News from the coop

Most of you would be aware that Sellar Farmhouse Creamery farms on a property along side other land based enterprises, together we call ourselves the Harcourt Organic Farming Coop.

HOFC team 2024

Over the past six years we’ve had many different versions of the Coop, from the people and enterprises involved to the financial structure. Always trying to refine the model, often learning more from our mistakes than our successes.

Our fresh faced founding HOFC team in 2018

To begin with I had seen the Coop as this practical solution to accessing farm land which I could never afford to buy. As well as enhancing each enterprise; sharing market stalls and organic certification. But I quickly realised the real value for me was farming along side other people. Farming can be very isolating and having people on farm to share the ups and down with has been integral for me to be still farming now. Relationships can be hard, they take time and investment, they often can make farming seem like easy work. I feel our human skills of holding relation with others has been seriously weakened with modernity. Yet I think it’s fundamental if we are to make any progress in the world we face ahead. I also believe that when done well, working together pays back ten fold.

Immeasurable energy has been invested in this land and community by dozens of people who’ve at some stage been involved in HOFC; endless meetings by the founding team, countless vollies bringing knowledge, experience, food and life to the place. We have all been bricks in building what the Coop is now. We’ve had big changes over the past year and are putting out best gumboot forward to step into the next iteration of the Coop. So here’s a little bit about the Coop and our exciting news.

HOFC xmas party 2021

“We honour interconnected relationships with our communities, this land and each other through supporting HOFC members to grow nutritious food.”

HOFC Holistic statement of purpose.

Who are we?

HOFC is a collaboration of diverse organic farmers who lease land on a single farm in Harcourt. We are passionate about learning our craft, feeding our community, and making direct and meaningful connections with our customers, for example through Community Supported Agriculture, farm tours, weekly farmers markets and school programs. We aim to make the farm as productive as possible, within a collaborative framework. Nature always does better with diversity, this model allows the farm to thrive while the people can specialise and focus on their area of interest.

Farm tour 2023

Our Current members are:

Sellar Farmhouse Creamery – You know the spiel
The Orchard Keepers – Currently led by landholders Katie and Hugh Finlay and a crew of CSA members and volunteers dubbed ‘fruit crew’. 
They manage the organic fruit orchard growing cherries, apricots, peaches, nectarines, plums, apples and pears.
Carr’s Organic Fruit Tree Nursery – Under the mentorship of Merv Carr, who has been grafting and budding heritage fruit trees for over 50 years, Katie Finlay and her sister Liz Carr are continuing the family tradition. Carr’s Organic Fruit Tree Nursery grows a huge variety of quality heritage fruit trees for sale in winter as barerooted trees.

The farm also hosts:
Bushfoods plot run by Murnong Mummas – an Indigenous-lead social enterprise involved in the native foods and botanical sector.

Bushfoods plot

Our previous members include:

  • Gung Hoe Growers – Started by Mel & Sas, then continued on by Mel and a dedicated crew of passionate and skillful staff and vollie. Gung Hoe Growers fed their local community through year round and seasonal CSA veggie boxes, servicing select restaurants, cafes and caterers, local green grocers and the Wednesday weekly Farmers Markets in Castlemaine.
  • Tellurian Fruit Gardens – Ant Wilson leased the orchard here for 3 years, taking the orchard into a new sales model of CSA fruit boxes, while continuing to sell at farmers markets.

The WWF grant

In 2022 HOFC was awarded a grant from the World Wildlife Fund; Australia’s ‘Innovate to Regenerate’ funding. This grant has given us the opportunity to examine and document the history and work of HOFC to share with the wider community.
We’re now excited to share with you our three hefty resources as well as two online events.

Farm tour 2023

Land-sharing models

With the help of Open Food Network Australia, we documented HOFC members experiences with the Co-operative farming model, what’s worked well and what has been challenging. We explored possibilities for other models to help us consider ‘what next’ for HOFC.
Read the report

Whole Farm Planning

With the synthesis and facilitation of Anne Maree Docking at Thriving Rural, and input from workshops with Djaara, David Holmgren at Holmgren Design and the local CFA, HOFC worked on seeing the farm as a whole; ecologically, agriculturally and socially. We think working on a process like this could be a great help to anyone considering collaborative farming.
Read the report

Small Farm Viability

Friends of HOFC & food system practitioners, Jess Drake and Meg Roberts, explored the viability of each small farm enterprise that is part of HOFC. This included analysis of financials, and extended to holistically consider values, business intentions, livelihood and skills. All of these dynamics inter-playing to create very different ‘ingredients’ for viability in each enterprise.
Read the report

Join our online events!

