monash Medical Centre.  Her current research is about heart disease and the hormones that cause it.  She has her own laboratory there and works with clinicians and supervises PhD students among other work.  She has collaborated with researchers around the world and has studied and worked in Texas and North Carolina.  She also collaborates with her husband Dr. Colin Clyne, who also works at the Hudson Institute. 

She told us all about how she reached where she is now and her work so far.

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.

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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 is 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.  

2019 Osteporosis talkView more photos

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. 


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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.

Outpost retreat


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.

Marcus Verstraelen, District Veterinary Officer, Agriculture Services and Biosecurity Operations, will speak to us on identification, different diseases, foot and mouth disease and his role with the Ag Department and any other topics. 

This month we will return to Cranbourne Botanical Gardens, one of Victoria’s most precious areas of native bush-lands and home to several rare and endangered species.  At its heart is the stunning contemporary landscaped garden showcasing the beauty and diversity of Australian flora.

Meeting downstairs from the reception/front desk at 10 am we will make our own way around a self-guided tour admiring the many native plants – most are labelled.  For those who don’t walk too well, there is a little tractor trailer, known as the Garden Explorer costing $8 concession.

Back by popular demand but this time we will be taken on a historical tour of the cemetery touching on some of the cultural aspects.  Tour will last approximately 1 hour and you can get on and off the coach at the points of interest. 

Rachel Needoba, a past member of Women on Farms, has started a small factory producing milk, yoghurt, cultured cream and butter.  She sources the milk from a farm near Poowong.

This is a new enterprise for Rachel. 

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.


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Catani thoroughbred horse breeding were on the Women on Farms’ calendar for April! From selecting a stallion, to foaling, the racecourse and race fashions – WOFWG members heard it all from Denise Butler and her daughter, Karlie.

The Butler family bought their Catani farm twelve years, having had other horse properties. Prior to their purchasing this land it grew potatoes. They put considerable planning into constructing horse paddocks, shelters and treed shelter belts, and installing horse-safe fencing.

With thirteen horses currently on the property, this is a small scale enterprise, one which gives pleasure and challenges to these horse lovers.

The first foal they bred, from a mare with impressive, winning genes has been followed by another twenty three. They have no stallion, taking their mares to carefully selected stallions. Denise explained that not all births are trouble free. Indeed one maternal death and the subsequent foster mother search was a sad and notable experience. There was a happy ending however, with that foal now a strong youngster.

Another foal needed an hernia operation. Clearly one has to anticipate vet bills, on top of the cost of sending young horses to trainers to start their preparation for the race track. Denise explained the work undertaken from the age of 18 months, to prepare youngsters for their barrier certificate, a vital step towards a racing career.

Race track success is the reward for the costs and upsets. One Butler horse has won the Penshurst Cup and the Woodend Cup. Further wins have been had at Moonee Valley, Yarra Valley and Caulfield.

Yet another winner is Karlie, who, while a competent rider and employee of an equine pharmaceutical company, is also an accomplished, self-taught milliner. She proudly showed off hats and fascinators which have won awards during the fashions-on-the-field component of the Victorian Spring racing carnivals. From this visit to Karbri Farm, the Women on Farms group got more than they imagined. The Butlers are a talented horse family with a fashion flair as well!

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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.

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!

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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.

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.

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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.


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2016’s calendar of out and about begun with a farm visit to Garfield North property ‘Bingarra’, owned by member Lyn Link and husband Peter. Scenic, hilly and productive, the farm grazes cattle and horses.

For WOF members, this visit also provided an important chance to hear from guest speaker, Max Caithness, on myna bird eradication.

The common or Indian myna, note the spelling, can be confused with the harmless honeyeater, Noisy Miner. While both have similar colourings and size they are not the same in their impact on the environment.

The common myna is a nuisance. It invades, disrupts, attacks and takes over. It degrades woodland ecosystems by removing other birds. It is highly invasive and could be compared to the rabbit and cane toad! Why is this? This bird was rather innocuously introduced to Australia in the 1860s as a mode of insect control in market gardens. One hundred and fifty years later, man has to deal with what is now a true pest species.

Max Caithness’ talk was focussed on the hazards, trapping and hopeful eradication of the Indian mynah. This is essential if Australia is not to lose many valuable native bird species. The problems with mynahs do not stop here. The myna, with its nesting behaviours and droppings around homes and gardens, carries lice which are vectors for coccidiosis and dermatitis. Thus, common mynahs are harmful to man as well as to other birds.

With no permission required for trapping and eradicating mynahs, the chief requirement is to do so humanely and effectively. Traps are available, being specially designed. Farm supply stores have them for sale, as do some private suppliers and LandCare groups. Baw Baw and Cardinia Shires reportedly have myna traps for hire.

Mr Caithness emphasised that trapping is worth the effort and can make a difference. Winter months when there is reduced food availability for the birds are more likely times to set effective traps, with care needed to ensure that native birds and other animals are quickly released if also caught. Given the successful spread of this feathered pest, its eradication will be a massive task. This requires both community persistence and political will.

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Beenak Farm at Hoddles Creek began in 2002 when Ian Cumming took over a more conventional property and organically nurtured kiwifruit vines planted by previous owners. Now, fourteen years on, the annual harvest is up to seventeen tonnes and Ian has well established sales outlets.

Biodynamically grown fruit and vegetables are in high demand in farmers’ markets. The Beenak kiwifruit are no exception.

Kiwifruit, or Chinese gooseberry,  is the edible berry of a woody vine. The fruit has a fibrous, dull greenish-brown skin and bright green or golden flesh with rows of tiny, black, edible seeds. To eat, the fruit has a soft texture and a sweet, unique flavour.

The name ‘kiwifruit’ was reportedly coined when the fruit were exported from New Zealand to the United States around 1966. However, historically, the kiwifruit is native to China. Cultivation spread from China in the early 20th century to New Zealand, where the first commercial plantings occurred. It is now a commercial crop in several countries, not just Australia but also United States, Italy, New Zealand, Chile, Greece and France.

Kiwifruit are both delicious and nutritious, being a rich source of vitamins C, K and E, as well as providing dietary fibre.

The variety Ian grows at Beenak is Heywood, the most common type. With the farm being adjacent to a forest, this sort of ecosystem seems to benefit the vines. In addition, the biodynamic farming practices mean that fertilizers and chemical sprays are not used. Organic matter via mulched prunings is added to the soil. Bee hives are brought in just before Christmas each year. Pollination of the flowers is essential as the plants are not self-pollinated, with the vines being either male or female. Adequate watering is essential, thus a key cost input is the irrigation required.

Harvesting typically is in autumn, with all fruit picked in the one pass by employed pickers. Grading of the fruit is undertaken before packing for either wholesale or for weekend farmers markets.

The Women on Farms members who enjoyed hearing of the kiwifruit enterprise appreciated the enthusiasm and knowledge which Ian has invested in this successful Yarra Valley property.

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Autumn is the busiest season for seed retailers, Graham’s Seeds. It was a most informative time to visit the seed store and blending facility based centrally in Gippsland at Yarragon. Graham’s Seeds is a proudly independent business, sourcing pasture seed both in Australia and from across the Pacific. Established in 1966, the private company has had a series of owners. For the past twelve years it has been in the competent hands of Frank and Marianne Templeton.

The business is an independent provider of seed, agronomic advice and chemicals. Dairy farmers, graziers of beef and horses, and market gardeners are the main customers. Graham’s Seeds sells mainly pasture varieties but also green manure crop seeds for horticulturalists keen to refresh overworked soils with legumes. Custom blends of seed are mixed onsite according to client needs.

Quality is critical and is achieved through strict purchasing guidelines. All lines of seed purchased by Graham’s Seeds must come with a certification ensuring a minimum purity of 98% and a minimum germination of 85%.

In addition to the retail outlet, there is a nearby research farm. A pastoral property operating as a dairy farm was recently purchased for the purposes of research, trialling new seeds and evaluating agronomic strategies.

The small professional team at Graham’s Seeds includes two women agronomists. It was fascinating to hear their career stories and of their enthusiasm for agriculture as a direction for young women passionate about rural living. Tertiary agricultural study at the Wagga Wagga campus of Charles Sturt University was recommended as a good start.

The agronomists participate on the research and demonstration facility, and are available to clients seeking help with pasture improvement, soil tests and location specific advice.

Frank Templeton had much practical wisdom to offer Women on Farms members. He encouraged undertaking periodic soil tests, pacing paddock rotation according to how tough the seasons are, properly spraying out and fully re-planting pastures when they become degraded, and for purchases of seed to be from retailers who are members of the Australia Seed Federation.

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Women on Farms members spent a great day sampling the efforts of a team of dedicated people at Bassine Specialty Cheeses. The attention to detail in looking after a special product was evident in all parts of production. Kaye Courtney makes wonderful cheeses from the milk her partner Glen Bisognin milks from their Holstein Friesian cows. Recently Tony has added his skills to the team as a master cheese maker to expand the range products available to include soft white molded cheeses such as, brie, camembert feta, marinated feta, spreads and Quark.to semi hard cheeses and hard cheeses with names such as San Remo and Gurdies along with cream, yoghurt and pasteurized but not homogenized milk. Hallumi and ricotta style cheese are also made.

This successful farm gate store has expanded into an outlet for their products plus those of other local producers and cheese making classes. Visitors can stock up on wine, cheese, preserves and more while enjoying great coffee and tasting platters.

Kaye has been working with dairy cattle off and on for many years while also working in the corporate world. In 2006 she joined Glen on his family dairy farm at Bass and her passion for cheese making expanded. Extensive travel for cheese making workshops and marketing research coupled with determination to get through all the health regulations has resulted in the current factory and farm gate store. It seems the production activities are growing bigger all the time with demand for quality products ever increasing. Social media has also be used very effectively by customers wanting local supplies.

