The orchard and dairy are bursting with produce at the moment and there are a few places you can stock up for Christmas and keep the family entertained over the summer holidays.
Today’s Castlemaine Farmers Market Weekly is a big one. We’ve got double the stall holders and an extra hour of trading so you can stock up on the staples and treats. December 20, 2.30 pm – 6.30 pm Camp Reserve, Forrest St, Castlemaine VIC 3450
After a few terrible years for the orchard the trees are booming this season, apricots galore. Over summer the farm shop will be open including this week.
10-4 on Fridays and Sundays. (NOT SATURDAYS but you can buy fruit from the Orchard Keepers at Wesley Hill market on a Sat).
You can pick-your-own (PYO) fruit or buy it pre-picked.
When there is dairy available this will also be stocked in the farm shop for purchase, which fingers crossed, will be most weeks.
Things you need to know if coming to the farm.
Getting here: Come to 69 Dann’s Road, Harcourt. There is a Harcourt Organic Farming Co-op property sign at our entrance, then a long driveway to the farm carpark. The speed limit on the driveway is 25 km/hr. Park in the carpark at the big green shed. Please don’t park on the concrete apron (as we need access to the shed to bring fruit in and out) or in front of the blue shed (this is Sellar Dairy and Tess needs to be able to access her shed). Come to the Farm Shop; far left door on the big green shed and we’ll show you where to pick!
Acknowledgement of Country: We all grow food with love on Dja Dja Wurrung land. We recognise that sovereignty has never been ceded and this always was, and always will be, Aboriginal land.
Biosecurity: Please don’t bring your dog to the farm (not even on a lead). If you have visited other farms (particularly other farms with livestock), please be sure to clean your shoes thoroughly or, better yet, wear different shoes to protect the dairy herd from Foot and Mouth Disease. Please do not bring uncut fruit or vegetables onto the property if there’s a risk they may be infected with Queensland Fruit Fly.
Finally the milk drought has well and truly broken. With Ginger, Chloe and Norma all calved, happy and healthy the milk’s-a-flowin’. We will have lots of milk and yoghurt to sell at market this week and I’ll be offering some more people on the waiting list a CSA subscription this week. We’re up to people who put their name down in Sept 2020, emails will go out on Thursday so keep an eye out.
We were also lucky enough to be the subject of the latest Saltgrass episode. For those of you who don’t know Allie Hanly’s podcast which is ‘Exploring community responses to the climate crisis. Salt of the earth people, grassroots change.’ I can’t recommend it enough, many a bottle has been washed while pondering these interviews. Allie did a series of interviews with us at the coop, the previous two weeks being with Katie and the Orchard Keepers. Keep an ear out for the Gung Hoe Growers one.
Media is a funny thing. I’m sure mine is a very common experience when the subject it so close to your heart. I often find it a bit disappointing the perspective journalist take, the bits they leave out or the stupid things I’ve said which they focus on, it’s a constant learning process. However I can’t thank Allie enough for what she has put together in this episode. She has done such a beautiful job and it feels so true to our conversation and my intent. The sign of a great journalist I’d say. So I hope you enjoy and get addicted to working your way through the episodes.
Last spring the clutch finally died on ‘Bert’, our dairy truck which goes out to milk the cows ever day. So Oli set to work on the project of electrifying it! With our very unrealistic hope of it taking two weeks, which became 11, Bert; our 68 Toyota stout has been brought into the future. Like many projects blowing out, the documentation of this process ended up taking longer than the actual conversion itself, finally Oli can sign off on the project. He has produces 18 in depth episodes showing the conversion in full and now we have the 11 weeks in 11 minutes version for those who just want an overview. It’s been really exciting to see this come to fruition and to now have Bert buzzing around the farm. A huge thanks to Oli and his obsessive brain! Enjoy
Many of my local dairy shoppers will have noticed the supply dropping over the past month or two, I’m sure you’ve missed out more than once at market. Well unfortunately the milk drought of 2023 has set in and until July when litres increase there will often be weeks where I have no milk to sell at market beyond my standing CSA subscriptions. This week (14/3/23) will be one of those weeks I’m afraid.
So why the milk drought?
