Excursion/guest speaker - Alastair Cumming, who is producing a little known variety of medicinal eucalyptus in the Benalla area
Our next meeting in two weeks time, at 10am on December 5, will in the hands of Alistair Cumming who is growing a little known variety of medicinal eucalyptus. We will meet at the Senior Citizens building and then travel to Alistair’s factory in Benalla and later his farm. It will be a joint meeting/excursion with U3A’s Sustainability group.
October - 'Collecting cattle embryos and semen' - excursion to the Bayard's Wagyu cattle farm and lab facilities at Goorambat
Five of our group travelled to Dom and Joanne Bayard's Goorambat farm in early October to see their facilities for collecting cattle embryos and semen. As well as their own Wagyu cattle, they hold cattle for several overseas owners including one in Switzerland who has about 50 cattle on the Goorambat farm. Other Wagyu females, selected for maximum marbling, are owned by an American.
Embryos and semen are stored in at least a dozen liquid nitrogen containers, potentially almost indefinitely. One lot of semen there is valued at $60,000 a dose although semen from the Bayard's bulls is a more reasonable $500 a dose.
There will be no session on Cup Day, however we will meet again on Tuesday 5th December. Keep an eye out for details in your email box and in the December Newsletter.
Dennis O'Connor of Mistletoe Limousins, Greta South, talked about his three decades of breeding Limousin cattle and until 2005, combining it with a teaching career. He said when he began with the breed, Limousin were renowned for being a bit wild and flighty. Nowadays they are much easier to handle and at Mistletoe they are rated with a docility score.
Dennis joins their 70 breeders to about 20 bulls accessed by semen from breeders all over the world. But he is suspicious of some overseas bulls which have poor legs and feet and could not easily cover the distances necessary on many Australian farms.
A high point in 30 year's breeding, was in April when Dennis and wife Pam's Mistletoe Sweet Cake, was supreme exhibit at the Limousin National Show and sale at Holbrook.
Another high point in the O'Connor family life, was when Dennis and his three sons, demonstrated whip cracking at the opening ceremony of the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney. Dennis gave us a modest demonstration of that when he cracked a whip inside the U3A room.
For the next Stock and Land on Tuesday October 3, we will visit Dom and Joanne Bayard's Global Reproduction Solutions Wagyu Beef genetics farm, at 256 Peck Road, Goorambat. Dom spoke to the group in Benalla in April and invited us to visit the farm. Details of the visit will be emailed to participants in late September.
Luke Marple, a local farmer and manager of stock and station agent Nutrien Harcourts in Benalla, spoke of the current good season, high and low livestock and land prices and the difficulty and ease of doing business during Covid.
Selling lifestyle farms during Covid, Luke would film properties on his phone and forward the result to interested people, mostly city dwellers. They would often respond immediately with a contract request and then almost straightaway send back the completed contract and 10 per cent deposit. His best sale was a 35-acre block of rock which quickly sold for $10,000 an acre.
Luke said the October 2022 flood on his 500-acre Broken River frontage farm, was worse than 1993. But he said one of the major benefits for a sheep producer, was the death by drowning of hundreds of foxes. Unfortunately, all platypuses seemed to drown too.
Our next speaker on Tuesday September 4 will be Dennis O'Connor, principal of Mistletoe Limousin, Greta South. This year marks Dennis's 30th anniversary of breeding Limousin cattle. A highlight of that period has been moving from a predominantly horned stud to one that is predominantly polled.
David Burness, a lifestyle farmer on 15 acres at Tatong, took us through his 24 years working in a SA bank, followed by five years for an Adelaide law firm and 14 years working for Deakin University in Brisbane, before buying his Tatong farm in 2007.
But before he went to live on the farm, he married an eastern Russian called Maria, when friends told him couldn't farm without a wife. But no regrets on either front, because she has taken him to visit numerous relatives around Vladivostock, which while experiencing a vastly different culture, he has enjoyed greatly.
David initially bought for the farm, a couple of Square Meater beef cattle, a Murray Grey derivative. But they ended up with 13 head on the property which he allowed was a little over stocked. That included bulls Thunder and Hoover, one of whom lifted him over a high fence with David's shoulders subsequently requiring surgery. Now only a couple of Alpacas remain to supply fibre for Maria's spinning needs.
