Mayfield Farm, New South Wales, Australia
by Sandra Bannerman of Hernani, Australia
Mayfield Farm is a small family owned and operated mixed farm situated at 1150 m above sea level on the eastern edge of the Great Dividing Range in northern New South Wales, Australia. Siblings, Sandra and Ian Bannerman, purchased the 350 acre property in October, 2013, and have converted it from a conventionally operated farm to one that is run on organic principles. Additional workers on the farm include Janette, Ian’s wife, and Jessica, Ian’s daughter.
Our winters are usually cold and dry with overnight temperatures dropping to as low as -80 C with cool to mild summers reaching maximums in the late 20s or early 30s. We can receive an occasional snow fall during winter but not sufficient to settle for a prolonged period of time. Our rainfall is predominantly during summer and autumn, although spring rains provide a very useful start to our pasture growth. 40% of the farm is covered in forest which provides shelter for our animals during the heat of summer and the cold of winter. Our first frosts normally occur around 25 April and continue through to September when we are looking for a spring break to provide some green feed for our livestock.
When we purchased, our farm consisted of one large paddock. We have created permanent laneways (the main one runs from north to south and then two shorter lanes run east to west) to assist with the movement of stock. There are now 18 permanent paddocks all of which feed into our laneways which has made it a lot easier to move stock around the farm on our rotational grazing system. Electric fencing is used to subdivide paddocks into smaller areas.
Mayfield is fully solar powered with no connection to the grid. All electric fencing is either connected to the large solar systems on our homes or run on 12 v batteries. Rain water is harvested and stored in tanks on all of our main buildings and although most paddocks have dams in them, we have installed an extensive piped water system throughout the farm as well. A 55,000 L rainwater tank (with gutter) is situated on our highest point of the farm and it is kept filled by pumping from one of our dams which at this stage hasn’t been dry. From the tank, the water is then gravity fed throughout all of the lines to provide stock water as well as water to our orchards and vegetable gardens.
Although we originally started with beef production, we soon discovered that it would not be financially viable and had to look at additional enterprises to support the owners and families as well as providing our communities with access to locally grown, clean and safe food. As most of our livestock is sold to our customers we make little use of our local saleyards.
Our small grass fed beef herd consists of 14 Angus cows, 1 Limousin heifer, 2 Fresian/Angus cross cows, 2 purebred Jersey cows and a Limousin bull. The bull is now running with the cows all of the time so that we are able to provide beef products all year round. Due to our usually cold, dry winters, our cattle’s diets are supplemented with hay.
Our cattle are not chemically drenched and have constant access to mineral licks which assist in the control of both internal and external parasites. Rotational grazing principles are employed both to break the breeding cycle of worms and to enable their manures to be spread over the whole farm. An over-nighting shed is being planned for the cattle to help in maintaining body condition during the winter and to create our own compost which will be spread on the pastures.
During summer, Buffalo flies present a problem but we have used a vegetable oil and sulphur mix applied as a backline and around the rump and tail area which provides relief to the cattle. Our dairy cows provide the households with raw milk, cream and butter. Unfortunately, as it is illegal to sell raw dairy products in New South Wales, our many customers remain disappointed at not being able to buy raw milk.
Our second enterprise involved the purchase of two young gilts and a boar to initially provide pork for us. However, after an amount of research we soon discovered that few farmers were growing free range pork and that there was a growing demand as consumers were seeking an ethically grown meat which was not being provided by factory farms. Ours is a farrowing to porker operation and we currently have 26 breeding sows and their progeny, replacements gilts and two boars, one of which has his own paddock while the other runs with the dry sows. We purchase in a commercial grower pellet which is free from genetic modification and is fed to all of our pigs.
Our farrowing paddocks are 1 ha in size and in each of these we run 4 sows and their litters. Each sow has her own farrowing hutch, on weaning she is removed from her litter and is returned to the boar while her litter is put into a weaning paddock until all piglets from the paddock have been weaned. At this point, all four litters of piglets return to their farrowing paddock where they grow out to point of sale. All of our growers are now on self feeders which has reduced our work load as we were feeding morning and evening, which we still do for our sows and piglets up until eight weeks of age when they are weaned.
We sell our females between 70 and 80 kg and our males (which are not castrated) between 60 and 70 kg. As each paddock is emptied of growers, we have sufficient farrowing paddocks to rest each one for a six month period before it is reused.
The pigs are confined to a 25 ha area on the farm which enables six monthly rotations for the sows, piglets and growers and a two monthly rotation for the dry sows in their paddocks. Again, our pigs are not chemically drenched and have access to their minerals as they fossick around their paddocks.
We started with heritage breeds of hens for our own egg and meat supply (we still have a small flock of Indian Game birds) but have now changed over to specific laying hens for our commercial egg enterprise. We are currently running approximately 160 birds who supply us with sufficient eggs to meet the needs of our customer base. They are housed in mobile sheds placed within electric netting and are moved twice a week. Over the course of a year, they have rotated around most of the farm, manuring the paddocks for us as they go. For our replacement layers, we buy day old chickens which we grow out to point of lay. After brooding and having grown their feathers they are pasture raised in mobile cages.
We purchase an organic grain mix for our hens and to assist in the control of parasites, they have apple cider vinegar and garlic in their feed and water. Their laying boxes have lime and diatomaceous earth added to the nesting materials.