Currently the farm gate store is open at weekends and public holidays but Bassine Specialty Cheeses products and Bass River Dairy’s milk are available at local IGA and other stores. Only some of the milk produced on farm goes into their products so there is room for more production ahead.

It all sounds easy, follow your dreams and it will all come about. Kaye and the committed team at Bassine Specialty Cheeses continue working hard to produce a premium product to a growing band of appreciative customers.

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On a cold day Women on Farms members spent the day fascinated by apples bobbing about in water. The Thompson family Battunga Orchards and the Ajani family Bon View Orchards have developed site where the apple is centre stage. A large shed houses a purpose built production line incorporating world best technology with great staff to provide fresh apples throughout Australia.

Apples sorted in the morning in Tynong are on the shelves of supermarkets in Sydney by 8am the next day. Supply is even quicker to Melbourne outlets.

The whole set up utilizes the best systems from around the world. German, Italian and Dutch technology is used in the washing and apple-sorting machine. Robotic bin movers feature at the beginning and end of the sorting line. Traditional wooden bins full of apples come from the cold storage rooms where they have been kept cool at 1% oxygen since picking. These bins are picked up and immersed in a vat of water, the apples float out and around to the sorting machine, having first passed an operator who picks out any badly blemished apples and leaves. Then the magic happens, the apples pass through a machine where each individual apple is photographed 100 times and goes into an individual numbered cradle. This machine can identify 800,000 apples per day at 40 per second.

The apples then proceed to where there are about 50 sorting channels and they are delivered to the same specifications in each line. Size and colour being the main criteria. The apples are still bobbing about in water until 330 kg of one type is amassed. Then they are automatically shunted along the race and into a bin. This bin is delivered to a set place for collection by a forklift driver to be taken to a correct packing line or cold storage.

Apples are then floated out of this bin, they can be waxed with natural bees wax if required, air-dried and then packed by people into trays, or punnets. The punnets are automatically wrapped in the label required, stacked in trays or boxes, onto a pallet and dispatched for delivery. Apples are also bagged with tight weight specifications maintained .

Attention to providing a great product at the correct specifications has resulted in a successful company. Thank you to Rob for sharing his enthusiasm for apples with us.

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Women on Farms West Gippsland members spent an interesting morning on a crisp sunny day at the Waste Water Treatment Plant at Warragul. Adrian Harper and Wayne escorted the ladies around the series of treatment tanks where wastewater full of impurities was “cleaned or treated” to be released into the Hazel Creek.

Wastewater from residents and businesses in Warragul is pumped up from the holding pit to the step screen. This is the only time water is pumped on site, and then all movement is by gravity flow. At the step screen all the non-biodegradable rubbish is removed. This is where “wipes’ of all types end up, if they haven’t blocked private toilets already. This waste is deposited into bins for landfill.

Then the wastewater goes a circular tank where a vortex causes the sand and grit to fall to the bottom from where that is pumped to a bin for removal. The wastewater now flows into the treatment plant. The bacteria in the anaerobic tanks get to work to remove the Phosphorus. The Phosphorus will be held in the sludge that is later removed.

The wastewater then flows to the aerobic tanks where different bacteria break down any organic material. This is where the Nitrogen is removed to the atmosphere. Then it is off to the clarifier where the sludge settles to the bottom prior to being pumped off.

The water then flows to the Ultra violet shed where any viruses or bacteria are destroyed and clean water is discharged into the Hazel Creek. Water quality tests are regularly carried out with water quality always better downstream of the discharge point than upstream.

The sludge, a valuable source of Phosphorus, is taken to Dutson Downs where it is composted and incorporated into the product Revive for use in fertilizing soil.

The site is managed by one operator with mobile phone and computer technology allowing adjustments over the Internet to fine tune operations.

The normal daily input is 4.5 million litres but the storm the previous night increased the input to 9.5 million litres. Wayne had worked long into the night to keep Warragul, Drouin and Neerim South wastewater plants operating.

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Andrew Bayley admits to a momentary ‘Oh God, what have I done now?’ panic on day one of his newly installed, computerised and highly complex wood burning boiler. This Austrian designed system generates heat from waste wood. Hot water is then piped to warm hectares of under-cover hydroponic tomatoes on the Yarragon farm.

It is one of many state of the art components of intensive vegetable farming. The Bayleys’ ‘Blackwood Park’ specialises in cherry truss tomatoes. Grafted tomato stock are nurtured, pruned, trained and provided with the optimum growth requirements needed to produce rapidly. Vine ripened tomatoes are picked eight to ten weeks from planting.

Each elongated plant continues growth for up to ten months, producing uniform, healthy trusses of twelve cherry tomatoes each truss. These are marketed through Flavorite Tomatoes in Warragul.

Together with the dairy, the hot houses employ around thirty staff, a number being originally from the Philippines and Taiwan, but many locals also find employment on the property.

The innovations and growth of both enterprises have tested the Bayleys’ sense of risk and innovation, generated work for local industries such as engineering and trucking, and have ultimately delivered Gippsland products to markets as far as Hong Kong.

Food production on this scale demands efficiencies and focus. At the same time it shares the fundamentals driving all farmers – need for markets, pest and disease prevention, reliable water and sunshine, and balanced plant nutrients. Hydroponics also require sustained levels of carbon dioxide and humidity. Andrew ensures the adequacy and constancy of the growing environment in the large plastic and glass hot houses.

With Andrew and Angela starting in dairying, being the fourth generation on their farm, not only did they diversify from cattle to tomatoes, but gradually acquired more land as neighbouring properties became available. The dairy, currently supplying Fonterra, relies on a 44 stand rotary milker. Given the crisis with milk prices, the Bayleys are more than pleased that they have their tomatoes.

Women on Farms members who attended this farm visit were generally astounded by the sophistication and ambition of the enterprise. At the same time, they felt proud that such farming success is in their local area.

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Poplargrove Mediterranean Miniature Donkeys, Drouin South

Spring has arrived and baby donkeys were happily greeting the Women on Farms group at Andrea’s beautiful farm. Unfortunately the weather was cold and wet at times but the adorable donkeys won over everyone’s hearts.

These donkeys are small, they are used for showing, as pets, breeding, pulling small carts or carrying packs on walks. Stockmarket’s Pocket Change, a jack imported from USA is only 28 inches high at his wither. He was enjoying his time with a few jennies while there were 4 of his lovely foals to greet the women. Donkeys are loveable and when given time to work things out will do most things asked of them. They are hardy animals that enjoy eating a variety of herbs and trees as well as grass.

Temperament is the most import trait Andy breeds for; she has imported several animals from the USA to get the best bloodlines. The usual husbandry work of teeth, feet, and vaccinations are attended and mineral licks provided. Donkeys are very stoic and their blood does not clot well so any serious injuries and gelding require special immediate attention. Donkeys can founder so watching their weight at this time of year is part of the care they receive.

Andy came to donkey breeding about 13 years ago after breeding paint and quarter horses. Moving to the farm with a house, a grove of young poplar trees and a magnificent oak tree she has transformed the place with an extensive garden, shedding, stables and yards. All the paddocks .are surrounded by shelter belts and sheds. The donkeys were very keen to shelter out of the rain.

The donkeys come in a variety of colours, grey, black, brown with spots and all donkeys have the cross markings over their shoulder and backline. Some of the donkeys were classes as “woolies” These donkeys had long hair, about 100mm in length and were even more adorable.

Special care is given to all the donkeys with Andi present at all births and all the animals are hugged and kissed everyday. Their friendliness showed the great love and care lavished on them. Occasionally some are for sale but you always need at least two donkeys to keep each other company. There is a waiting list and prospective owners have to be suitable to ever be lucky enough to own any of these delightful donkeys.

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Farming is an occupation driven by nature’s seasons. With the agroforestry business of growing Christmas trees, this is especially true. Women on Farms West Gippsland members learned so much on a fascinating visit to the Dandenong Christmas Tree Farm at Nar Nar Goon.

Pinus radiata are grown for the annual Christmas market by the Cranston family and their business partners. This market extends interstate and overseas. Even the Maldives Islands are a surprise destination for the festive trees from this successful enterprise.

Neil Cranston started in the business as an employee. In time his involvement grew, with his family taking over the enterprise and its established name. They have plantations and outlets at Officer, Tynong and Nar Nar Goon. Wholesale and retail sales keep them especially busy at this time of the year, but there are months of demanding work beforehand. Neil even observed that the trees require more effort than do the cows on his dairy. The plantations certainly demanded an open and innovative mind to their commercial propagation and successful marketing.

The seedlings are germinated by a specialised nursery then planted out when less than 30 cm tall, at about ten months of age. Depending upon the size sought by customers, the young trees might be harvested at 5, 6 or 7 years of age. However, before reaching this stage, there is an intensive and year round regime of nurturing, shaping, pruning, pest management, fertilising and general care. Everyone wants to buy the perfectly shaped tree!

Hungry rabbits and hares contribute to a small annual loss rate of approximately 2%. Seasonal workers are engaged to help minimise this and to assist with the constant trimming and shaping. By the time the pre-Christmas season starts Robyn is looking forward to welcoming many of their return customers, some going back four generations. She delights in the family visits and the very personal customs some have in what tree they choose and why. As the three Cranston adult children are also engaged in the business it is clear that this farm has a strong family focus.


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Revisiting popular farming enterprises is a satisfying way to see progress with owners’ dreams. And so it was when WOF members re-inspected the new racing venue at Tynong.