In the second hour, a first for Stock and Land and rather out of left field, David reflecting on his Deakin days, engaged us in an 80 question learning styles questionnaire, to psychologically evaluate whether we were activists, reflectors, theorists or pragmatists. I and a couple of others were definitely rated as pragmatists.
Our guest speaker on Tuesday 1 August at 10am is Luke Marple, local farmer and stock and station agent.
Libby Skilbeck, our June speaker, grew up in Melbourne but fell in love with farming through a Leongatha fruitgrower uncle, on whose farm she spent holidays. So on leaving school she went to Marcus Oldham agricultural college and studied horse business management.
Subsequently she married a fellow student and they managed dairy, sheep and beef farms. The sheep farm was in central Tasmania. Libby said it was difficult to adjust to socially, because on the rural people front, there were only land owners and workers. The two did not interact socially. But they stayed on the farm for five years.
Subsequently they bought a 200 acre farm near Goomalibee where they initially raised Angus bulls for a nearby stud and now produce their own.
Libby talked about succession planning and said two of their four children seemed interested in farm living. Her youngest son works happily at the Peechelba feedlot and her daughter, initially city centric, has developed a love for country life through attending weekend schools for young cattle people.
On July 4th at 10 am David Burness will talk about being a novice farmer, transitioning from city life to rural living near Thoona.
This month eight of us visited Peter Holmes' sheep farm off the Benalla to Badaginnie road. Peter runs about 3200 Merino ewes producing about 4000 lambs annually. A superior NZ made sheep handler places individual sheep to be weighed or rotated to almost any position for treatment like drenching, ear tagging or dagging. That makes handling of even the biggest sheep not at all exhausting. Similarly, he has equipped his shearing shed with air conditioning for shearers and wool handlers, which is pretty unusual. When Peter asked a shearer what he thought of the aircon, the reply was, “About time”.
We also saw a pretty new 12.5mm a turn centre pivot irrigation system, which draws water from a hole which yielded 100,000 cubic metres of gravel when the Hume Freeway was duplicated. A seasonal pumping licence enables Peter to pump into the dam from the adjacent Four Mile Creek.
Libby Skilbeck, cattle manager at Alpine Angus at Porepunkah, will be our next speaker on Tuesday June 6 at 10am in Classroom 1.
Goorambat Wagyu's Dom Bayard talked us through some pretty complicated in vitro cattle breeding techniques at our April meeting.
Trading as Global Reproduction Systems, Dom and wife Joanne, produce embryos from their own Wagyu cattle and brought in beef and dairy females and bulls, which they implant into cows on the farm, or freeze and sell locally and around the world.
In fact, they sold so many embryos to China alone, with Dom visiting the country about a dozen times, that they were able to buy their Goorambat farm. Since the advent of lifetime ruler Xi Jinping, that market has completely stopped though.
The Bayards run about 350 of their own high end Wagyus on the 400ha Goorambat farm.
Our next Stock and Land session will be on Tuesday, May 2 at 10 am at the property of Benalla sheep farmer and irrigator Peter Holmes. Peter has suggested that we meet on his farm about 9k from Benalla as he has a number of interesting things to show us. We will meet at the U3A car park at 9.30am next Tuesday and proceed to the farm from there. If you will need, or can provide transport, let me know beforehand or on Tuesday. (Phone or SMS 0408 470 468)
Our planned speaker was facing some urgent health problems with his sheep and was unable to attend our March session. ‘Spray Drift’ became the topic for the day, with concerned farmers and agricultural experts in videos produced by Agriculture Victoria and the Grain Research and Development Corporation (see post below) addressing a growing problem of herbicide sprays drifting off target and particularly killing vines and cotton. Considerable discussion ensued about farmers ingesting harmful herbicides and insecticides over past decades, often with deleterious effects on their health.
We also watched most of the video recording of Dr Greg Moore speaking in Benalla recently on the topic ‘Trees are a major asset as the climate changes’. These videos are available below if you are interested in following up these topics.
In Tuesday 4th April at 10am, Goorambat Wagyu cattle producer Dom Bayard, will talk about his farming operation.
What is your understanding of spray drift, some of the problems it is causing?
A short video from Agriculture Victoria featuring farmers who understand both sides of the issue, with stories to help you to think carefully about spray drift.
