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.
Spotlight On: Crops & Soil
We have hesitated to go public with our potting mix, not because the formula is top secret, but because our greenhouse experience is limited in years and scale. Nevertheless, we would like to offer what we have learned in hopes of showing that something as seemingly insignificant as putting together a potting mix can be integrated into a systems approach to farming.
Every farmer knows that when a crop is grown on the same field year after year, it becomes inferior in quality and the yield steadily diminishes.
Years ago, my brother advised against plowing the patch of prairie on the back forty of our Hubbard, Iowa farm. “Some day,” he predicted, “that prairie will be as valuable as the rest of the 40 acres. We know how to grow corn; but that prairie was seeded by the last glacier.” Left untilled by generations of my family, the troublesome treasure has now become a jewel among a cluster of conventional crops on the farm.
Delay ridge building until early fall so that the cover crop on the ridge does not grow more than 12” tall before winter. The residues from a short cover crop will be much less challenging to cultivate than a tall stand of oats, especially if tangly field peas are mixed in. Waiting for the winterkilled cover crop residues to breakdown as long as possible before ridge-tilling in the spring will also make cultivation much easier until you gain familiarity with the system.
This is the account of how one farm put more horse power into the planting, cultivation, and harvesting of its potato crop. Ever since we began farming on our own in 1994 one of our principle aims has been the conversion of our farm operation to live horse power wherever feasible. This has meant replacing mechanized tools such as tractors and rototillers and figuring out how to reduce human labor as we expanded upon the labor capacity of our work horses.
U.S. Department of Agriculture Farmer’s Bulletin No. 1184 Issued 1921, Revised 1941 — The evident preference of the Chinese for the wild root and the unsatisfactory state of the general market for cultivated ginseng have caused grave doubts as to the future prospects of the industry. These doubts will probably be realized unless growers should strive for quality of product and not for quantity of production, as has been the all too common practice in the past.
Any claim about winter production of fresh vegetables, with minimal or no heating or heat storage systems, seems highly improbable. The weather is too cold and the days are too short. Low winter temperatures, however, are not an insurmountable barrier. Nor is winter day-length the barrier it may appear to be. In fact most of the continental US has far more winter sunshine than parts of the world where, due to milder temperatures, fresh winter vegetable production has a long tradition.
The old way of selecting seed from open-pollinated corn involved selecting the best ears from the poorest ground. I have tried to select perfect ears based on the open-pollinated seed corn standards of the past. I learned these standards from old agricultural texts. The chosen ears of Reid’s average from 9 to 10.5 inches long and have smooth, well-formed grains in straight rows. I try to select ears with grains that extend to the end of the cob.
After three or four years we could see that the nature of our farming practices would continue to have detrimental effects on our soils. We were looking for a new approach, a routine that would be sustainable, rather than a rescue treatment for an ongoing problem. We decided to convert our fields to permanent planting beds with grassy strips in between where all tractor, foot and irrigation pipe traffic would be concentrated.
From Dusty Shelves: A 1943 calendar for seeding your vegetable garden.
While autumn’s beauty is food for our souls, autumn’s harvest provides food for our tables. Along with the many hours and days of canning and freezing our garden produce, harvest time also means apple cider making for our family. We have been making apple cider, or sweet cider as it is commonly called, for six years. Beginning slowly, the demand for our juice has resulted in a production of over six hundred gallons this year.
The radishes came up quick, filling the garden canopy completely that fall, and the following spring we found the plot was clean of weeds and rows of open holes were left where the radish roots had been growing. Well, we had a few extra onion plants that spring and decided to plant them in these holes, since we already had very clear lines laid out for us and a clean seedbed. What we got were the best looking onions that have ever come out of our gardens.
There is a great potential in establishment of a seasonal “sugarbush” industry for small farmers of the northwestern states, particularly western Oregon and Washington. Five syrup producing species of maples are found mainly east of the Rocky Mountains. The Box Elder and the Big-leaf Maple are the only syrup producing maples of the Pacific Northwest. Properly made syrup from these two western maples is indistinguishable from the syrup of maples of the midwestern and northeastern states.
Our cover crops have to provide the benefits of smothering weeds, improving soil structure, and replenishing organic matter. They also have to produce some income. For these purposes, we use turnips, mustard and lettuce within our plant successions. I broadcast these seeds thickly on areas where cover crops are necessary and let them do their work.
Raised beds may not be right for everyone, and our way is not the only way. I have seen raised beds made from rows of 5’ diameter kiddy pools, and heard of a fellow who collected junk refrigerators from the dump and lined them up on their backs into a rainbow of colored enameled steel raised beds. Even rows of five-gallon pails filled with plants count as raised beds in my estimation. Do it any way you care to, but do it if it’s right for you.
The mindboggling agricultural plant and animal diversity, at the beginning of the twentieth century, should have been a treasure trove which mankind worked tirelessy to maintain. Such has not been the case. Alas, much has been lost, perhaps forever. Here are images and information on a handful of apple varieties from a valuable hundred year old text in our library.
Our mild climate makes it too easy to overwinter cover crops. Then the typically wet springs (and, on our farm, wet soils) let the cover put on loads of topgrowth before getting on the soil. Buckwheat is the only crop that I can be certain will winterkill. Field peas, oats, annual rye and crimson clover have all overwintered here. Any suggestions?
The essential requirements of a soil upon which to grow onions profitably are a high state of fertility, good mechanical condition, properties – that is, if it contains sufficient sand and humus to be easily worked, is retentive of moisture and fertilizers, and is capable of drainage – all other requirements can be met.