Members were welcomed back in February to view the construction of the relocated Pakenham Racing Club racecourse. At the first visit, in a colder, wetter time of the year, there were no buildings, no gardens laid out and lanes of mud. Not so this time. Over 600 acres has been transformed into an attractive, functional sporting ground, complete with a wetlands area for irrigation and wildlife.

The racecourse is now out of the suburbs. There is a definite country feel about the location and the spacious surrounds. This exciting facility is due for completion in time for a grand opening. This will take place with a festive race day on Thursday 26 March. Several WOF members have already booked to attend the gala event.

While the grounds were very much a construction site on the first WOF visit, this time there was dense turf growing on the course. Contractors were installing white safety rails around the 2400m long turf track. It was a rare chance to stand on the very site, where in the near future, winning horses will pound past the post.

Within the perimeter of the turf track is a shorter track with a synthetic surface. This aims to ensure that race days scheduled in inclement weather can proceed and are not abandoned due to track conditions.

An impressively designed and constructed under-cover area, holding 142 horses in secure stalls, has been used since July 2014. Within this massive shed are facilities for farriery, veterinary care, pathology sampling, saddling up and strapping down. Daily pre-dawn training sees this building alive with determined trainers, strappers, jockeys and fit thoroughbreds.

Event manger, Ms Hayley Conn, explained the race programme planned for the current and future seasons, including proposed night races on a Thursday. Maintaining good relations with the community is another role for Ms Conn. A special pre-opening inspection is set for local residents.

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WOFWG members met in April to see and hear from Gippsland dairy farmers, the Bramley family, and share farmer Wijbren de Boer. It is a tale of commitment, innovation and growth in an important rural industry.

With a science and mathematics degree Geoff Bramley taught for 30 years, at the same time, moving in 1982 to 142 acres of dairy country in Nar Nar Goon. Geoff’s dual milking and school life began with eighty cows. The herd grew so another 67 acres were soon added. Currently the farm covers 320 acres with a further 220 acres being leased.

An original dairy shed was improved to a 16 aside herringbone, with a final upgrade in 2003 to a 50 unit rotary dairy. This caters for up to 300 cows. The unit has automated feeders and cup removers. Additional improvements, for cow and handler alike, include automatic drafting gates, and computer reading of electronic ear tags for individualised rations.

Geoff added a long concrete feed pad in 2008 to hold one hundred and fifty cows. In 2014 another feed pad was built. In wet times, cows are fed silage, potato and citrus pulp, lucerne and grass hay on these pads, keeping animals and machinery from damaging paddocks.

350 cows are milked daily with calving occurring year round. AI (artificial insemination) is practised, with semen sexed to conceive heifers. AI is also used for genetic improvement of the herd. The farm achieves sufficient heifer birth rates for the 20% needed annually for herd replacement.

Wijbren de Boer and his family recently began share farming with Geoff. Wybren was born in Holland, dairied in Canada then in Australia. In 2014 when the Bramleys needed a new share farmer, Wybren joined them. He brought along his herd of stud Jerseys and some cross breeds, adding them to the Bramley Friesians.

Geoff is passionate about encouraging investment in the dairy industry and its workers’ future. He emphasised that farming needs to be sustainable for farmers, animals and the land. With herd size and quality in mind, and with clear production goals, Geoff also balances the support needed for workers in his enterprise. Coupled with an efficient, innovative shed and safe facilities this farm presents as a notable model of sustainable dairying.

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An insatiable love of gardening, a concern about food miles and a passion for local: just some of the drivers behind a food hub founded in Korumburra. WOFWG members learned so much from their July visit to this community enterprise.

Grow Lightly Connect is a not-for-profit company benefitting the local community. It was established through the vision and skills of Gil and Meredith Freeman, formerly teachers from Melbourne. Their retirement to the country led to their becoming leaders in the practical application of the principles of organic horticulture and the reduction of food miles. They believe in the importance of fresh, seasonal food being available locally, with minimal environmental costs to produce. They also value assisting the local economy.

The South Gippsland Shire has given support with the lease of a central building at a reasonable rental. Philanthropic foundations have helped fund amenities to improve the centre. Now this is a hub for the collection, packaging and distribution of excess fruit and vegetables grown in the area. Grow Lightly is always on the lookout for growers in southern Gippsland who will be able to supply foods. To date there are about fifty such growers on the books. All food donated or sourced wholesale is grown within 80 km from Korumburra.

There is a simple motto of Clean, Fresh, Local. Further, hub members share a view that organically produced food should not be elitist and thus should be as affordable as possible.

For a fixed price per bag, purchasers receive a seasonal mix of food items, sourced from local organic growers and small scale producers. Up to forty bags per week are packed by volunteers. Thereafter there is a clever network to ensure delivery of the bags at maximum freshness.

Apart from the vegie bags and on site sale of seasonal produce the hub is expanding into workshops, newsletters and an effective website. The Freeman’s original vision now includes ideas for more innovations.

Some WOF members felt that the Grow Lightly food hub is a model which other Gippsland communities could follow.

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Potatoes, often called ‘humble’ but certainly an essential source of food nutrients, were the focus of this farm visit. Along with onions and sheep, grown for fleece and the fat lamb market, as well as agri-tourism, potatoes on the Murphy Farms at Thorpdale are part of a large scale farming success. The diversity of activities reflects a keenness to maximise climate, soil type and market demands.

The Murphy families of Thorpdale are expert potato growers. Val Murphy explained that of the 250 known varieties, they grow up to five, with Golden Delight and Sebago being staples.

WOF members heard how a small dairy made the transition over the decades to this significant enterprise. The acreage grew as neighbouring farms were opportunistically purchased. Apart from the two Murphy families there are also permanent and casual employees. The farm, as it expanded, has contributed to the local economy through work opportunities. Cultivation, planting, irrigating, harvesting, sorting and grading keep quite a team of people busy throughout the year.

Machinery demands a full time mechanic; sheep require a full time stockman and plenty of kelpies! Every ute seemed to have a dog on the back!

For potatoes, the busiest time for harvest and market preparation is January to June. Onions, mainly brown but some Spanish red, are harvested over February and March, stored in large sheds until the potato harvest is complete, then bagged and sold largely through local merchants who supply supermarkets. When onions and potatoes leave the property they mainly go to wholesale markets in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne.

The sheep are first cross Merino-Southdown-Dorsets, protected from foxes by a number of alpacas. The impressive 3 stand shearing shed was designed Murphy Farms, and built by Phil and Val’s son, Leigh Constructions, with cypress timber felled on the farm. Contract teams come in annually for the shearing. By contrast with the vegetable produce, the fat lambs are sold directly by the Murphys through local farmers markets.

Val was keen to ensure that the WOF visitors left with bags full of onions and potatoes, and with sound advice about storage. Val is an accomplished communicator, with her popular ‘potato tours’ attracting groups from afar.

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Have you ever driven a tractor down memory lane?

This was the feeling of several WOF farming women when they recently visited Community College Gippsland (CCG). Located on the edge of farmland at the back of West Gippsland Hospital, the attractive, treed campus has links to the region’s education, agriculture and culture.

Twenty years ago, the campus offered mainly courses to rural folk. One course focussed on tractor maintenance and safe operation. Along with other studies such as calving management some WOF members valued their guided, practical learning experiences.

Now, in 2015, the campus is over forty years old. Various organisations have provided education from the site. The learning now offered by CCG has been expanded to include not only agriculture and horticulture, but equine studies, business, aged care training, beauty, hairdressing, information technology and a special, select entry senior secondary course. As a ‘RTO’, registered training organisation, CCG delivers a wide variety of programmes.

Its current student population attends one of three campuses – Warragul, Pakenham and Leongatha. Some students are there for a career change, with the oldest student being 72 y.o., followed by a number of keen adult learners in their fifties and sixties.

On the agricultural side, the twenty acre property grazes a small herd of red Angus cattle, using an impressively safe stock yard system. Hot houses with a climate controlled atmosphere maximise plant propagation training. Some fruit trees give opportunities for pruning demonstrations.

CCG impresses with its student and community focussed staff and courses. Short courses can be tailored on demand. The Warragul campus is a regional asset, as are students who move on with practical skills. WOF West Gippsland members are proud of their past and present association with the college.

Leni Teng definitely has a way with plants – a nurturing, positive, practical and clearly successful way to grow vegetables and herbs. High energy and passion seem to benefit the plants she propagates with her husband, Paul, and family of four young children at Willow Grove.

Their five acres of organically grown vegetables & seedlings are sold through farmers markets and at the farm gate. Six years ago, when looking for an income from working at home, Leni began germinating vegetable seedlings for sale at markets. Any plants left over from the markets were planted out in paddocks and grown for sale as mature vegetables.

Leni stated that, years on, the demand for organic produce is so great, they can’t keep up. They grow up to 60,000 plants per annum, all sewn by hand. A seed saving strategy is practised, where seeds are dried for the future.

Their rich Gippsland soil is nourished with home made compost, fish emulsion, worm casings and a special compost brew. Wheat is grown as a manure crop prior to pumpkins and potatoes being planted.

90% of the weeding of paddocks is also by hand, based on a view that the impact of machines creates disharmony for plants. Mulched hay and animal manures are used to minimise weeds. Plants are monitored for indications as to needs for lime, nitrogen and other nutrients.

In the hot house, Lena’s domain, and where all seedlings are started, music is played for both plants and workers, mainly classical, soft music. Outside, Paul does the paddock work by tractor. However, when it comes to planting out the seedlings in rows, the whole family works together.

Their own food garden is close to the house for accessibility, with self sufficiency and independence being important living principles for the family.