From Grain Research and Development Corporation: November 2020 - Preventing off-target spray drift Physical and inversion drift can move product away from a spray target and cause significant yet unintended crop damage. This animation explains the factors that can cause physical and inversion drift and shares the key best management practices for growers.
Resources and Information:
Highly Recommend: https://grdc.com.au/spray-drift
CSIRO Book - Spray Drift Management (downloadable as PDF) https://www.publish.csiro.au/book/3452/
Here are some 'good practice' case studies listed on the Grain Research and Development site:
A presentation by Dr Greg Moore entitled “Trees are major assets as the climate changes”, at the BSFG General Meeting 7pm on Wednesday 22nd February, at the Benalla Uniting Church in Carrier St. Dr Moore is a regular presenter on Melbourne radio stations ABC 774 and 3AW on all things arboricultural. He was Principal of Burnley Horticultural College from 1988 to 2007, and has served on a number of important environmental Boards, such as Trust For Nature and Greening Australia, as a member and Chair over many years. Much of Dr Moore’s work has been involved with arboriculture, particularly in the areas of streetscape and landscape design, and you will see from the title of his presentation, his research work over many years has determined just how important trees are in our landscapes.
Graeme Hooper thought he would be a dedicated winter cropper on the family farm at Goorambat, but has increasingly dedicated himself to the Southdown sheep breed, his father established in 1928.
In that year his 15 year old dad, bought stud Southdown ewes at a Telford sale, to withering comments from other buyers that he was too young to know enough.
Nearly a century later, the Hooper's Clear Hills stud, sells towards 100 rams at an annual auction, for an average of better than $1500 each. Some Charollais cross rams, another breed at Clear Hills, maybe becoming Graeme's favourite when crossed with Southdowns, sell for about $2500 each.
A telling story for Stock and Land participants was when Graeme said his father was almost imprisoned during WWII, for wanting to join the army. Twice he was rejected, the second time with a warning that if he tried again, he would be incarcerated. The reason: he was a talented shearer and was desperately needed to keep wool flowing into soldier's uniforms.
Pioneer John Hooper settled in Goorambat towards the end of the19th century; the latest Hoopers, three grandsons of Graeme's, are the fifth generation there. “Hopefully at least one of those will carry on with the stud sheep,” Graeme said.
Commercial Southdowns are at Clear Hills too and the Hoopers sell half lambs, ready to cook, for about $250 each.
The guest speaker at Stock and Land on Tuesday 7th February from 10am to 12 midday will be Graham Hooper from “Clear Hills Southdowns” sheep stud at Goorambat. The Hooper family have farmed at Goorambat for five generations, since 1928.
The critical national shortage of farm harvest labour, was highlighted by our December speaker, strawberry grower Nina Meiers.
Nina and partner Andrew grow 15,000 certified organic strawberry plants on raised beds beside Lake Nillahcootie, at Barjarg.
But production is enormous and each plant produces 180 to 200 strawberries, with the harvest season starting early last month.
However Nina told us, with only three full time pickers, she and Alan could only actually market about 20 per cent of the fruit they produce.
But she could not speak highly enough, of their three Pacific Islander employees, who are paid $39 an hour for their work.
Nina said if they could attract enough pickers, each acre of strawberry production would enable them to gross about $200,000.
Thanks to samples provided by Nina, S&L attendees were able to vouch for the superior quality of what are branded Bimbimbi strawberries.
The speaker for 10am next Tuesday, 6th December, is Nina Meiers of Bimbimbi Farm, Barjarg, about 45km south of Benalla and close to Lake Nillhacootie. She and partner Andrew, moved there from Melbourne seven years ago, to grow organic fruit and vegetables using regenerative methods. They are currently picking strawberries and group participants will probably have the opportunity to taste the fruits of their efforts. All welcome!
Controlling excess water bookended the farming career of our 89 year old October speaker Horst Gunther.
An obsession with excess H2O started in his mid-teens farm apprenticeship in northern Germany’s marshy Friesland, where keeping 800mm of annual rainfall under control, with drains and canals, was all important.
Fast forward to 1980 when he bought land at Pyramid Hill and flat salty soil had to be periodically flushed and a high saline water table kept under control. An initially blackberry infested 260acre farm near Glenlyon intervened.
