Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Farm Tour

No, not a tour of our farm, though I do have to admit it has been suggested more than once- Especially by friends with little ones, as our animals are so quiet.

But yes we actually paid to take our daughter and visit someone else’s farm, to look at their chickens, pigs and cows.

commerical free range trailer
This local family business, Freckle Farm, run by Rob, Deb and thier children are basically doing pretty much what we do, but operating on a commercial level. Though early days, they are servicing our local area with fresh eggs, local pork and beef through a local abattoir and butcher- so minimal ‘travel miles’. And also selling direct to thier 'subscribers'.
We went with the intention of learning a thing or two and supporting a local enterprise of similar values to our own. I must admit, we were reasonably reassured to know we’re not running a bad show! And that our practices can transfer to a larger scale... not that we have any plans as such, but it is tempting.

Freckle farm is the type of farm as you imagine as a child; with free ranging animals, happily grazing on pasture and doing all the things that chickens, pigs and cows should do.

Their holistic management of the property and rotational approach to managing their land and stock was very similar to how we have to operate, being on such a small area (by comparison).  

They had full servicing trailers for hen houses, with built in waterers and feeders that they connected to their bore system, where we have small tractors that we move around or just free roaming birds.

We also breed chickens for the table, not just for eggs. So the issue of separating or crossing breeds was not a logistical issue for them, as it is for us.

They also breed thier own flock- currently trying to meet the local demand! And have around 1500 birds (at the moment) including chicks. That we (along with most other kiddies- yes the chick was supposed to be for the cub not me) got to hold them. Thier brooders were large purpose built boxes/container with heat lamps (though really not neccesary in the qld summer). In thier 'brooder shed', so almost a large version of wardrobe conversion.

homemade chicken tractor with back yard chooks

They also utilised their own water and waste/ grey water systems, as we do to feed their ‘food forest’; similar to our ‘dwarf orchid’. With a very similar mantra to ours, that everything has to be productive or have a purpose.

They also compost and have worm farms, which I would like to have seen more of. Particularly for activities to engage the kids, though obviously our little one would have been too young; there were plenty a little older that would have love getting dirty!
All the kids did however get an egg... not to eat, but to throw into the pig pen for the pigs. I assure you pigs love eggs! Well any dairy really.
Freckle farm pig housing
It was only a short walk from the house to the nearest pig paddock (on this occasion). Which we were grateful for, as although it is supposedly autumn it was still very hot!
These paddocks rotate and are therefore temporary; housing and electric fencing.

Short nosed Berkshire

 It was interesting for us, as they also breed ‘heritage stock’, for their pork and beef. They also have Berkshire pigs- though theirs are ‘short nosed’, where ours a ‘long nose’.
Regardless of the variation, Berkshires are heritage listed and on the vulnerable or rare breeds lists worldwide. They are becoming increasingly popular with smaller scale, pasture fed farmers. Probably for similar reasons to that of their decline from the 1980’s to now- As Berkshires are one of the few pig breeds that thrive on grazing. Not all pig breed do, there are others, but again they are usually heritage breeds. (I guess this may have been a contributing factor to their decline during the surge of intensive farming.)

Similarly they did mention how their ‘black pigs’ are better equipped to deal with free ranging in this climate. Especially after one little one commented that pigs were supposed to be pink. You wouldn't be able to do this with 'pink pigs' here, as they would burn and would develop serious issues as a result.

Immediately behind us on the 'track' was the cattle. Funnily enough they were apparently waiting to be moved on to thier next pasture. Again as they are rotated, allowing each to recover and the natural manure to do its bit. At freckle farm they run Nguni cattle, a breed I was unfamiliar with, though Matt had seen them before. Considered to be of European beef heritage, this breed had thrived in Southern Africa and very harsh conditions; believed to be the traditional herd of the Zulu tribe.

Nguni x jersey and calf
They run these for similar to the reasons we and they chose Berkshires- they survive well in the Queensland climate. The local tradition is Brahmans or occasionally droughmaster, for thier tick resistance. However these also being a beef bred are of smaller frame are also more resistant to drought (handy here). But also potentially better for a smallholder situation. So we will definitely be looking into this breed when we are ready fro another cow.

They also had a few Jersey/Frisian crosses with the Nguni for milking, though for their own use (at this stage). This is something we have not progressed to as our block is probably too small to run a working bull. This breed also has amazing colours and patterns to their hides, another point of interest to us. As we believe in utilising as much of the animal as possible... Either way you have to admit thier pretty cute!

For the trip back to the house the kids and anyone who wanted a break got to ride on the back of the hay trailer. Where, sat in the shade of the trees Rob and Deb spoke to the group about how they came to farm this way and answer any questions. You could hear the passion they had for what they were doing.

We had a lovely morning and we do enjoy meeting other farmers (I use that term loosely when refering to ourselves) and seeing thier practices and ideas. I would advise anyone to seek out what is about in thier local area. Not necessary farms, but produce markets... you maybe suprised. Even if your not a farmer you could always take away something small. Even if it is just an appreciation of how where your food comes from, something everyone should know.

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