Out N About

2021 - 2015

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 reports.

2021

Like most other clubs and community groups across Victoria, Women on Farms West Gippsland missed their regular meetings and activities during the various pandemic shutdowns in 2020.  Now we are back into farm visits, swapping home produce and enjoying the rural areas in which most of us live.

One person celebrating the farming life is Jude Conway of ‘The Edge’ farm, Yarragon South.  When we visited her and listened to her story of farming we all were doubly appreciative of the open spaces and fresh air around us.  Yarragon South has more than its share of hilly roads, vast views and demanding conditions.  Jude has made the most of these aspects in her coming to farming at a ‘more mature age’. The steep forty acres, divided into a number of fenced paddocks is home to cattle, alpacas and sheep.  Closer to the house are laying hens and a vegetable garden. One dam plus numerous springs water the property.  Several newish sheds house the small dairy and animal husbandry requisites.  Very clearly, this is a lifestyle farm developed with much thought, learning, passion for animals and boundless energy.

In some ways, for those members from dairying backgrounds, this farm was a surprise.  There was a milking stand for one cow.  Hand milking has given way to a portable powered machine. In the dairy kitchen was a modern butter churner imported from Europe and a small milk separator.  Jude’s dairy products are mainly for family use and for exchange among friends and neighbours.  Animals killed for family consumption are home butchered after humane slaughter.  We all appreciated Jude’s comment that the livestock are assured of a good life and a good death.  In such a small scale, personal operation this appears very achievable, and consistent with the obvious love of animals.

Members went home after this property visit with images of the breath taking scenery from the 400m altitude and with admiration for a family which has started from scratch, learned a lot and which is a very active part of the Yarragon South community.

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.

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Warragul is the home of a unique, specialised education opportunity. CCG (Community College Gippsland) runs a harness racing learning centre at the Logan Park harness raceway.  Students have an experienced, committed teacher in Jenni Lewis who spoke with Women on Farms members about the horses, training strategies and pupils.  With several WOF members being equine enthusiasts, there was still much to learn about trotting and pacing. The difference between these gaits is the footfall of the horse. Pacing is understood to have a genetic component. Not all harness horses have  pacing genes with  related musculature and so they become trotters.

Certificate level, hands-on learning is available in stablehand, horse training and horse driving categories.  The Centre is a fully operational racing stable with its own school horses for all levels of learner. These horses, Standardbreds, either leased to or owned by the Centre, are yarded there where they are cared for 24/7.  Thus, students learn finer details of fitness development and proper nutrition while having the essential, manual work of yard cleaning.

The learning involves participation in race days when the horses are floated to various harness tracks within a reasonable distance  – Cranbourne, Bendigo and Ballarat, as well as at Warragul.  Students learn how to prepare horses, from feeding, to health care, to harnessing to driving.  Under the very experienced eye of Jenni there is an understanding developed of not only horse behaviour but that of teams working together. She explained that horse confidence and trust are essential elements she aims to impart.

Delivered part time, on site and on line, over up to 18 months, the courses are usual licence requirements to compete in racing.  Students from across Victoria and even from interstate are accepted.

Finally, we understand the Centre is on the cusp of joining the ‘HERO’ programme whereby retired racing Standardbreds can be prepared and re-homed for a riding future. This seems to be a very positive step for students who generally are horse lovers.

 

2019

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. 

2018

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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.
  •  

Paparazzi

  • 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.

2017

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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.

2016

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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.

2015

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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.