Two of Horst’s sons continue cropping and grazing on now much enlarged Pyramid Hill farms, where irrigation water was all the go, but is largely now too expensive. But years of laser grading to ensure efficient irrigation and getting water on and off the soil quickly, has paid huge dividends. Saline subsoil water is now more than 2m down the soil profile, Horst said.
Horst now greatly enjoys retired life in Violet Town and tutors U3A’s hugely successful advanced German course every first Tuesday.
The Stock and Land group is taking a break on Cup Day on the first Tuesday in November, but will meet again on the 1st Tuesday in December for the final session of the year. .
John Paul Murphy, a young farmer running a family beef property between Winton and Lurg, spoke to our group in September.
He said the 1450 acre farm, owned by the family since 1985 and once owned by Benalla legend Laurie Ledger, carried about 300 head of beef cattle.
John Paul said he and his family aimed for the farm to be carbon neutral by 2030 and they had planted trees to cover 10 percent; the aim is for at least 20 percent cover with a 20 to 40m wide tree band around the boundary.
He said the farm was an important Winton Wetland tributary and after WW1, had been a series of dairy farms, later consolidated by Laurie.
John Paul said he took over management of the farm from his father John in 2017 and said the greatest challenge was in maintaining grass cover. Rotational grazing was essential and this year running 65 bullocks for two days on 12 acres, had worked better in achieving that, than last year running about the same number for the same period on half that area.
John Paul Murphy pictured during Pregnancy Testing, late August, 2020
(refer David's story 'I came down with a thud...')
Farm crime was the focus of Acting Sargent Ross Plattfuss’s talk to the August session of Stock and Land. He is a farm crime liaison officer based in Benalla and at one time a dairy farmer at Blighty near Deniliquin. He much prefers his current job.
Ross said four wheel motorbikes were particularly attractive to thieves as were chainsaws and spotlights. Fuel theft was now fairly unusual because more farmers had moved to effectively secure their fuel tanks.
At the same time, firearms are regularly stolen from farms. To more generally secure firearms, firearm safes made of thicker steel, had recently become mandatory.
Ross came to the meeting wearing his usual 10kg of equipment including a video camera, firearms, radio, pepper spray, handcuffs and body armour.
Ross told the group that, in general, Benalla mostly reported fairly low level crimes, like drug taking, family violence and youth crime, particularly involving 14 and 15 year old males.
Victoria Police has produced a brochure outlining security measures farmers should implement. Part of the brochure is a 55 point checklist to work through to minimise rural crime.
Our speaker on Tuesday 6 September is John Paul Murphy from ‘Woolleen’,a cattle property at Winton which incorporates some elements of regenerative farming.
Varroa mite threat
The dreaded varroa mite arriving at Newcastle and attacking Australian bees, aligned with our July beekeeper speaker Warwick Bone.
Until a few weeks ago Australian bees had been free of this pest but suddenly it was sighted and suspected all around Newcastle.
Warwick said its impact on bees was horrific, because translated into human terms, a varroa mite on a bee, was equivalent to something the size of a rabbit attached to the back of a person’s neck, sucking blood.
He said an immediate problem, was being able to transport enough Australian bees to pollinate almond trees around Mildura for six weeks over early spring, to ensure a crop. And bees don’t like almond trees much anyway, Warwick said. Just like endlessly eating chocolate.
But he was really with us to talk about permaculture and holistic grazing which he said was all about good design. A key to that is doing what huge herds of wild grazing animals in Africa do, which is heavily graze a small area quickly, move on and not return to that area until every plant there has had a chance to regrow.
That means useful plants get as much chance to recuperate as weeds. An example he gave was 4500 acres divided into 30 acre paddocks near Holbrook, carrying 2500 head of cattle. The farmer moves all the cattle to one new paddock every day which means each paddock has 150 days to recuperate.
Our next speaker on Tuesday August 2 will be local policeman Ross Platfuss talking about farm crime.
Of 700 wild dogs Scott Stow and his 17 state-wide colleagues have caught recently in Victoria, only 20 per cent were identified as dingoes; the rest were crossbreds.
Based at Whitfield for two and a half years, a village that is pretty central for his dog catching operations, Scott is employed by the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning.