Outlets for their special produce include Yarragon market, fruit shops and greengrocers in Melbourne via a wholesale co-operative, Baw Baw Food hub and Christies at Traralgon. Further, by arrangement Leni provides a soil and planting consultancy for private gardens.


Many farming enterprises combine science, patience, weather, soils, investment, disappointments, serendipity and more patience. Nothing could be truer of the fledgling Australian truffle industry. This was particularly evident to WOF members in their March visit to the tree nursery and ‘truffiere’ (truffle orchard) of the Carter family in Gembrook.

Colin and Jan Carter, with their children and truffle sniffing kelpie, Jack, taught us a great deal about the complexities of truffle production. WOF members have previously visited another truffiere, at the home of a member at Jindivick. It was no surprise to hear that truffle growers, with so many challenges to face, work co-operatively. Not only do they share learnings but they present a united force to government. This can assist with research and development, as well as with export facilitation. Colin explained that the contaminant risks presented by imported truffles, especially from China, were recently recognised by the Federal government, resulting in a quarantine ban on this imported competitor.

‘Black diamonds from the soil and with a fruity fragrance’ – that is how the truffles were described. Actually, truffles are the edible fruiting bodies of a type of subterranean fungus known as a mycorrhiza (‘root fungus’), which form symbiotic relationships with a host tree, generally from the oak and hazelnut species. Colin had many such technical facts to share.

With the family business including a hazelnut propagation nursery, the potential truffle trees are inoculated with the truffle spore very early in life. The trees can then be DNA tested to confirm the vital component exists.

In their being planted out, the ideal soil is very well limed, not overly rich, and on a well drained site. The truffle industry is slowly growing in Australia, coming originally in the 1990s from Europe from poor limestone slopes in France.

Despite all the science, research and care with propagating the right trees, it is apparent there are still luck, mystery and chance. Whatever the success rate that an inoculated tree might foster truffles among its roots, the market demand from Australia and Asia exists. It is up to truffle sniffing dogs like Jack, to find those black diamonds and to reward the work of committed growers like the Carters.
An opportunity was had to see, smell and taste black truffle, with its mushroom character. Jan gave ideas about the culinary use of truffles and how they can enhance otherwise bland recipes. Rice, pasta and egg dishes get the ‘wow’ factor.

The April visit by Women on Farms West Gippsland was to Devon Meadows. Here, on the Schreurs’ vegetable property, members learned how leeks, baby cos, endive, parsnips, radicchio, kohl rabi, wombok and other bunched vegetables are grown.

When Peter Schreurs migrated from Holland in 1954 he worked on his uncle’s vegetable farm. By 1958 he was able to purchase his first 20 acres. Over the decades his holding subsequently grew to the 525 acres he and his three sons work today.

The Schreurs family works in harmony with the environment so that the farm is sustainable. They have reduced the amount of chemicals used and concentrate more on soil biology, introducing integrated pest management. It is no surprise that they have won awards for sound farming practices.

Healthier soils present less problems, with use made of pest-specific biological sprays to avoid harm to beneficial insects. With the help of an entomologist they determined that eliminating certain insects was detrimental. They use mostly liquid humus and seaweed for plant growth. All green waste from the vegetables is composted and spread back onto the soil along with green manure crops, all being ploughed back in before seedlings are planted.

The 400 megalitre dam took three years to complete during which time they suffered a flood and had to cease work. Peter suggested that it is easier to cope with a drought. They are able to store plenty of water but in a flood water doesn’t drain away.

Of the seven vegetable varieties produced most are planted as seedlings while the others are direct drilled into the soil. Crops are rotated annually and ph tests are conducted yearly. Recently, cosberg lettuce, basically a cross between an iceberg and cos, was added to the products grown on the Schreurs property.

The workforce needs vary with about 35 staff employed permanently, increasing to 60 employees during peak times. In summer 600,000 leeks per week are harvested. Distribution of such vegetables, locally, interstate and to Japan is by contractors.

Olives from Gippsland are adding to the region’s wide reputation for a growing range of quality gourmet foods. Women on Farms West Gippsland members learned why when their May activity took them to Jindivick to host farm for the day, Tarago Olives.

Here, 1100 olive trees are carefully managed for olives harvested to produce premium, virgin olive oil, pickled olives and a range of inventive treats such as olive paste and even olive jam.

The trees have been planted to maximize their exposure to necessary sun and to ensure good drainage. The varieties grown are Manzanillo, Frontoio, Nevadillo and Kalamata.

Sam Cabbabe, who planted the first trees on his property in 2004, is clearly well informed, inventive and progressive, being largely self-taught. Propagation, processing, marketing, soil management, harvesting and tree maintenance have all had to be learned to get the results seen in 2014. Just which varieties were more suitable for which end use was one of the many lessons which Mr Cabbabe has learned.

To get the olives to a commercial level of production the main challenge to overcome has been bird invasion, with considerable losses of crop each year until the area was two thirds covered by bird netting. Scaring guns, eagle images and other methods had not proven nearly as successful. Even now, a certain amount of loss has to be anticipated.

After harvest, the fruit destined for extraction of extra virgin olive oil is transported promptly to a pressing enterprise in South Gippsland, then the oil is returned to Jindivick for marketing and distribution to established and highly regarded clients. It is understood that chefs in a number of premium restaurants in Melbourne value the oil for its freshness and high quality. Mr Cabbabe explained the importance of establishing a personal rapport with his clients and of being responsive to their comments and feedback. The flavour and aroma of his oils are their key selling points.

A word of advice from Mr Cabbabe regarding storing olive oil is that it is sensitive to light, heat and air. Thus, oil is at its best when protected in a dark, sealed bottle, away from heat.

Want challenges, country lifestyle, animals which are endearing yet hardy, and an enterprise with a difference? Try deer farming! Members of Women on Farms West Gippsland learned how raising deer compares with more traditional livestock activities when a visit was made to Gracefield, Neerim South in June.

The Edyvanes, Graham and June, have a hilly 96 acre property, picturesque with tall trees, lush pasture and grazing animals. Red deer, elk, goats and a few cattle create a charming scene. It is also a life of hard work and market challenges.

While deer are relatively easy to manage overall, in that they give birth easily, need drenching but not vaccination, and tend not to have foot problems, they require tall, sturdy fencing and a calming handling shed. To achieve the least stress when individual animals are managed, Graham designed and constructed an elaborate ‘maze’ of doors, cubicles and safety restraints.

Venison is sold, mainly through the farm gate and farmers markets. Various roast and BBQ cuts, schnitzels, sausages, burgers and gourmet pies are the main products from the wide range available.

Production of this venison has been affected by the controversial abattoir closure at Trafalgar, with subsequent long distance transport now needed for slaughtering. Yet, it is understood that the demand for velvet is good. This is the soft covering on growing antlers. Asian markets in particular seek the velvet for its reputed medicinal qualities. Antlers are cut off annually, at just the critical stage, and then they re-grow.

The Gracefield herd was originally all fallow deer but the Edyvanes found that a cross between red deer and Canadian elk produced a more tractable animal. The gestation period of eight months is similar to cattle, with multiple births very rare. Mature stock live up to twenty years.

With their elegance, the deer are an attractive adjunct to the holiday accommodation on the property. Being adjacent to natural bushland and forests, Gracefield offers guests a post card environment in which to relax and enjoy the animals in the hilly paddocks or the venison on a BBQ.

Seven minutes! Yes, the estimated time to convert a grain of wheat or barley into pelletised stock food is seven minutes! While it might sound trivial it depicts the modernity and efficiency of a stockfood processing plant in Pakenham.

Ridley Agri-products in Bald Hill Road was the location for the August activity of Women on Farms West Gippsland. Members who attended the plant tour were overwhelmed with many insights into a very competitive industry so important to farmers. Management was obliging and the feed mills were more than fascinating.

This is a rural industry on the edge of urban Melbourne. Feed pellets are manufactured here for cattle, horses, pigs, sheep, poultry, dogs, llamas and zoo animals. Optimising animal nutrition, streamlining freight movements, sourcing raw ingredients, ensuring sustainability, minimising waste, and keeping customers and neighbours happy are company goals. We learned how these are achieved.

Main ingredients of pelletised or extruded stockfeed are grains and minerals. Wheat, barley and canola meal are staples. Almond husks, soya beans, lupins and salt may be added, depending upon the formula for end users. Qualified animal nutritionists supervise the mix. Seasonal variations, such as higher calcium or protein levels may be required at certain times, say for dairy herds.

Finished product is cooled and promptly delivered, mostly in bulk, within hours of completion, ensuring freshness. Samples of the product are routinely taken for testing and for any back up analysis.

With the mills working around the clock, they are highly automated, mainly through computerisation and the installation of internationally proven technology. This helps control labour costs and quality.

The Ridley processing plant is broadly divided into three areas: an older hammer mill processes products containing meat meal. A newer grinding mill processes solely ruminant feeds, and an administrative section provides oversight. There is also a constant flow of enormous tankers delivering raw ingredients and taking ordered pellets out to farms and other customers.

That one end user is the Melbourne Zoo and another is a research laboratory using mice was not surprising. Even pellets, made with fish meal and destined for fish farms are produced.

FeedSafe Australia accreditation, renewed upon successful annual audits, is essential to maintaining quality assurance at the plant.

With many farms having their own poultry for household consumption of eggs and meat, a WOF visit to a modern chicken enterprise was welcome. A chicken meat farm in the Strzelecki ranges was an eye opener for members.

Ilan & Paula Goldman and their two children purchased their property in late 2011 Mirboo North, moving from Melbourne 4½ years ago. They were keen to put into practice the methods of growing chickens developed by Joel Salatin in the USA. The approach is along more natural, organic lines, vastly different from the mass production methods of the big name chicken processors.