Our most recent venture is the production of lamb. Our initial purchase of Dorper ewes was not the correct choice for our climate so we are now in the process of changing to the Romney breed, which have greater resistance to parasites and foot rot. Our plan is to build our flock to 40 ewes which will enable us to supply our local markets with organically grown lamb. Ewes will lamb in the spring time which is when our pastures are starting to renew after a cold winter.
The sheep rotate around the farm with the cattle. They are shedded overnight to protect them from predator attack, which includes wild dogs, dingoes and foxes. A bigger shed is underway to cater for the expanding flock. They have access to mineral licks on a daily basis and once a month they have a mix of diatomaceous earth, sulphur and garlic with their evening ration of organic feed.
FRUIT, POTATOES AND OTHER VEGETABLES
Our annual crop of organic potatoes includes Nicolas, Desiree, Royal Blues, Coliban and a few Dutch Creams. We normally try to have the crop planted during November but for 2015 they have only just been planted in mid December. Our customers are already asking when they will be available for purchase.
We grow Red Aztec and Painted Mountain corns which help supplement the feed which we purchase for our laying hens.
Our orchards consist of apples, pears, peaches, nectarines, plums, cherries, blueberries and apricots. Bordeaux mixture is used as a fungicide and is an allowable organic spray. Cages have been erected over our orchards to keep the wild life out – unfortunately, this year a possum managed to get inside the apple cage and chewed all of the new growth including buds and leaves. A big disappointment for Jessica as she had customers lined up wanting our apples and pears.
We have erected one hoop house with two more planned so that Jessica can commence her organic fruit and vegetable business. She is currently experimenting with different vegetables and already has potential wholesale outlets wanting her produce.
We have 4 Suffolk Punch/Percheron horses being trained for farm work. The goal is to use them as much as possible and to this end we have imported a Pioneer forecart and Homesteader and a Lancaster manure spreader. Pioneer have been extremely helpful and a pleasure to deal with. The horse drawn equipment that we have been able to acquire in Australia is very worn and very heavy so we are looking forward to putting the new equipment into operation. We do have a potato planter and both the forecart and homesteader come equipped with a potato digger so the potatoes will be one of the many tasks that the horses will be involved in.
Ian is hoping to develop a small organic market garden where all work will be undertaken by the horses.
The horses are rotated around the farm following the cattle and sheep. Again, they have unlimited access to their mineral licks to assist in parasite control.
As mentioned previously, most of our stock is sold by us directly to our customers. We have a small truck which makes a 7 hour round trip to the closest small animal abattoir every Wednesday with a mix of beef, lamb and pork, subject to the weekly demand. The abattoir has its own distribution network so the carcases are freighted to the various wholesale and retail outlets that we supply. For the products that we sell ourselves, our butchers cut, smoke and pack our meats ready for sale at the markets or to our data base of customers who deal directly with us.
Sandra and Jessica attend a growers’ market each week, one of which is organic and/or free range held every second Friday while the second is on the alternate Saturdays and has conventionally grown produce as well as free range and/or organic. Attendance at the markets involves a 4:00 am rise and a 1 hour 15 minute drive to Bellingen, the town where both markets are held. We sell all of our produce at the markets – pork, beef, lamb, eggs, seasonal fruit and vegetables.
Our farm is Humane Choice accredited which certifies that our animals are ethically raised and have a wonderful life where they can practise their normal behaviours. All of our small goods (bacons, smoked and fresh sausages, corned beef and smoked hams) are nitrate and preservative free and, in addition, our sausages are gluten free.
In addition to the markets that we attend, we supply our pork, eggs, fruit and vegetables to several retail outlets which includes Sydney as well as local organic, biodynamic and free range businesses within a 2 hour radius of our farm. Our database of individual customers who deal directly with us continues to grow with the support that our local communities provide us with.
For our local customers, we provide them with the opportunity to come and visit us on farm when we hold our 6 monthly open days, normally held in May and November. These are well attended and enjoyed by all. While morning tea is being consumed, we give an overview of our farm, what we do and why. This is followed by our farm walk for the adults while the children ride around in a trailer pulled by a quad bike – apart from little pigs this is the highlight of their day! We normally commence at 9:30 am and the last visitor is usually gone by 3:30 pm when it is time to start our afternoon chores.
We own a portable saw mill which has been very useful in providing sawn timber for farm structures including house extensions, stock yards and shed renovations.
A lot of trees on the farm were logged by the previous owners leaving little saleable timber. Opportunities exist for milling to be done for neighbours.
Our goal is to be able to bale enough hay off our farm to enable all of our animals to be fed during the winter months. With the pigs’ autumn farrowing paddocks we hope to make hay while the spring farrowing paddocks will be used for planting cereal crops, which could be fed off during winter or used for hay making in the spring, subject to the season. Other paddocks will be dropped from the rotation system for additional haymaking, again subject to the season.
Our ideas are not original but we have modified and adjusted the methods used by Joel Salatin and Polyface Farms. We would like to thank him for sharing his farming methods with the world.
As you can see, our farm is running at full capacity, as is the family. No other family members are interested in following on the farm (apart from Jessica) so no more enterprises or expansion will be occurring. Once we have finished off the last few infrastructure tasks, we will hopefully be back to maintenance.
Should anyone wish to see more photos of our farm, our web address is: www.mayfieldfarmproduce.com.au