Co-op 
relaunch 
webinar

This Thursday June 6, 
7-8pm
Join us to celebrate us relaunching HOFC for the next iteration, including screening of our new short film, sharing of our new collaborative farming resources and interactive Q&A
Reserve your spot

Small farm enterprise planning
 & ideas jam

Tuesday June 11, 
7-8pm
We are holding a smaller session for those seriously interested in joining the Co-op. You will have the chance to ask questions and shape your own enterprise proposal (either for joining the Co-op or just to help clarify your thinking).
Reserve your spot

You can also stay up to date with all the Coop by subscribing to the HOFC newsletter

We’ve hit our target of ten milkers, sort of.

It’s been a long time since I’ve written a blog. I’ve been pretty consumed with just running the farm. But you’re about to hear from me a couple of times this week. Secondly with some big news from the Coop but in this post I wanted to do an update on how the herd is going as we pass the six year mark of milking and four and a half years of selling bottled milk and yoghurt into Castlemaine.

From the beginning my business has been aiming for this magic number of ten milkers and it’s only in the past couple of months that we’ve hit that, sort of.

Before buying my first cow I set up a business plan and budget, all based around this idea of ten cows. It seemed to be the herd size where I could make the business both financially viable and keep the enjoyment factor in it for myself. The other influencing factor is being on this current property up at Harcourt where more than ten milkers would really be pushing the land capacity on an average year let alone a rough year.

Daisybell and Olive

Things haven’t gone to plan along the way for that number ten. Early on I had a few cows who didn’t work out due to pre-existing conditions (Daisybell, Millie, Willow (no. 1), Daisy, Nancy), I’ve lost a couple (R.I.P Stella and Olive), I’ve had a few failed pregnancies (Doris, Bette, Olive, Swish), there’s been many a time when I’ve had a cow on heat but couldn’t get them to the bull that day, Luna retired after standing on and ripping the end off two of her three operational teats and some cows never hit the litres I’d hoped (Selenite I’m talking about you!). All of which have made it hard to reach the ten cows milking an average of 100 ltrs a day.

Luckily, due to my very affordable lease agreement with Katie and Hugh, my very cheap living arrangement and not having gone into debt I have had the luxury of taking my time in building the herd, feeling my way, learning from my mistakes.

Swish and Plush

We’ve had some new additions (Swish and Chloe) and second generations make their debut into the milking herd (Doris, Willow (no.2), Selenite). We’ve hit our ten milkers. However while we’ve had a couple of days where milk reached the high nineties and one day of 99ltrs we still haven’t hit 100ltrs in a day. This is mostly skewed by Berta.

Berta sticking her head in the ute
Berta sticking her head in the steering wheel.

Anyone who’s been following my blog from early on knows about Berta. Probably anyone who’s spoken to me in the past 7 years knows about Berta. Berta was my first cow and what a perfect first cow she has been. Having her 6th calving of Iggy in May 2018 and carrying a whopping great udder (43ltrs a day in her prime) we adopted Norma Jean the following day to make use of the milk as the factory was still months off being ready. Unfortunately that September 7, only days after Oli’s finger accident Berta went down hard with mastitis. This was my darkest day of farming so far, when all the dreams come crashing down to reality. Berta in herself made a full recovery; however her udder was permanently damaged and at some point over the past 5.5 years all four quarters have had some period of mild mastitis.

Raising Iggy and Norma

We went for another calving and she had Otis in Feb 2020. However she really struggled through this calving, her udder was an enormous mess and it took her immune system a long time to get over this. I vowed not to calve her again as the chance of her not making it through was too high. So we just kept milking her. Berta has now clocked over four years in this one lactation!