The genetics for the Goldman birds were also developed in the USA. Breeder farms supply fertile eggs to the hatchery. In the breeder farms the chickens are sectioned off into about a dozen hens to two roosters from which the eggs are gathered.

Subsequent day old chickens are purchased on a regular basis, from the hatchery located in Queensland, and flown to Tullamarine for Ilan to collect.

Once at Mirboo North the chickens are housed in a heat controlled brooders until they are about four weeks old. At this age they should be fully feathered and able to withstand the outdoors climate. The youngsters are then transferred to transportable shelters in the paddocks and moved daily to graze on grass. Electric fences and chicken netting are used to deter foxes.

The chickens are grown out on their balanced, high protein diet, plus pasture with its naturally available insects and minerals, for up to twelve weeks. The Goldmans mix and mill their own feed, thus ensuring it has no added chemicals. The predominantly wheat-based feed contains minerals, vitamins and meals (camelina, roasted soy bean, blood, fish, meat, bone and seaweed ). No antibiotics or pharmaceuticals are included.

When mature for processing, the chickens are transported, once again, for slaughter at a poultry abattoir in Albion, in Melbourne’s inner west, from where the freshly processed meat is collected the next day. The final product is sold at farmers markets in Coal Creek, Coburg and Warragul and to various speciality outlets (restaurants and butchers)


Women on Farms, West Gippsland traveled to the hills south of Yarragon to visit Clifden 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.

Clifden 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 www.alpaca.asn.au 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.

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 Heath Hill 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 Deniliquin 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 Strzeleckis where the ground was poorly drained boggy soil covered in large areas of tussocks, blackberries and bentgrass. 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.

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 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.

This month the Women On Farms group attended a 1400 acre farm near Willow Grove where Ben and Sarah Cumming manage a beef cattle property, assisted by Jim 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 cross-ways would catch water against the rows. Old silage ,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 Composting 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 trialing and careful planning as was shown on this informative visit.


The first farm visit for 2012 was to a familiar local enterprise at Darnum. Pig breeder, Bronwyn Cowan, an original member of our organisation some two decades past, welcomed members back to see progress with her niche piggery.

Given the rain of the previous week the paddocks of pigs of all ages and breeds, were happily enjoying the muddy conditions and the occasional bursts of sunshine. WOF members walked along the farm lanes while Bronwyn gave valuable insights into pig husbandry and intelligence. One fascinating observation she shared is of the tendency of sows with large litters to share the responsibility for providing milk for all their piglets. Charming as this image might be, WOF members were also guarded. Bronwyn explained how fiercely protective sows can be if any of their young brood are handled by humans very early in life.

The focus of the visit was on the challenges, pitfalls, opportunities and satisfaction of running a viable animal enterprise on a small scale. With the aim to produce both an optimum product and return custom, the pork leaving this farm has developed a solid reputation with which larger commercial productions cannot compete. Notwithstanding, this open range pig farm has to make a profit and does so through farmers’ markets in strategic locations.

Landrace, Tamworth, Saddleback, Berkshire, Wessex and various crosses in between satisfy Bronwyn’s interest in preserving rare pig breeds in Australia. Given that pigs were along the livestock arriving on the First Fleet in 1788, pork production has remained a mainstay of the Australian diet. Producers such as this farm at Darnum, compete successfully with the huge import trend towards cheap pork from North America. While fat levels in the meat have been reduced over time, flavour has been maximised, partly by pigs’ diet, by the open range approach and also by slaughter at the optimum time.

The production of market desirable pork is a goal which it appears that Bronwyn and her partner have well achieved.

The next event on the WOFWG calendar is the annual state-wide Gathering, this year in Buchan over 16-18 March. Members are keenly looking forward to this long weekend of fun events, farming activities and rural catch ups.

April’s farm visit was to hilly Loch, to the Charolais and Red Angus stud run by Noelene and Geoff King. When “Hazel Downs” was purchased by them 14 years ago they commented that the farm required a great deal of time knocking into shape to be a productive beef cattle property.

Now it is capable of running a one head to the acre. This stocking rate also requires considerable time hand feeding through winter. Also, silage and hay are cut, with fertilizer applied annually on a rotational basis.

Noelene commenced her stud cattle interests in 1983. Geoff had Shorthorns and Noelene had Herefords. When they came together they decided to diversify to Charolais. Whilst the Shorthorns have been replaced with Red Angus, the Kings find the Hereford, Charolais and Red Angus cross exceptionally well.

In addition to breeding their ideal animal, over the years the Kings have nurtured cattle management in many young people who have come to their Loch farm. They enjoy teaching how to prepare and show stud cattle. Each year they take cattle to the Stud Beef Victoria Handlers Camp.

Noelene is Chair of the Royal Melbourne Show Beef Cattle Committee and Geoff is a member of the Victorian Charolais Committee. Both are life members of the Berwick & District Agricultural Society and members of the Dandenong Agricultural Society. In recognition of her enthusiasm, commitment and willingness to share knowledge, in 2010 Noelene was awarded an Order of Australia Medal for her involvement in agricultural shows and the promotion of youth in agriculture.

Geoff and Noelene particularly enjoyed showing WOF members how to train cattle for showing. They use a traditional and sensitive “whisperer” approach to gain the animals’ trust. It was great to have an interactive opportunity on this farm visit, with some of the WOF women having an enjoyable go at leading the cattle on display.


The truly extraordinary collection of military memorabilia, taking Bernie Dingle and his wife over 25 years, was a special experience for WOF members in early May. Following Anzac Day commemorations, this museum visit was more than fitting.

What appears as a simple sign to a ‘Light Horse Museum’ off the Freeway at Nar Nar Goon is no indication of the vast array of weaponry, wagons, saddlery, photos, honour boards, medical items and stories which Bernie has put together.

WOF members were silenced as they listened to profoundly sad tales of the losses of Australian horses sent to war, of dogs, carrier pigeons, mules, camels, and of course, of men and women.

The museum is a complex of tableaux and authentic horse drawn military vehicles, of uniforms and of so many reminders of the cruelty of war, then and now.

On a less emotional level, field catering for armies of men, as they fought in WWI front lines, proved fascinating. Bernie has found and restored a number of wagons, often pulled by mules, carrying huge panniers of hot food, baking bread and boiling the billy, for hungry and needy troops. Without adequate nutrition and clean water, men and animals at war are more than vulnerable to disease and death.

As the WOF members explored the sheds of artifacts, Bernie told story after story, quoting astounding facts of battle losses, of horse-laden ships at sea, of women nursing the injured under leaking canvas and of heroic acts. It was some vital acknowledgement of animals at war, to hear of the ‘Dicken Medal’ for animal bravery equaling the Victoria Cross.

Finally, WOF members were relieved to learn that legalities are in place to ensure the collection is kept together in the future for the sake of history.

WOF’s June event is a trip to Port Melbourne and the Docklands, with a cruise of the import/export shipping areas so important to the agricultural economy.

Peter Harry, Head of Corporate Affairs, Port of Melbourne welcomed us to the Port’s Education Centre, where he gave us a brief overview of the Port and its activities.

This included the Port’s historical development and how it is both geographically and economically connected with Melbourne. Handling around 2.5 million containers annually, it is Australia’s largest container and general cargo port.

The port deals with clean trades including around 1,000 new motor vehicles daily. The Port of Melbourne has 34 commercial berths, including two modern purpose-built, four-berth international container terminals. Multi-purpose berths handle cargoes ranging from timber to motor vehicles, and there are specialised berths for dry cargoes, including cement, grain, sugar, fly ash and gypsum. Dedicated facilities are available for a variety of liquids such as molasses through to crude oil and petrochemicals, using the latest handling methods. The Port has a wharf length of 7 kilometres, and different berths handle different cargoes.

The Port of Melbourne Corporation solely manages the Port, it is not an operator, and they are available at any time to transport 24 international carriers. Peter then expained the trade flows, and the commodities involved in both exports and imports. Milk powder is one of the largest exports to Asia.

There is already a visible increase in the figures to March this financial year (both imports and exports). The drivers for this continued growth are the population increase, our increased rainfall (there is a correlation between the rainfall and grain containers), and the regional economic performance.

Peter then spoke on Port Phillip Bay, gateway to the Port. It was interesting to see the shipping routes, and to hear of the Bay’s good environmental health and as a recreational asset. For water sports and fishing the bay has 264 kilometres of coastline, it supports penguins, dolphins, seals, and 3 million people. We left to the Port’s Education Centre to travel by ferry around the Port. It was an interesting and informative afternoon, traveling to Williamstown and then back around the various docks, and disembarking at “Jeff’s Shed”. We saw many aspects of the Port’s operations, and despite being a cold day, the trip was most enjoyable.


WOFWG members went happily back to their childhoods for August’s farm visit to Animals on the Move (‘AOTM’), a unique farm based on a compact property at Gembrook.

Leonie Woodham and family took on the enterprise over fifteen years ago. They built it up and diversified its activities. They now offer franchise opportunities to other animal lovers to take animals into the community. On top of this success, AOTM has won business awards for its administration, business model and efficiency.

WOFWG members appreciated that there are also career opportunities for young animal lovers, with the enterprise being a hands-on venue for training and certification of animal carers. The business has appropriate accreditation from government regulatory bodies to keep and display protected species. A significant benefit of this is that the features, nutrition, health and habitat needs of these animals are explained to enthusiastic audiences. This widens the understanding and appreciation of these animals, hopefully ensuring their greater respect and protection. In vans, trailers and specially designed containers, trained handlers take animals into the community.