Well many unfortunate events led to it. Nine months ago when I was doing my milk schedule, to make sure all my planned breedings would lead to a steady flow of milk, I was anticipating that my milk supply for March 2023 would be just starting to drop from 85ltrs a day down to 75-80ltrs a day and holding there before it went up again slightly. I’m currently sitting at about 50ltrs a day and dropping.
First in the chain of events was Olive. The last time I mentioned Olive she had just calved with Cherry following years of dramas; still born calf, aborted calf, not getting pregnant, being too fat, getting pregnant, calving, milk fever, recovering.
All looked good. Then she went off her food again, very unlike Olive. We went through a period of her going down hill, we kept treating the diagnosis of what aligned with her symptoms; milk fever, then ketosis but no improvement. Then when it came time to getting the vet the great flood happened, 135ml in one event, do you think we could get a large animal vet out? I managed to get someone the following day to discover that I’d been treating the secondary issue. I was conscious of Metritis (uterus infection) but she was not showing any obvious signs of a retained placenta, smell, discharge or fever. I hadn’t picked this up as the primary infection. We gave her a big dose of antibiotics, accepting that I wouldn’t be able to sell her milk for six months because of our organic status and went to bed relieved that she could now start improving. Sadly I arrived the next morning and we were too late with treatment, she died from septicaemia within the hour. This was the first of my milkers that I’d lost and it was hard not to feel like I’d really let her down.
I have come out of it more knowledgeable and experienced with greater support networks, which can only benefit the rest of my herd for the future. This is the crap part about farming livestock though, often the lessons are learnt at the cost of an animal. Within minutes all of Cherry’s aunties took her in and we bottle raised her, giving her all the love in the world. In two years she will join our milking herd with her mum’s same wacky energy and head thrusts.
Next was Quartz. I also mentioned previously that when Quartzy calved she had had sore feet from all the rain and she had spent the last month of pregnancy lying down, had a very compromised immune system, getting badly sun burnt on one quarter from lying in the same position and then lost one quarter due to mastitis. Once she got through this and could stand on three legs again we could get to work trimming her feet back with the sanding disc on the angle grinder until we cut all the infected part of her feet out.
Within days she improved and a month later I got to see her run for the first time in months. It’s moments like this that keep you farming, having at least one win! I smiled more that afternoon than I had in a while. Her health has held up well since, however her milk dropped at an astounding rate this lactation, I’m putting this mainly down to the crappy start. So at this stage in her last lactation I was getting 9ltrs, I’m now getting 4.
Luna calved well in November and all was looking good until 2 weeks in she stood on her teat while trying to stand up and ripped the end off. OWWWWWCH. It’s healed really well and we’ve managed to avoid mastitis, however her milk is a few ltrs less than I was hoping because of this.
So one milker down and one milking at half her predicted amount, we would have scraped through, if my breeding had gone to plan… The bull I normally use was out of action for this period of time so we were relying on AI which never has as high a success rate. Ginger was first: didn’t hold the first time, next opportunity I wasn’t available to transport her so she ended up conceiving 6 weeks later than planned. But that’s ok, Swish is pregnant – wait!, she lost it at 3 months, it then took me a long time to get her to the bull by which point she’s fat and dry, didn’t conceive the first go, second time and we’re in business, was aiming for calving April 2023, now Sept.
Bee was 4 months later than planned getting to the bull, then she didn’t hold, didn’t get her back straight away, now calving Sept 2023. This then created a back log of cows who needed breeding. My aim is to have a consistent flow of milk across the year, this means regular spaced calving. I had all these heifers who needed taking to the bull and milkers who were drying off while not being pregnant, but I didn’t want to take them until I’d taken the older heifers and dry cows. If I got them all pregnant at once we’d have chaos in nine months, a huge influx of milk followed by a drop again. When selling to a milk company it’s much easier to have bulk calving, many dairy’s calve once or twice a year. I’m trying to supply the same amount of customers the same amount of milk for the entire year.
So the outcome.
Firstly the current milk drought starts now. Most of my milkers are dropping in supply from now as they get closer to calving, other than Luna who should hold for a few more months. Ginger will be our ‘first cab off the rank’ to calve at the end of May and if we can manage her tendency to milk fever she will be a big producer. I’ve also been able to borrow a milker from the Dairy Shorthorn farmer whose bull I use. Chloe is a bucket raised dream cow who should take very minimal training. As she wasn’t from a certified organic property I need to have her on our farm for six months before I can sell her milk. I’m not sure how I’m going to give her back, she fits in perfectly.
