Out N About

2014 - 2010

The reports below are for Women on Farms West Gippsland farm visits for the years 2010 to 2014.


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..