We purchased our property in 2016. It was a blank canvas. We had boundary fencing, 2 dams, a bore and a windmill (as well as lots of lantana). First we started to build a shed for temporary accomodation and then got to work on our house. We built the house ourselves with the fabulous and valuable help of an older builder (thanks Allan!) We were very glad to move into our house on Christmas Eve, 9 months after laying the foundations.
While building we started to establish our gardens and orchards as well as adding to our chicken flock. Another interesting aqquistion was a flock of layer ducks.
In 2017 we started to focus more on our animals, adding semi-permanent electric fencing to our property. Our 2 horses (Jess and Beauty) were first to arrive, soon followed by our first dairy cow Clover (in calf). As time went on we also purchased another dairy cow (Betsy and her calf Donnie). 4 Wiltipole sheep were also added to our flock.
4 piglets (Ham, Bacon, Salt, Pepper) were purchased from a local farm and fed mainly on food scraps with supplementation of bran to their diet. We slaughtered our first pig at the end of November and had home-grown ham for Christmas. With plans to start breeding piglets we purchased a boar (Boris). We raised our first flock of 50 of meat chickens and had them processed with the final slaughter weight averaging 2-3kg.
We also experienced our first predator loss with the 2 wiltipole lambs killed by a fox/ wild dog. Thankfully the mum and dad survived so we could still breed from them. Our first cow was born on the farm in December with Clover giving birth to a lovely heifer Sweetpea.
In 2018 we started planning for an “edutainment” component to our farm, running school excursions along the theme of regenerative agriculture, bush survival, work and living skills.
We also continued to raise and process meat chickens. Our flock of Muscovy ducks is growing well and we are now selling meat ducks. 2 goats arrived in November, a soon to be mum (Tina) as well as a younger kid (Rosemary). Tina had her baby (Lavender) in December after a long anxious wait on our behalf.
We added a Salatin-style “egg-mobile” and 200 laying chickens. Four Australian settler geese were a welcome addition and played an invaluable role in guarding our chickens against predators. The chickens are moved behind our flock of heifers that we rotationally graze.
2019 welcomed the addition of two more Jersey cows (Rose and Blossom) with their calves (Daffodil and Queen B). Water, an ever precious resource, became scarcer and so the addition of 50 wicking beds to our garden came into being.
On-farm accomodation has been added to the mix of complementary enterprises and we have enjoyed hosting campers through Hipcamp as well. We are very excited to launch programs to assist NDIS clients and continue offering programs to schools and preschools.
What a year. With very little rain in the last months of 2019 we received nearly 200ml of rain in a week leading to us being flooded in for the 2nd time in 4 years. I also somehow managed to forgot about our firefighting pump down at the front dam which was then covered in about 1m of water when the dam rose. Then in February Ellie, our faithful companion and right-hand dog when rounding up cows, died. We first got Ellie when she was just a 5 month old puppy and we were renting and she then came with us when we moved onto Gracemere. Whatever was happening on the property, Ellie was right there to supervise and make sure nothing went wrong. One of Ellie’s favourite animals on the property was the goats, especially Lavender the first goat born on the farm.
Lavender was born all the way back in 2018 but in 2020 we doubled our goat herd with 5 new kids being born. First we had 2 sets of twins born within a couple of days of each other and then a baby girl born 3 weeks later. Forest (the father) certainly did his job well. We also decided to upgrade the goat house at the same time to accommodate the new arrivals. Coming from a rudimentary shelter to a 2-storey palace was certainly an upgrade for them and they loved it.
After we finished the goat shelter we decided to upgrade our milking parlour and brooders as well. Bethany first built the milking parlour way back in 2017 when we first got Clover and it was a little rough to say the least. It wasn’t very secure for any rouge cows and had quite to a significant lean to it. Our new milking parlour I think was quite the opposite. Cemented into the ground with a big roof and a sturdy head-gate. After milking for so long in a half broken run down milking parlour it was lovely to milk in a dry environment.
After the milking parlour came the brooders. Our old brooders were a collection of trailers that we had purchased cheap over time and then converted. While they were good we couldn’t fit in many chicks and had to upgrade. After much contemplation on the design on the brooder we settled on a raised-floor design with 4 big doors for access and ventilation. Well-insulated and rodent proof it was perfect.
2020 was also the year we said farewell to our pigs. The pigs were very hard to manage with such fragile soils (drought, then flooding) and we were struggling to sell so the hard decision was made to send the rest to the abattoir. While we did lose the pigs, some new and rather unusual animals did make their way to Gracemere.
The unusual addition to Gracemere was 5 donkeys. Donkeys are great for scaring off wild dog and were essential to help prevent chicken losses. We first got two donkeys (a jenny and a jack) with the jenny possibly pregnant. 10 days later the jenny had a foal and then there were 3. A couple of weeks after that we received two more donkeys to make up our little donkey herd.
2021 I think was the year of babies. After purchasing our bull (Bruce) in August 2020 the calves started arriving Mid May and then just kept coming- 16 in total. Bruce’s first calf was named Dandelion, born to Daffodil one of our dairy cows.
We also took a few holidays in 2021- first down to Yamba for a couple of days. Stephen was still working so he spent the night at Yamba then headed home to feed the animals, went to work, then headed home again to feed the animals. The things you do for a holiday on a farm!!
Then in July I (Bethany) turned 21 and as a surprise birthday gift went to Lady Elliot Island for 5 nights. An amazing volunteer from the Farm Army (Rural Aid) minded the farm for a week and did a fabulous job. It was so relaxing to wake up and go for a wander along the beach, have some breakfast and then jump in the water for some snorkelling and relaxing in the sunshine. Thanks Peter for all your hard work running the farm while we were relaxing.
Also in 2021 more building happened around the farm. First Josh finished off another chicken caravan and the chickens were transferred to their new home while the old one was fixed. Then we added a toilet and shower block so we could again offer camping on the property as well as improved facilities for the excursions/ school holiday programs.
June of 2021 we kicked off our school holiday programs for the first time. They were a resounding success. Over the 3 days the kids learnt to build a bush shelter, make a simple camp fire, cleaned and readied our brooder for the baby chicks, fed the donkeys plenty of treats, helped weed and then plant out some wicking bed gardens and plenty more fun activities.
In September we started our Gracemere Farmstead Farm Tours, inviting people out to enjoy 3hrs of fun touring Gracemere and meeting all the different animals. While they were here they also learned all about how we raised our animals and where the chickens and eggs come from.
In October there was a very special arrival- Puggles. Puggles is a Maremma, a livestock guardian dog that helps to protect the chickens from all forms of predation- foxes, eagles and wild dogs. He was only 8 weeks old when we got him but he went straight out to the chickens and lived with them full time. 5 months on, he is doing great and is showing how amazing a livestock guardian dog is.
In the garden in 2021 we expanded the orchard and also started experimented with potato growing. In the orchard we added nine new trees- apples, lychees, avocadoes and figs. In total we now have over 20 fruit trees and they are all flourishing. With the potatoes we experimented with growing them in wire mesh cages in plenty of straw. Unfortunately, the high rainfall meant that it was not successful but we will try again next year.
When November rolled around it was again time to welcome two new arrivals to Gracemere- Smokey and Tiger. We already had two cats (Molly and Tiger) but they needed some extra help managing the pest load plus you can never have too many cats right? They are both amazing cats with Tiger loving to meet everyone who visits Gracemere.
In December we had the opportunity to catch up with family around Christmas/ New year and reflect on the year gone-by and plan for the future ahead. 2022 here we come!!