There is a wide range of farmyard and Australian native animals. Younger animals, such as lambs, calves, rabbit litters and chickens are very popular with junior school groups. Leonie explained that each of the AOTM programs is unique, designed to encourage a caring and nurturing approach towards animals in domesticity, as well as in the wild.

AOTM aims at a range of client groups, not just educational opportunities for school children. Displays are booked for corporate or public events and also for markets or aged care centres. Animals which participate are not just the usual farm yard creatures – sheep, cattle, goats, gees and so on, but also reptiles, birds and other wild life.

WOFWG’s September activity is a visit to the MacKay’s dairy property “Arnum” at Poowong East. Here, WOFWG will see the principles of LandCare and wildlife protection put into practice.

Green hills against blue skies, Friesian cows peacefully grazing, native birds calling and property owners taking a break. Yes, it sounds idyllic. The day that WOFWG members visited the MacKay’s dairy property ‘Arnum’ at Poowong East was a temporary reprieve in a spell of wild, wet weather. The aims of the visit included hearing the MacKay’s farming philosophy, seeing this approach in practice and observing the principles of LandCare and wildlife protection in situ. For our members it was a most satisfying experience.

‘Balance’ and ‘care’ appear among the corner posts of farm management on this 500 acre enterprise. The Mackays are located amidst the steep and challenging hills of the Poowong area, with its high rainfall and testing terrain.

The dairy herd consists of 240 Friesian/Holsteins, purpose bred as durable not necessarily volume milkers. Genetic selection for strong legs and good feet is essential due to the hills. Heifers are crossed with lowline bulls and offspring subsequently marketed as pre-packed meat. Around the dairy, a 28 unit herringbone, there are extensive sealed areas, the most significant being a large under-cover feed pad. What a wise investment for cows and humans when wet days can be the norm. The concrete pad also contributes to the preservation of pasture and to protection of new born calves, sheltered from fox predation.

The MacKays have farmed ‘Arnum’ for over 40 years and are working to their original aim in their buying the property in the early 1970s. Peter explained that they would like to leave the farm as a better place for animals, people and the environment. With the thought put into managing and recycling cattle effluent, soil erosion, stream purity and vegetation, they are on track. WOFWG members were impressed with the evident improvements made over the decades to this challenging dairy farm.

WOFWG’s October activity is a fascinating visit to Mal Stewart’s Wine Services (consultancy and bottling) at both Drouin & Yarragon.


“Gheringa Farm” in the low hills of Pakenham was the picturesque setting for our March farm visit, the first for 2011.

Its proud owner, Jane Greenman, gave an insight into riding, horse equipment and life with large horses. Jane is a licensed racehorse trainer, a qualified judge and dressage instructor. Her specialities with horses are nutrition and genetics. This is obvious, as she has raised, not only the tallest horse in the world – Luscombe Nodram (“Noddy”) but also “Nash” a Suffolk Punch, standing 18.1hh

Noddy is a Shire breed of horse. He stands 20.2hh, a grey gelding who has appeared all over the world in newspapers, magazines and TV shows. His favourite food is liquorice! He is currently managed by a commercial entertainment company but along with Nash is also being prepared for the Sydney Royal Easter Show.

Shire horses are originally from England They are a powerful build, used for pulling heavy loads and carrying knights in armour. They usually grow between 17.2hh – 18.2hh and can be coloured black, brown, or grey. There are currently less than 2,000 in the world.

Nash, as a Suffolk Punch gelding, is mainly used for farm work and special exhibitions. He has also appeared in newspapers and TV programs in Australia.

Suffolk Punch also come from England. They are strong and powerful for pulling, have a quiet temperament, are hard working, and loyal. They are mainly used for farm work and riding, growing to 17 hh.-18 hh. and are varying shades of chestnut. There are less than 300 in the world today (7 in Australia).

Jane kindly invited WOF members to inspect her charming home. It bears witness to her enthusiastic, interesting life and travels. We were all thoroughly absorbed and thankful that Jane shared a small part of her life and knowledge with us.

Caravan eggs! On a sublime autumn day the WOFWG visit to a unique family farm at Ellinbank provided some fresh concepts and valuable reminders.

Healthy hens lay organic eggs in old caravans parked strategically around dairy paddocks. Cattle choose which minerals they want from a smorgasbord array. Maremma dogs cheerfully live with and shepherd their allocated vans of hens. Dung beetles ensure the rich soil stays that way. In short, the Wallace family oversees a fascinating enterprise.

Wendy and Peter, with Toby and Ashley, their sons, run this certified organic dairy farm, complemented by a free range egg business. Both activities are carefully integrated so that the hens benefit from edibles in the cow manure and the pastures gain from the poultry’s contribution.

Further, due to the organic farming certification and the holistic values of the farmers themselves, artificial chemicals and fertilisers are not used. In the dairy, for example, the medicine cupboard for the cows contained treatments such as tincture of garlic, cider vinegar, colloidal silver and various homeopathic remedies.

This farm provides both diversity and integration, but the foundation for the success of the activities is respect for the soil itself. Further, wherever possible natural approaches are taken to animal ailments and nutritional needs. For example, the diet of the laying hens is based on what the cattle eat and what grubs and bugs are unearthed from manure pats. These approaches are based on the fundamental values practised by this busy farming family.

WOF members enjoyed an informative farm walk around this picturesque and hilly property, a contrast to the flood prone flats of Cohuna, where WOF had been the previous week to the annual state wide gathering.

Farms, especially modern dairy farms, cannot function smoothly without a reliable power supply. With this important fact in mind, the May visit was organised to Powerworks at Morwell.

What a fascinating experience this was. Many members had not previously experienced the enormity of everything to do with the generation of electricity. Starting with an information session and video in the education centre, the inspection of the plant reminded us of the vast expanses of brown coal – lignite – in Victoria. We learned of the extent of this brown coal deposit, the reminder of ancient forests which covered Victoria from Ballan in the west through to Cann River. At Morwell, the coal seams are the deepest and the most easily recovered.

In addition to the size of the coal deposits, the machinery used to dredge the coal, the expansive open cut mines, the conveyor systems and the related building infrastructure were all impressive. Two guides took the WOF group into the building housing the boilers and turbines. Here, we noted that the temperature of the steam generated reaches over 500 deg.C.

Powerworks staff were keen to promote our appreciation of the company’s efforts to make power generation cleaner and less damaging to the environment.

Following this site tour, we took the opportunity to travel to adjacent Callignee South. Here we travelled through what were burnt forests and farmland, now re-generating after the 2009 bushfires. Significantly, we visited a newly constructed home, built where the fires totally destroyed the former buildings. Fire retardant materials and fire resistant building design were among the features explained to us by the relieved property owner. In this case, the new home is now complete but it was evident from the story told that the trauma of the fatal day is not far from the minds of such residents.

Farming women love to swap notes and keep up to date with the goings on in others’ lives and enterprises. For this reason, the calendar of events now includes an occasional monthly meeting designed just for catching up. In June, on what might have been the coldest day of the year to date, women gathered at a member’s property at Neerim. It was an ideal day for gathering warmly indoors, out of the mud, the gumboots and the icy weather.

The scenic uplands in this region of West Gippsland provide expansive views of rolling dairy hills, with the more distant Strzelecki Ranges. The day’s activities provided opportunities to learn more about Arabian horses and endurance riding, as well as a walk through the local historic cemetery. Headstones which are clear enough to be read indicate the importance of settlers’ names in geographic features. For example: Hamono, McDougal and McCullough are district road names which link back to earlier farming families. A few WOF members also found links to distant relatives who had been interred at Neerim.

Cattle are the dominant livestock on West Gippsland farms. Perhaps the change of scenery – to sheep and their fleeces – might explain the popularity of the July activity. The Australian Sheep and Wool show at Bendigo proved to be well worth the four hour bus trip for those WOF members keen to get away for the day

This annual sheep event has been showcasing Australia’s top wool growers and prime lamb producers for decades. The show has expanded to attract thousands of fans of woollen fashion, food and fibre. It was also obvious that this show provides the opportunity for studs to market their stock. With the return of good seasons and viable pastures, there was an evidently strong interest from purchasers and farmers keen to re-build herds with new blood.

Many pavilions were overflowing with displays of craft activities and items made from wool and blends. Other buildings housed a wide range of sheep breeds, fleece competitions and shearing equipment.

While wool tended to be the dominant focus, meat sheep and dual purpose varieties were well represented. For the craft-oriented, there was interest in the coloured breeds, as well as in fleeces from possum, alpaca and rabbit.

On the arena and in wonderful sunshine, sheep dog trials took place all day, with a notably pleasing number of women handlers working their kelpies and border collies.

The feature sheep for the 2011 show was the Dorper breed. It is reputedly a fast growing, meat producing sheep particularly known for the ability to adapt and survive in a variety of climatic and grazing conditions. The Dorper was originally bred from the more arid regions of South Africa in the 1930s. Initially imported into Australia in the mid 1990s, its suitability to most climatic conditions has seen the Dorper develop into one of the largest meat sheep breeds in Australia today. The Dorper breeds are low maintenance and easy care, are non- selective grazers and can thrive in harsh conditions.

A lovely early spring day saw forty two of our members meeting for our August activity at Dr Stephen Cole’s property, ‘Balla Balla’ on the Baxter Tooradin Road, Pearcedale. The Pearcedale countryside was looking its best, having come out of a wet winter. Daffodils were out in bloom waving in the breeze. To the south of the farmland and across the bay French Island could be seen in the distance.