He told Stock and Land he uses two dogs of his own to detect where wild dogs have marked their territory. Then he largely uses those detections to determine where he places his rubber jawed foothold traps.
He even caught one of his own dogs but was able to find and release it after a couple of hours. With a week’s recuperation, the dog was able to resume detection duties.
Scott said a major hazard of the job was the number of traps, cameras and dogs that are stolen by bushwalkers and others. Sometimes the thieves are captured by a $300 camera and when that happens with clear pictures, Scott refers the pictures to police.
Asked why dogs were stolen from traps, Scott reminded us that each wild dog scalp attracts a $120 payment from the Victorian government. When he catches a dog, he takes a sample for DNA testing, weighs it, and if it’s a bitch, estimates roughly how many pups it has had.
Scott said he and fellow wild dog experts could only work 3km into Crown land from private property. That meant there was a vast area of forest where many wild dogs were virtually untouched.
He said he and his colleagues were barely keeping a lid on wild dog numbers and the only ones they tackled, were dogs attacking farm animals.
Our Stock and Land speaker on Tuesday 5th July at 10 am will be Warwick Bone. He will talk about permaculture and holistic farming in some depth.
Agricultural contractor Trevor Phillips, told Stock and Land in May that most of the huge amount of hay within his 80km range of Benalla, goes to feed horses.
But last month he was in the middle of seeding 7000 acres of winter crops like canola and wheat, around Dookie.
That sort of work is pretty time critical, but not as much as the hay and silage he makes with six tractors, three round balers and three square balers, every spring.
Five of Trevor's six tractors are German made Fendts, which can legally and safely travel at up to 80km/hr between jobs, which means trucks to move plant are not necessary.
Neither is much technical knowledge of the machinery. “They run themselves and tell me if anything is wrong with them,” Trevor said.
In a normal silage/hay season, Trevor and his team starts mowing around Thoona, moves through to Benalla and onward to home district Molyullah, before moving back to Thoona to largely make square bales west of the Hume and round bales to the east, through the same paddocks.
Our next speaker, on Tuesday June 7, will be Scott Stowe, a wild dog controller, talking about his work.
Ian Gill told the Stock and Land group last month that, as a geologist educator, he was able to successfully transition into growing superfine wool in sheds in the mid 1990s, by bringing his scientific expertise to bear on the project.
He is also an agriculturist because he graduated from Dookie Agricultural College in 1958 with honours.
He opted for shedding specially selected, coated, superfine Merino sheep and feeding them carefully to produce the finest wool possible. Only five years later in 2001, he produced a bale of wool that fetched a world record price of $1200 a kilogram at auction. “Our wool was also displayed at the entrance to the Sydney Olympic games,” he said.
Ian settled on Merino wethers for his operation and started a fastidious classing project to get the right sheep. Initially he selected for the consistency and fineness of their wool, the number of crimps per millimetre of wool staple as well as total staple length.
He said the ideal length for ultrafine wool tops - the cleaned, combed and aligned wool fibres - was 72mm. But that was difficult to achieve because while the length of newly shorn wool was often about 76mm, it could easily come back to say 62mm after processing.
Ian said it was also important that fibres be strong because the stronger they were the faster they could be spun into yarn.
The next selection criteria was how the sheep behaved in the shed. “Some sheep can’t handle that environment, but most conform,” he said. “They make hierarchies within the two extremes of bullies and timid ones. But we had to keep moving the bullies around the pens and that was half our job because most sheep continued producing quality wool for at least six years”.
Providing healthy feed was usually straight forward but was a problem during drought. In 2008, he bought in straw from the Riverina which resulted in seriously ill sheep. Ian said that after some investigation it turned out that the straw had Yersinia pestis bacteria in it, which is what also causes the black death in humans. “We only lost six sheep out of 260 but that was bad enough,” he said.
Shearing was done slowly by one shearer, local Keith Hammond, at the rate of about 80 a day. That ensured plenty of time could be devoted to ensuring the quality of each fleece.
Ian and his family became involved in processing their wool into yarn and clothing sold under the Jemala brand. Specialists in high end-luxury wool, Ian demonstrated to us passing a two square metre superfine wool shawl from their collection through a wedding ring. This technique was developed by US customs to detect shawls illegally made from the superfine hair of a rare and protected antelope.