And I’ve made the decision to keep a bull. This is something I’ve previously not wanted to do on this property due to the size and fencing. Bulls can be a nightmare to manage. However this year the negative impact of not being able to get cows pregnant when they are on heat has outweighed the negatives of keeping a bull. So the first bull calf born to Ginger or Joyce gets to keep his bits. 12+ months later we can put him to work. We are now back on track to hit our 80ltr mark by the end of 2023, next year hitting the final aim of 10 milkers averaging 100ltrs a day. If all goes to plan…. LOL. At that point we can finally bring some more people off the waiting list and onto the CSA subscriptions. Our herd will be increasing with heifers to calve this year; Bee, Doris Day, Willow and Selenite, then next year Dapper and Bette Davis. Running such a small herd definitely leaves me vulnerable to milk peaks and troughs but this is exactly why my model is to supply only 70% to CSA customers, selling the rest at market which acts as my buffer.
While I’m very sorry some customers will miss out on dairy for the next few months I have to confess I’m not feeling too stressed. My current herd is happy and healthy, I’ve got eight pregnant cows with more to join shortly and less milk with no calves at foot leads to shorter work days which means Oli and I are about to go away together for the longest time off in five years. Three. Whole. Days! Twice! Thanks for sticking with me, hopefully I only have to learn these lessons once!
Sellar Farmhouse Creamery along with The Orchard Keepers, Gung Hoe Growers, The Murnong Mamas Bush Food plot, Carr’s Organic Fruit Tree Nursery and Grow Great Fruit make up the Harcourt Organic Farming Co-operative. We operate under a collaborative farming model on this single farm in Harcourt with four of the businesses leasing the land.
Harvest is in full swing here; it is a busy and productive time of year. We are excited to spend some time with you sharing our diverse farming stories and showing you around our patches.
Join us for lunch and afternoon tours on Sunday 19th March
Spring has definitely sprung here in Harcourt and what a season it is! La Nina is certainly showing herself at the farm this year. The ground is well and truly saturated, gullies all flowing and more falling from the sky as I write. Definitely still manageable though, far from the severity of the flooding which many around the world have been experiencing.
Nine months ago Iggy, Olive, Quartz and I took a trip to the bull and now all three calves are on the ground.
Calving was very straight forward as always for Iggy. The first planned calving for her (the last two girls were from her breaking in with the neighbour’s bull) and this one is a bull calf, typical. Bowie is, however, shaping up to be a beautiful inquisitive boy.
Olive was next. What a long story this has been. Many will remember when she first calved three and a half years ago and had a still born boy. She then produced beautiful milk for 16 months but after I dried her off for her second calving we waited and waited to discover that her calf had died late in pregnancy so she never came back into milk. She then spent a year on beautiful volcanic soil in Glenlyon at Fi and Ben’s (thanks Fi and Ben!) while we waited to get her pregnant again. After a failed attempt I actually tried to move her on as a lawn mower. When that fell through I gave her one last shot with the bull and to our surprise we had success. So it was a huge celebration for many when Olive finally had a live heifer last week! Cherry is her name and she is truly adorable. Olive has had mild milk fever so we are keeping a very close eye on her and hope her chemistry balances out now. It’s been very special to watch her finally have a calf of her own to feed, groom and bond with. You may notice a difference in the milk with the addition of Olive’s true Jersey milk, it’s like drinking straight cream.
Everyone on the farm was watching Quartz in anticipation for her last week of pregnancy. Quartz has foot deformities which lead to her really struggling in the wet so she had been lying down a lot looking ready to pop and growing an outrageously huge udder. Then another bull calf, Jasper, with the same forehead curls as his mother. As Quartz came into this high stress time with an already compromised immune system due to her feet, she has had a pretty rough first week. We seem to have her stabilised now. For her sake I am hoping for more warm sunny days.
