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The Brackenlea Story

Alpacas
Dorpers

The Brackenlea Story

LESSON # 1 – The land and livestock are mutually dependent

Prior to moving to Brackenlea we operated a smaller property in another part of the state where we ran Merino Sheep, Alpacas and Cattle. Upon relocating we decided to get out of Merinos due to the amount of work they demanded of you as well as the fact that wool prices were only marginally covering our costs.

Brackenlea is a 275 acre property at Mogendoura, 10 minutes from Moruya on the New South Wales South Coast of Australia.

The property features views of the Mogendoura Valley and Mt Wanderer in addition to the beautiful surrounding acreage and Mogo State Forest. Creeks run through it and natural features include areas of Rainforest with various Spotted Gum and Hardwoods species. Outcrops of famous Moruya Granite are common and many of these provide ideal habitats for rare Rock Orchard species. This rock is famous for being used in the construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge as well as many landmark Australian buildings.

Being adjacent to a State Forest, all manner of birdlife and iconic Australian wildlife abound. All this plus it sits so close to the South Pacific that the crashing surf can be clearly heard at night.

Sounds idyllic?  Well, yes it is, but Brackenlea it a hard, but benevolent, task master that is not backward in teaching its stewards a number of lessons.

These guys cruise by our doorstep twice yearly and we don’t want to do anything to discourage them

LESSON # 2 – Controlling input costs are more important than driving revenue

As we built our stock numbers we were in a negative cash position. As a result we were had no alternative but to explore ways to minimize our costs and once more the land and livestock came to the party and played their parts.

Our main inputs are:

Feed & supplements – This is a “no brainer”. Brackenlea’s grass is cheapest feed source for our livestock. It therefore behoves us to manage this resource in the most effective way possible. This involves treating our pastures as a precious resource ensuring the property isn’t overstocked nor are the paddocks overgrazed. We also rely on our stock, in particular our Dorpers to fertilize as they feed.

Animal health – Experienced farmers often say it is cheaper to maintain healthy animals than treat sick ones. This is certainly true. We use commercial drenches but use only as prescribed. Stock are checked daily to detect any behavioral changes – an animal coming down with something usually gives you a warning if you look for the signs. And paddocks are kept as free from hazards as possible to minimize the chance of accidents.

Fuel & chemicals – We now let our stock do the slashing, saving many dollars on fuel and time. We also have eliminated all chemicals from the property. This is another major cost saving as well as doing our bit for the environment. Water from our creeks eventually flows into the Pacific and we don’t wish to be responsible for migrating whales deciding to take a detour because for toxic run-out from coastal farmlands.

Labour - Additional labour is kept to an absolute minimum. Our systems are simplified as far as possible and worked into a daily routine. Livestock cotton on very quickly and work with us. When a task comes up we haven’t confronted before we learn how to deal with it - there is so much informative and instructive information on the internet these days, it is hard to find an excuse.

 

LESSON # 3 – Extensive farming is the way of the future

By the middle of this century the earth’s population is expected to be around 9b assuming we haven’t started exporting some of us to another planet. So how are we to feed all those mouths? Some argue the answer lies in further intensification of farming. This means more factory farmed animals, more genetically modified “things” and more chemicals to boost growth, grow crops and kill bugs. Our time at Brackenlea suggests that maybe there is another way – an approach that uses relatively small labour, chemical and capital inputs, known as Extensive Farming.

Although we didn’t consciously start out with this in mind, Brackenlea is becoming one of the growing number of Extensive Farming micro-sites that may just hold the world’s future in our hands.

Soon after arriving, however, we quickly came to the conclusion we had made the wrong call with regard to our stocking choices as the property's pastures we quickly being overtaken by invasive species, particularly Senecio Madagascariensis (Fireweed). Neither our Cattle nor Alpacas would go near these weeds which was very sensible on their part as Fireweed is very toxic to cattle in particular.

To control our Fireweed problem we were forced to hand pull the plants or “nuke” it with a chemical concoction recommended by our local government authorities. For over two years we continued on our Fireweed crusade and were getting no where. In desperation we searched for answers to our problem only to find the solution was under our own noses.

While we had sold off our main Merino mob, we couldn't part with a group of hand raised sheep that were family pets so they relocated with us and maintained them in a five acre paddock. There they remained peacefully living out the rest of their lives but making no contribution to the property - or so we thought!

Eventually we came to realise that their 5 acre paddock was decidedly different to the rest of the property - it had no fireweed nor a number of other weeds found elsewhere on Brackenlea.

This discovery led us to completely alter our management of Brackenlea. While is was a wrench at the time, we sold all our cattle and switched back to sheep - this time Dorpers.

Now where ever the Dorpers roam the area is Fireweed free.

 

Brackenlea is at the head waters of creek that run through other properties and then into the Pacific so we are very aware of any chemical runoff.

Our stock graze up to stands of Rainforest which presents its challenges as well as responsibilities.

This granite country is great for natural springs making water not too much of an issue even at the worst of times.

LESSON # 4 – Extensive farming offers a great lifestyle and can be highly satisfying….. and it is not that hard.

It took us a while to work this out but the penny finally dropped when we came to the realization that we, along with the land and animals are part of a holistic system. None of the three main players can operate on their own. So rather than working “on the farm” we work with our animals and the land for a common good. This change in thinking has had a great effect on us and our commitment to the cause.

We talk far more about extensive farming, the roles played by our Dorpers and Alpacas and all the other lessons we have learnt in our Observations Blog.

Join us if you have the time.