Stephen runs a Red Poll cattle stud as well as his professional practice as a veterinary surgeon, specializing in animal dentistry. We were all enthralled when Stephen told us of his dental work at the Melbourne and Werribee Zoos. At the time of Stephen starting his veterinary studies he remembered that no more than one lecture was dedicated to dental work in animals. After becoming interested in the dental side of veterinary practice he found it necessary to pursue specific study in America.

On the property, the paddock rotation of the cattle every month has the heifers in good condition ready for breeding or sale. Stephen has carried out many improvements over the years, one being dividing the farm into smaller paddocks for these rotations to be effective.

Since his buying ‘Balla Balla’, reported to mean ‘muddy’, Stephen has also carried out research on the property and the homestead. Much of this information was gained from people driving up to the front door wishing to share their memories of days gone by. We all found this history most interesting, especially as it was illustrated by a picture presentation Stephen put together for us.

For our September activity, Women on Farms West Gippsland, was enlightened by a most informative day at Chisholm Institute’s Cranbourne campus. Here, the very informative staff made all feel welcome.

After an introductory presentation in the auditorium, there was a tour of the campus library, classrooms, nursery and plant propagation department, and landscaping area (focus of one of the most popular courses taught).

The glass house covering 1500sq metres intensively grows vegetables in a controlled environment. Computerised, the facility operates 24/7, 365 days a year, using the latest technology to monitor carbon dioxide, temperature, pH levels, light, drainage and nutrients. The Institute concentrates on growing tomatoes, eggplant and capsicum, which are sold to wholesale and farm gate markets. The tomato crop is planted in July and grown through to June the next year. There is a capacity to produce 30 tonnes of tomatoes, with plants to 12 metres high!

Also of great interest was the newly constructed Centre for Sustainable Water Management. The Department of Health requires all water treatment plant operators to be fully qualified, therefore the primary purpose of the Centre is to train students in water management. Not only does Chisholm provide such training on water treatment, recycling and efficient water usage, but also on laying pipes for drainage. Another benefit of this operation is water for the irrigation of the Institute’s crops.

The day at Chisholm was completed with a tour around the little known campus wetlands. This was planted out by students in 2003/2004 and consists of a sequence of 4 ponds through which waste water filters to render it re-usable.

Farmers meet many challenges, we know it! A good balance of optimism and opportunity is often needed to get through the hard times presented by nature and unstable markets.

September’s farm visit provided proof of these observations. At Pakenham Upper WOF members inspected two enterprises focussed on apple and pear production. The Harding orchard markets whole fruit, mainly apple and pear varieties. Not far away at Bellevue Orchards the Russo family produces fruit juices under the ‘Summer Snow’ label. Both properties showed evidence of careful planning, tidy tree management and considerable investment in machinery and shedding to produce the end result.

The ‘Summer Snow’ concept was explained as an opportunity which grew out of adversity. When a summer hail storm ripped most of the apple harvest from the trees some years ago, this weather calamity led to the idea to juice the damaged fruit in order to retrieve some value. Thus, from this 1998 disaster has grown a successful fruit juicing activity right on farm. Crushing, juicing, filtering and bottling of the fruit, in various blends and without additives, results in a high end consumer product sold mainly through fruit shops and farmers markets. With eight different juices, including apple and pear, tangy apple and lemon and refreshing Royal Gala, the Russo family tempted WOF members to taste and purchase a fresh beverage based entirely on locally grown fruit.

At the Harding orchard, WOF members had contact with the whole fruit, noting the equipment required to handle a large fruit harvest with maximum efficiency. Again, tasting and opportunity to purchase added to the understanding of the apple industry. What sweeter experience of spring than to walk among apple trees with their pink and white blossom full of perfume and bees, then to drink and eat the naturally sweet end products?

Our Tuesday 8th November activity is a farm visit to a Nar Nar Goon property with Limousin X vealers, Australian miniature goats, Great Dane dogs and Appaloosa horses.

‘Paurol Park’, a one hundred acre grazing property on Seven Mile Road, Nar Nar Goon was the venue for the final farm visit for 2011. Carol Smith enjoys not only her WOF membership but the diversity of animals she breeds, raises on this lush farm and shows. She is assisted in this enterprise by her family and is clearly kept very busy. Throughout the year there is always an animal about to deliver youngsters, so holidays are a rarity.

Limousin X vealers with Red Angus and Charolais lines, Australian miniature goats, Great Dane dogs and Appaloosa horses are the focus of the property. Carol explained the breeding principles she pursues with her harlequined dogs, her spotted horses and her scaled down goats. Colour and temperament are among her key goals, with showing of the horses and dogs being part of successful marketing.

There was a final surprise. No-one expected a sleepy pet snake to be included in the display! Carol brought him out and explained what she had learned about the management of such reptiles.

All animals endeared themselves to the WOF visitors, most of whom had to contend with local flooding and torrential rains to be part of this fascinating visit.


The community of Bayles is home to a successful business with international reach. WOF members visited the food drying plant established by the Scalzo family. The factory was developed over 15 years ago in original dairy premises. However, now there is an array of equipment for spray drying liquids, roasting nuts, cooking and drying meats, and blending various seed mixes for the bread industry.

The Scalzo brothers, of Italian origin, found a market niche with their food drying industry which reportedly has few competitors in Australia. Cashews from Vietnam and whole linseed from Canada are among the imported foods to which the Scalzo processes add value. Many of the dried products, especially the meat extractive powder, go off shore for instant noodles, mainly to Korea and Malaysia. Meat sources include beef, pork, chicken, lamb and even kangaroo.

That this food business generates foreign income is impressive given the small workforce required to run the complex plant at Bayles.

The energy needs of the drying equipment are so high that heat is generated onsite via boilers fuelled with brown briquettes from Yallourn. However, electricity use is essential for the large freezers and cool rooms storing raw product.

An impressive aspect of the inspection was the emphasis on hygiene, meeting numerous regulatory requirements as well as being ever ready for audit by authorities such as the Australian Quarantine Inspection Service. International concerns about mad cow disease have necessarily imposed standards around the use of beef products. Further, sampling is routinely undertaken for microbial presence, with off-site testing undertaken and recorded.

We all gained a sense of this enterprise being a leader in its field. No doubt staff loyalty is an element of Scalzo success in the important food industry.

After lunch a visit was made to Bandicoot Corner, a small reserve of Crown land managed by the Cardinia Environment Coalition (CEC). The reserve provides a safe haven for two species of bandicoot and other native wildlife. A CEC volunteer gave a short guided tour, with WOF members keeping alert for bandicoot sightings. This quiet corner of the former Koo Wee Rup swamp did not deliver a bandicoot on this occasion.

Red-Eared Slider Turtles – heard of them?  Heard of Cane Toads?  From what research officers at DPI’s Ellinbank facility described, some of their research may be critical to whether Victoria has to contend with a pest problem as damaging as the cane toad blight in Australia’s tropical north.

This study was among those presented to the WOF group when our monthly visit in April took us to Ellinbank.  Here we were hosted and feasted on current research presentations.  Now, back to the Red-Eared Slider Turtles which were brought into Australia as ‘pets’ from the USA and which, when foolishly released into dams and creeks seriously threaten native aquatic species.  DPI officers cautioned that this research is new and thus tentative.  We all felt that we needed to spread the word to keep an eye out for unusual dark shelled and red-eared turtles in local dams, streams and public reserves.  See them – call the DPI!

Other topics presented included studies into behaviour and psychology of dairy cows.  A benefit of this work is appreciating how to maximise cows’ trust and stability in order to minimise potential loss of milk production.  Down the hill we inspected large feed pads and undercover feeding areas where experiments are undertaken into the impact of different regimes of fodder and cow management.  The DPI milk a total herd count of up to 500 cows, with various studies into feeding strategies, methane minimisation and drought preparedness in place.

Climate and rainfall patterns, as linked to global barometric changes, are part of the climate change studies.  Separately there is a well-researched and supported program for new landholders needing to understand the land: soil health, weed management and pest control, for example. 

All in all, DPI impressed everyone with the range of activities being undertaken on our doorstep.  We saw the evident commitment of the staff involved in such important support for the rural community in Gippsland.

Our May farm visit was to familiar environs for those members with cattle – dense, green pasture in undulating paddocks. The particular point of interest, however, was the cattle shed. This farm is a dairy which minimises grazing and maximises cattle comfort (and hence their productivity) through the provision of a ‘live-in’ free stall shed. The massive structure is 200m by 20m, covering what was at one stage a feedlot pad. Now, the shed shelters, feeds and protects the dairy herd from weather extremes.

John and Cobie Giliam of Nilma North kindly hosted our group, explaining the aims, economics and practicalities of their enterprise. John and Cobie are 3rd generation dairy folk with progressive, achievement oriented eyes. They see the future of dairying continuing to flex under climate change and market fluctuations. The free stall approach they have developed has been in operation for over 12 months now, with the herd gradually adjusting to shedding and reduced, if any, open grazing. John explained the greater efficiencies in pasture management of cutting and carrying pasture to the cattle rather than have them trample and degrade the high production paddocks.

This is important to the aim of self-sufficiency with fodder.

The herd of 320 cows has 280 presently in milk, with the shed housing close to 240. Not only is the management of the herd intensive, but so is the work in monitoring cost inputs and outputs. Members were impressed with the statistics John keeps as a way of measuring the true efficiency of this approach to dairying. We understand that such free stall barns had their Victorian origins in the west of the state. Barn-housed dairy cows are common in the northern hemisphere where colder weather has a significant impact on milk production.

Once again, members felt proud that such a modern and results focussed farming enterprise is in our own area. Thanks were extended to the Giliams for having us with our myriad of questions, curiosity and passion for all things rural.

Tasting the final product was a fitting conclusion to the June farm meeting for WOF West Gippsland. Welsh Black cattle at Tynong were visited, being the proudly owned stud herd of Jill and Allan Furborough.