So following calving will come a rush in milk supply. I’m anticipating a big jump up from now until Feb so don’t hold back in your consumption. Finally I will be able to open up more CSA subscriptions to lots of people who’ve patiently been on the waiting list for years. However, unfortunately two of the cows I had hoped would be pregnant for next autumn calving are not, which means I will have another drop in milk production. New subscribers will come with an understanding that they may have to be paused during June/July/Aug next year. If you’re on the waiting list keep an eye out for my email. For those in Central Victoria we are pleased to announce that the market finally has a permanent home at the Camp Reserve in Castlemaine. No more time and location changes; we can now have shade in summer, hard surface in winter, ample parking and the potential to make the space feel like home. The market is really cranking at the moment with an awesome variety of produce to buy; hours are 2:30-5:30 so please do come on down. Lastly our other big news on the farm is that the clutch on Bert, the dairy ute, has finally died. Our plan has always been to electrify Bert when needed for several reasons; most of his problems were related to the petrol engine, we already need a power system onboard for milking and he’s the perfect candidate for Oil to experiment on – short distances, low speeds, not road going. Oli’s long term project is to build a woodgas hybrid electric truck so this is the first stage of experience for that research project. He has been wide eyed with excitement working on this conversion with the pressure of a serious time limit to get it running and back to the dairy.
It all happens in spring! Right now, it really depends on the moment you catch me as to whether I’m feeling – ‘it’s ok, we’ll get them through this, it’s not too bad’ or ‘bugger this, who’d farm livestock!’ But I know, these times are balanced out by the joy and reward it all gives me most of the time.
If you have been to Bali/Indonesia in the past three months please notify us before coming on farm. If you have, do not wear shoes, clothing or bring equipment which you traveled with onto our farm, or any farm in Australia for 6 months. Please avoid coming onto our farm for 7 days after you return. Please work with customs officials to declare all high risk products and follow their advice.
From all at HOFC, thanks for working with us.
Many of you may have heard in the Australian media about the current risks of foot and mouth disease (FMD). We thought we’d take this opportunity to reach out to all our readers to talk about the risk, how it could affect everyone throughout our society and give you some tools to help reduce the risk of what would be the devastating outcomes if there was an outbreak in Australia. We consider our farm at the Harcourt Organic Farming Coop in the high risk category because unlike many farms we are very open to the public with customers coming on site to collect produce, running tours to engage people in their food system and hosting many volunteers and staff. However this also gives us a great opportunity to reach out to the greater community and help them get up to speed with managing the risk as a whole community.
What is FMD?
FMD is a highly contagious virus of cloven hoofed animals. These include cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, deer, camels etc of which Australia has many, both domestic and wild. It spreads rapidly between animals through breath, saliva, mucus, milk and faeces. It can be excreted by animals for up to four days before clinical signs appear. FMD virus can also be spread on wool, hair, grass or straw, by the wind, or by mud or manure sticking to footwear, clothing, livestock equipment or vehicle tyres which is why management of human behaviour becomes very important. Clinical signs of FMD are the appearance of blisters between the toes, on the heels, mammary glands, lips, tongue and palate. This is not to be confused with Hand-Foot-and- Mouth disease which humans can contract, the two are non related. When animals develop lesions on their feet and mouths it can become incredibly painful leaving them unable to eat and walk which are both critical for animals to survive and thrive. FMD is not a food safety concern. The virus may remain infective in the environment for several weeks to months.
What’s the history of FMD?
FMD has not been seen in Australia for 130 years. Australia was a very different country then; there were fewer at risk animals, and their movement was on a much more localised scale meaning containment was much simpler. The disease is present in parts of Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and South America. The most well known outbreaks for many Australians will be from 1967 and 2001 in the UK. The 2001 outbreak had 2000 confirmed cases and as a result 6 million cows and sheep were killed with an estimated cost of £8bn. Outbreaks like this are devastating for an entire nation. Farms were in lockdown: no animals could be moved around the country and possibly contaminated vehicles, equipment and humans were traced and decontaminated as they came and went from farms. All animals on neighbouring farms to an outbreak had to be culled regardless of condition. Rural areas were filled with the smoke from piles of burning animals for weeks, halting tourism for many areas and resulting in a general downturn for rural economies. The long term impact on the mental health of all involved is still felt.
What is the current risk to Australia of a FMD outbreak?