Three generations: Berta, Iggy and Hendrix

Until last December she was still milking around 8ltrs a day. Then it seems she made a new years resolution to retire. Since January Berta’s milk has continually dropped until I’m now just humouring her and getting one measly litre. In this time her hormones have gone crazy and she seems to believe she is a bull, everyday humping everyone. So after roughly 14650ltrs in this one lactation, today Berta retired from her milking career. Born on a dairy on the way to Maryborough, three years with Col and over six with me this 15 year old has had a good working life.

My first meeting with Berta 2017

For now Berta is going to stay with the milkers. Probably much to my relief milkers frustration as Berta is known for being bossy, stealing food and now the constant humping. However she is the perfect matriarch for my herd. While she is dominant and the boss, she is not mean for the sake of it. She always looks out for every member of the herd and makes sure everyone is groomed and included. I bought Berta after the wise words of a dairy mentor said the energy of your first cow will set the tone for the whole herd. So until I see a kind lady-in-waiting, Berta can stay. Currently Iggy and Norma are next in the hierarchy but certainly do not carry their mother’s kindness for everyone else. My hope is to eventually have the space to have a small retirement herd.

Grooming Gem whose mother rejected her

Following Berta’s retirement, Dapper, daughter of Swish will be calving and joining the milkers in four weeks, hopefully she will bring in a new flush of milk and make it feel a little more like I’m milking 10 cows.

Dapper and Bette

We will then have Bette, daughter of Norma, and Cherry, daughter of Olive joining the herd within the year which will give us some space to retire others as needed. Plush, daughter of Swish will be the new addition for 2025.

We’ve also had the addition of Teddy. After all the previous breeding mishaps I decided to keep a bull, so when Ginger calved last May with Teddy, he was the first boy calf allowed to keep his crown jewels. Teddy has just reached breeding age and has successfully been at work for a month now. Still a calm, quiet, well behaved boy I’m hoping he stays this way even when he becomes enormous. We’ll see how that turns out….

Teddy

This was a classic story of where Berta is often more of a co-herd manager with me rather than just a member of the herd. When Swish and Selenite were on heat recently, as Berta is so hormone charged there was no separating them. However Berta is a dream on a lead so I just led her across the farm and the cow I wanted trotted along behind her. We then delivered the breeding cow to Teddy for the day and Berta happily trotted back to the milking herd with me. This is exactly what I’d hoped for in keeping a bull, streamlining the process so that cows actually get to the bull when needed.

We’re currently having a long spectacular Autumn. For 9 months of the year it blows a gale up here at the base of Leaganook. Then Autumn hits and it just stops, calmness arrives, with cold mornings and sunny days, the orchard turns to yellow and red, the ground becomes green and the birdsong is a constant chorus. So, let’s raise a glass to Berta and say thank you for all that milk.

Where to buy summer produce

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.

Milk for sale and we’re on the air.

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.

Chloe and CJ (Chloe junior), Elvis and Norma Jean

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.

Listen Here

Electrifying Sellar Dairy

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

The milk drought begins.

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.

Cherry was luck to have the company of her brothers Bowie and Jasper.


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.

Her corkscrew feet before and after trimming.

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.

Swish on her final date.

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.

From the left Bee, Willow and Doris (picking a fight with her new herd).

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.

Chloe

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!

R.I.P Olive


Harcourt Organic Farming Co-operative Farm Open Day

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

Book a ticket HERE

Hopefully see you there.

Spring has sprung

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.

Iggy on her date December 2021.

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.

Iggy and Bowie 19/9/22

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.

Olive and Cherry 27/9/22

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.

Quartz and Jasper 29/9/22

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.

Taking Bert home and gutting

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.

Foot and Mouth Disease

PLEASE NOTE: 
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.

How might it impact Australia as a country?

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.

A standard Hazard Analysis table can be a great resource for evaluating the risk of FMD. Currently Australia’s probability sits at 11.6% and the consequences would be ‘very high’.

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.

For more information

The Australian Veterinary Plan or AUSVETPLAN FMD Response

Help us to keep Australia Foot and Mouth disease FREE.

CSA dairy pick-ups only from market this week

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.

Thanks for sticking with us.

Tess

frosty mornings on the farm.