Ian explained that they have had to go to Italy for wool processing because, although there are some small wool processing businesses, Australia has shut down nearly all its wool processing and there are no good spinners or processors of fine wool.
Loro Piana is an Italian fabrics and clothing company specialising in high-end, luxury cashmere and wool products. Loro Piana used to buy the finest bale in the world and always had a list of buyers.
Jemala’s wool has also featured in Italian high-end luxury cashmere and wool producer Cruciani’s products sold in prestigious Moscow stores favoured by oligarchs. “Cruciani’s has the reputation of selling the finest in the world with customers so rich they don’t ask about prices and just buy what they like”. However, Ian noted that “We are really struggling right now. One of the reasons is the oligarchs have gone to water, have gone greener, have been affected by the Ukraine Invasion”.
Our speaker for on Tuesday 3rd May will be Trevor Phillips, an agricultural contractor based at Molyullah. About 25 years in the business, he travels up to 80km from Benalla using five Fendt tractors, three round and three square balers as well as seeding equipment. He is currently sowing winter crops near Goorambat, part of a 7000 acre sowing and fertilising remit.
Just a reminder that our next Stock and Land will be on next Tuesday morning 5th April at 10 am.
Our guest will be Benalla man Ian Gill, who for many years produced and marketed super fine wool from his shedded sheep. As a result he established rock solid and highly lucrative contacts, largely with Italian wool spinners and elite fabric manufacturers - Ermenegildo Zegna for example.
To show and feel, Ian will have samples of the wool his sheep produced as well.
Our guest speaker for March was Tim Finger from the 1200 acre Riga Angus stud on the Midland Highway and the Broken River, about 10km north west of Mansfield.
Tim told us his grandfather and grandmother, George and Irika Kakis, established the stud with three pedigreed females, at Orana Park, Healesville in 1972. Those three females came from the Swansea Stud at Swanpool.
As numbers grew, they moved the stud initially to Tolmie and then in 1995 to its current location.
Today farm manager 27 year old Tim, his father Ian Finger and Irika's daughter Vera Finger, his mother, run about 300 stud females on Nillahcootie Park. Tim's sister Kate works for the Birchip Cropping Group in the Mallee and is a consultant to the farm operation.
Muscling, marbling, yield and other important characteristics determining meat eating quality are continually being refined within this female base, Tim said.
Riga concentrates on selling bulls as yearlings – their next sale is on the property on April 13 – and one previous customer, recorded 100 pregnancies from one such Riga sire, in one year. With such activity, it took him a while to grow out though, the customer said!
Wallace Binnie, a Thoona Poll Dorset stud breeder for more than half a century, spoke to our Stock and Land group on February 1.
Wallace acknowledged he was of an age where it would be quite legitimate for him to retire. But he said the keen interest in their Coledale sheep of his 13 year old grand daughter, Kirsty, kept him involved in the stud's day to day operations.
They had recently added a particularly vital piece of equipment to enable them both to keep working the sheep, without injuring themselves. (Poll Dorsets have always been big but like other breeds could weigh 80 to 100kg or more these days.)
That life saving piece of kit, although expensive, is a mechanical sheep handler. Wallace said that once it drew a sheep into its race, it would automatically clamp the sheep tightly and immovably so it could be drenched, inoculated or ear tagged while standing up, or it could turn the sheep on its side to be dagged or even partially shorn.
The Binnies run between 450 and 480 ewes, on nearly 400ha between Thoona and Devenish, and sell 150 to 160 rams a year at an on farm sale.
Our speaker for next Tuesday, March 1 at 10am, will be stud beef cattle breeder Tim Karkis. Tim’s family started the Riga Angus stud in 1971 at Nillahcootie, so are well into their second half century. Look forward to seeing you then.
'Catching up with Wallace after class'
About 'Stock and Land'
Are you a regular watcher of Landline, a reader of Country News, Stock and Land or The Weekly Times? Did you grow up on a farm, are you still on the farm, are you engaged in agribusiness, or did you downshift into Benalla? Perhaps you studied/taught food and agriculture related courses or worked in an area related to agriculture? Or perhaps, like most of us, you are interested in where food comes from.
1st Tuesday of the month 10 am to 12 midday
U3A Meeting Room 1
Convenor Contact Details
M 0408 470 468