In May 2022, an outbreak of FMD was reported in cattle in Indonesia; Bali being the Indonesian island much favoured by Australian holiday makers. This has significantly increased Australia’s risk, from 9% to 11.6%, of the virus reaching our shores which would have severe consequences for Australia’s animal health and trade. FMD is most likely to be introduced through contaminated, illegally imported animal products (live animals, semen or uncooked meat or unprocessed dairy products from FMD-affected countries or zones) or through objects (e.g. footwear, equipment) contaminated with the virus, that come in contact with susceptible animals.
A large FMD outbreak in multiple states across Australia is estimated to have a direct economic impact of up to $80 billion over 10 years. This is largely due to the size of Australia’s export market, with nearly two thirds of Australia’s beef and lamb grown for export. If there is a confirmed case in Australia it would halt the market overnight. An animal standstill would be brought in immediately meaning animals couldn’t be moved between properties. Tracing and surveillance of all animal movements would be used; trucks, feed, sale yards, processing facilities etc. The livestock traceability programme in Victoria means all sheep and cattle are electronically tagged for quick traceability of animal movements via the National Livestock Identification System (NLIS). Culling of all animals within a 3km radius of confirmed cases. Emergency vaccination would be a part of Australia’s response to contain and eradicate FMD. As it is a live vaccine our stocks are stored overseas and cannot be used until an outbreak occurs. Once a vaccination programme is rolled out we will lose out export status of ‘free from FMD, without vaccination’ which would affect trade.
How might it impact our community and HOFC?
In the current situation with FMD still not in the country, we will be working to educate, monitor and restrict the movements of people returning from Indonesia/Bali onto the farm. If the disease is detected in Australia we will then implement stricter restrictions on farm; foot baths or farm only footwear and restricted access to the public. Depending on where the outbreak is this may result in stopping farm shop collections, stopping farm tours and workshops, heavily restricting who and how people come onto the farm which in turn would significantly affect all people/businesses within the coop and our greater community. I currently do move animals between properties – cows to the bull, heifers out on adjistment as our property here is not set up to house all animals involved in Sellar Dairy: we would need to reduce or stop these movements. The aim is to avoid worst case scenario. If a case was confirmed within 3km of the farm we may have no choice but to cull our herd, no matter their health or interaction with neighbouring animals. Even worse would be if we were the farm to host an outbreak due to someone coming on farm with contaminated footwear.
What can we do to minimise the risk of an outbreak?
After the last two and a half years everyone should be well and truly familiar with the process of ‘minimising the risk’ and quarantine. So while FMD has not been detected in Australia, let’s keep it simple. If you have been to Bali/Indonesia in the past three months or intend to visit, do not wear shoes or clothing or bring equipment which you traveled with onto our farm, or any farm in Australia for 6 months. Give them a good clean and put them in the back of the cupboard to quarantine. In general it’s good practice to always give footwear a good clean before entering any livestock property, especially if returning from overseas. If you have been to a country where FMD is present, we ask you not to enter a farm in Australia for at least 7 days. Please work with custom officials to declare all high risk products and follow their advice. Easiest option is to just not even try to bring animal products from countries where FMD is present into Australia. If FMD is detected in Australia we will move to enforce stricter rules as to who and how people are allowed onto the property, but hopefully it will not come to this! For those with animals, early detection enhances the feasibility of the successful eradication of FMD. If you suspect FMD in your animals it is a notifiable exotic disease and any suspected or confirmed cases must be reported immediately to Agriculture Victoria on the Emergency Animal Disease Watch Hotline 1800 675 888 (24 hours, 7 days a week), to your local Agriculture Victoria Animal Health and Welfare staff or your local private veterinarian.
Like most of the country we farmers are also battling the winter sicknesses and due to being short staffed the only thing we will be sending to market this week is the CSA dairy subscriptions. So unfortunately that means no sales of dairy or veg. Hopefully we’ll all bounce back quickly and be back at market ready to sell next week. Reiterating that if you have a dairy CSA subscription the lovely Lucy will be there to hand it over and tick off your name tomorrow.
This is my reflection on the life and death of our two beautiful steers, Otis and Rupert. This is possibly the most controversial part of dairy, the part many would prefer didn’t exist and in fact something which many would not even consider. Our first on-farm kill, which has taken up multiple days over the past two months, may be quite confronting. Many may prefer to not think about the death that is involved in dairy at all. However anywhere you have life, you also have death and I think it is incredibly important to be transparent about this. Many of the problems with our food system are due to the disconnect between what the consumer wants to think about and the actions which farmers must take in the current market.