With so many WOF members involved in cattle production, especially beef cattle grazing, it was enlightening to hear about a lesser known breed in our area. The Furboroughs gave a detailed description of their passion for this beef breed. With the cattle shed tidied and adorned with show ribbons, it was evident that part of the marketing strategy for the cattle is competitive showing.

In fact, at the conclusion of the visit, once the gourmet sausages were enjoyed, Jill gave a demonstration of her grooming techniques to prepare her stock for shows. With interbreed classes important – that is, where the Welsh Blacks are compared with other breeds such as Angus and Murray Greys, the value of grooming was evident.

Key qualities which the cattle displayed to WOF visitors and which, we understand, are evident in the show ring are: docility and ease of handling, excellent carcass conformation, vigorous and fertile bulls and cows over an extended life span and hardiness in all climatic conditions. Jill commented that during past summers when days of mid 40 temperatures have been challenging, these cattle, with their British origins, have coped very well.

The Welsh Black breed is now so much better understood by WOF members who are always grateful to those farmers prepared to take time out and explain their choice of farming enterprise as well as the more detailed aspects of successful management, whether cattle or carrots!

About 30 members of the Women On Farms group met at Radfords Meat Processing Plant in Warragul on Tuesday , 6 July.

We were greeted by Robert Radford, Paul Sheedy and Paul MacFarlane. Radfords processes meat for the domestic market. They have won numerous awards and accreditations. With a work force of about a hundred, most are sourced locally with no foreign workers brought in.

They can process up to 60 cattle per hour. Each beast carcass can be traced by its ear butt, from the farmer to the butcher, all over Australia. Cattle are rested before going into be processed. This reduces stress and gives better quality meat.

Due to new generation ethnics, more and more of the beast is being utilized. Offal, once discarded, is now in demand by the Chinese and Vietnamese communities. Companies come to Radfords with some very interesting requests. Foetal blood from unborn calves was once collected before the process became too expensive.

On the day they were processing sheep, and members going into the facility had to don plastic coats, hair nets and shoe covers. Groups of 8 were taken for a tour of the processing floor, new chiller and boning room.

Outside, Radfords has put in a water recycling plant, as no town water is available and trucking in water was very expensive. Radfords is the first meat processing plant in Australia to install this process, using overseas technology with local tradesmen and other processors are showing interest in the process. They are able to process 80,000 litres a day and the water so purified is better that town supply. There is no need to irrigate effluent as before. The filteried solids go into compost. Radfords is still finalizing tests to get permission from Government for treatment lagoons.

We then moved on to Lardner Park where we had lunch in the Board Room. The Chief Executive Officer of Lardner Park Events talked about the history of Lardner Park and their plans for the future. He then showed members through the recently opened Entertainment Centre, a venue which impressed all the members.

Cold and drizzle, mud and hilly paddocks – none deter members of WOF West Gippsland! Such was the situation for the August farm visit to an organic farm at Piedmont. With the Latrobe River streaming past and the adjacent forests looming tall and damp, Liz Clay and Wally Brown showed members over their property.

Winter months tend to be dormant ones for fruit trees and vegetable crops. Yet it was an excellent time to see the benefit of green manure crops, composting, fallow paddock management and weed control. With Liz explaining the hard work over many years to control blackberry and bracken fern infestations, the clean result proved the value of the commitment.

Organic farming links to a holistic approach to the environment and life in general. Liz explained the importance of the practices which emphasise avoiding chemical residues and maximising the inter-relationships across soils, climate, plants, animals and the humans who set out to manage them all. In a small acreage in a valley setting near Noojee, Liz and Wally aim for optimal returns from a diversity of products, rather than from any monoculture. Their rich clay soils see harvests of potatoes, maize, beans, peas, carrots, lettuce, strawberries, leeks, beetroots, hazelnuts and more.

Members learned of the requirements for certification and accreditation of organic farming properties. The supporters of farmers markets provide a keen if not guaranteed demand for the certified produce from organic farms such as this.

On a foggy morning Women on Farms arrived at Margaret Young’s property in Yarragon South. Margaret is a member of Women on Farms and two years ago bought her dream property of 15 acres set among the climbing hills.

Margaret was a school teacher and after retiring decided to return to her childhood roots, going in search of a property which would fulfil all her requirements. Sold her house in Caulifield quickly and bought the property she now calls home.

Margaret’s house is surrounded by a one acre garden which is work in progress. The garden is divided up into ‘rooms’, herb garden, orchard, bankment plants, hen house and just a delight to walk around. There is a flowering plant to see in whichever way you look and lift your eyes above ground level and one is spell bound by the wonderful northerly views looking down towards Yarragon and beyond.

The 15 acres are agisted to another family who run cattle. The property has two dams. The largest dam required work to stop the leakage upon Margaret’s arrival, all the water had to be drained out twice. Thanks to a wet winter this dam is now over flowing and we were able to see trout jumping during our inspection time around the dams.

The meeting was a relaxed and friendly one with time to chat and many members went home with plant cuttings from Margaret’s garden. Margaret also shared with us something of her previous life when she joined an older performing women’s circus. Margaret has been called upon to stilt walk in the local community and she is happy to perform to keep her skills up.

The alpine trout business at Noojee proved a popular venue for the Women on Farms West Gippsland October farm visit.

This was the second local fish farm inspected. Previously we had been to an indoor barramundi enterprise at Garfield. By contrast, the Alpine Fish Farm covers a number of open hectares on the Latrobe River flats. The river is essential to the farm, with the operators licensed and regulated to use precious river water.

Trout of various species (brown, golden and rainbow) and salmon are raised to market size in a carefully managed series of holding ponds. The oxygen content of the pondages is critical to the health of the fish. Key determinant of the size of the fish, more so than age, is nutrition. Fish pellets sourced from Tasmania have proven to be key to rapid fish growth. The pellets are around 40% protein and are obviously highly palatable, by the frenetic response of the otherwise invisible fish when pellets are scattered over the ponds.

The Batarilos, Michael and Mate, have owned the farm since early 2009. While they were preceded by a number of previous owners, it appears that financial success of the business was elusive. When Mate explained the number of very costly inputs – electricity, water and heavy earth-working machinery, for example – it was more than evident that fish farming exceeds the usual farming overheads.

Most locals have visited the farm to purchase fresh fish or to try trout fishing from the heavily stocked ponds. Yet, the Melbourne fish markets and fish outlets are the main income sources. Others include the supply of trout youngsters to farm dam owners and to water management bodies such as Blue Rock Dam. Onsite, in addition to the raising ponds, there are facilities for the cleaning, smoking and sales of fish. Many WOF members took the chance to buy the prize product. The biggest delight of the day was a live catch! One of our more senior members threw in a line to haul back a trout in less time than it took to bait the hook!

The WOF group was most impressed with the energy and vision of the owners, and was equally grateful for the considerable time given to explaining the details of this fascinating local, rural enterprise.

Women on Farms West Gippsland (‘WOF’) finished their 2010 calendar with a three day exploration of rural activities around Bairnsdale. Forty five members enjoyed a well organised and highly memorable trip to the east, appreciating the difference in rainfall, terrain and soils from what is familiar in West Gippsland.

While the return train journey was a highlight in itself, the farm enterprises visited were impressive and diverse.

Leadoux Turkeys welcomed the WOF group to their semi-intensive turkey property, with the birds housed in deep litter sheds and later in grassed yards. The turkeys are slaughtered and processed onsite, with the product subsequently sold at farmers markets and selected butchers.

On the Mitchell river flats the enormity of intense vegetable production was impressive. The scale of Bulmer’s vegetable farm had many of us in awe, let alone some of the statistics. For example, five million lettuces are planted per annum! This vast farm sells mostly through Sydney markets, where refrigerated transports deliver specially chill-packed vegetables including broccoli, capsicum, sweet corn, spinach and many lettuce varieties.

At Tamcal’s property near Swan Reach, the goals of ‘opportunistic’ beef feed lotting were explained, as well as the horse breeding program. Here the intention is to breed a stockhorse cross equine suitable in conformation and temperament for showing. Members with a keen ear for details were amused to note that the property visited was once owned by Slim Dusty, the late country singer.

Culinaire Herbs, Kitchen Garden and Cooking School provided an opportunity to appreciate and taste the products of the rich soils. Lunch, featuring produce from the garden, was served on a verandah overlooking the scenic Tambo River.

Now, what a treat to visit a feather farm! Also located near the Tambo River, Tambo Fine Feathers proudly showed WOF members the range of birds nurtured for their exotic feather production. Pheasants of many colours, peafowl, guinea fowl and several domestic roosters, are kept in separate pens to ensure that the feathers produced are in excellent condition for sale to craft workers, fly fishermen and milliners.

The final visit was to a wildflower farm at Sarsfield. Here, on 38 acres the current owners are developing their Sydney and Japanese markets. Twice weekly, refrigerated trucks, the same which convey the Lindenow lettuces, take proteas, waratahs, leucospermum, and other wildflowers to interstate agents and outlets. The relatively harsh growing conditions are balanced by sandy soil and reticulated.

water. WOF members learned about the exacting processes involved in selecting and preparing flowers for sale. The number of hands and agents required to deliver flowers fresh to distant markets caused interest. There was also admiration for the couple who have taken up this property, their having moved out of the corporate world into the joys and new knowledge of flower production.

This multi-farm, Bairnsdale adventure was a highlight of the year for WOF, giving an appreciation of how different farming can be in adjacent regions. Evening meals gave opportunities to talk excitedly about the enterprises visited. Many WOFers also made sure they tasted the local produce and wines..