Do not fear though. This post is not all doom and gloom; in fact for me this has been quite a positive process and one I want to share. I also own that it is a story told from my human perspective.
Rupert was born September 7, 2019 in the middle of a gorse patch for maximum protection – a spectacular Illawara dairy shorthorn, son of Joyce. I was always pretty sad that Rupert was a boy as he was the only chance I’d have for a pure Illawara born on-farm and he had the most spectacular coat.
Otis was born to Berta on February 20, 2020. Once a boof head, always a boof head. He was always my most advanced animal in the art of escape.
Both of these boys were an absolute pleasure to work with, very gentle in nature (exaggerated by their lack of testicles!) and grew into very handsome boys. From the moment they were born and I checked between their legs, their future was determined. I’m sure this played a big part in the psychology of my relationship with them both in life and death, this didn’t however have the slightest impact on the respect, love and pats I gave them.
When the time came, we had two choices: to send them off to the abattoir and sell the meat, or to kill/butcher on-farm having never experienced a moment of stress, and we share the meat among family. (All meat in Victoria must go via the abattoir if it is to be sold.) We chose the latter. And I’m so glad we did.
Fortunately Oli is an experienced hunter so I could feel confident in our ability to get it right, first time. Now I’m really wary of romanticising this but Otis and Rupert literally died standing calmly next to us, apricot in mouth. I’d be pretty happy if that’s how I go.
I was vegetarian for 15 years, I now only eat meat from an animal that I’ve had some connection to in it’s life. I need to feel comfortable with the whole story of the meat on my plate. I had only been at the goat farm for a week when I had an epiphany. Sitting in the shed with an old goat while she died, something changed in my thinking: it’s not about the death, it’s about the life. It’s about every moment up until that last breath. What was the quality of life? Were you treated with respect? These are the things to fight for. So that’s where I sit now, running a livestock business where yes, my boys will die sooner than most of my girls, but I will do my best to make their lives equally valued.
I always find the moment of death shocking as I’m sure most people do. Until I have touched the body and know it is now just flesh, even killing a mouse makes me uncomfortable. To come to understand the magic of life is an incredible experience. One moment there is this creature, living, breathing, growing, feeling, thinking, and then the next…nothing, flesh. Holding an organ which is now just meat, I cannot comprehend all that it was once capable of. To me this is magic. Nature is truly incredible. So strong and resilient yet so vulnerable.
To see the anatomy of a creature also helps me connect more to my own body. While my body ages and my knees have become weak I now have a greater understanding of how they move and the combination of layers of muscle that support them.
Yet, all this wouldn’t have been enough for me to do that again. We’re not huge meat eaters, so I don’t think I could have justified the death and work which followed if it were just as a source of protein for Oli and me. These large animals are not for a household but for a community. We had a team of four on the kill days, Katie, Hugh, Oli and me (although I ended up supervising after a mishap with a knife). Even with four, the size of the animals was back breaking, so much meat, SO much fat!
We hung them for four weeks which was followed by two butchering days. I’m not sure what we would have done if it hadn’t been for the help of Matt whose past life involved butchering. We were joined by Fi who also came with experience and sharp knives as well as Ella. Gathered around a long bench the conversation flowed, the steaks were cut and bagged, mincer grinding and a lunch of kings. Then I got to share it with people I love. This was special.
We took the hides down to the Ballarat tannery and are awaiting their completion. I could write a whole post on this wonderland. The last tannery in the country doing private hides. Seventh generation. Katie and I now scheming to find someone to start a tannery on farm.
So, while the whole journey was an experience of great power, I’m glad it won’t come around for another couple of years.
Thank you and good bye Rupert and Otis.
‘When we die, our bodies become the grass, and the antelope eat the grass.And so we are all connected in the great Circle of Life.’
Dear Castlemaine Farmers market customers. We are very sorry to leave this to the last minute but the market hours will be changing starting this Wednesday 16th. New permanent hours will be 2:30-5:30. Hopefully this will suit many of you who work until 5 better and these hours wont change between summer and winter again so you can fully settle into a routine. So please do come down on Wed to see us at the Harcourt Organic Farming Coop for dairy, fruit and veg, Western reserve, Castlemaine, every Wednesday.