Meredith Dairy Farm Tour

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Torquay Landcare Group visits Meredith Dairy, winner of the Landcare Australia Primary Producer Award (Vic, 2009).

A busload of Torquay Landcare members ventured to Meredith for a Winter Farm Tour, to investigate the workings of Sandy and Julie Camerons’ sheep and goat dairy property.  We knew that it was the largest sheep and goat dairy in Australia, and that they produced award-winning cheeses.  However, we were not prepared for the scale of the enterprise and the thorough manner in which its component parts were integrated.

We found that the Cameron family has been buying up neighbouring properties to the extent that their property is now 1,450 hectares (3,583 acres).  They believe that their business has been so successful because of their ‘emphasis on sustainability, ethics and practices: financially, environmentally and socially’. (Julie Cameron 2010).  They have received a string of awards for produce and from industry peers as well as Landcare: Farm Entrepreneur of the Year (1997), Australian Grand Dairy Award (2006), Vogue Produce Award (2005, 2008), Melbourne Food & Wine Legends (2008), Primary Industry Sustainable Farming Award (Vic 2009), Landcare Australia Primary Producer Award (Vic, 2009), International cheese awards, Australian Specialist Cheese makers awards, They have been finalists in the NAB Agribusiness Awards (2009), and no doubt there will be more as time goes by.

Sustainable farming practices

It was evident that the family is passionate about Landcare and sustainable farming practices, utilising ‘no till’, controlled traffic and raised bed cropping. The latter includes: wheat, canola, and barley as commercial crops for sale off farm, with oats and lucerne being produced for their own stock fodder.  Julie Cameron declared that it is the productivity from the dairy and the crops, which enable profits to be put back into Landcare. They have, for instance, preserved 80 hectares of rare native volcanic plain grassland, and have carried out large-scale re-vegetation of the once degraded Cargerie Creek

Given the heavy rains the week before, Torquay Landcare visitors happily came armed with gumboots and were able to visit many aspects of the dairy; from the large nursery for day old kids, to the milking shed where we inspected the line up for milking machines, functioning at waist level for the operator, and which facilitate simultaneous exit for each wave of milkers.  We discovered that goats were sheded, while the sheep, being more malleable at milking time, roamed the hillsides of improved pasture. We visited the big new open goat shed, based on European models, where trucks drive up on to a broad platform (about goat head height) and distribute fodder to the concrete channel each side of the truck, for the goats below. Cleaning the goat straw is an endless daily job; with the soiled straw being put out to fertilise surrounding pastures, ensuring the long-term increase of organic carbon in the soil.  It is fair to say, that it was the shedding of massed numbers of goats in close proximity that raised concerns in the minds of the visitors.

Pioneers in the production of ewes' milk cheese

Milk is produced from a flock of 2,500 sheep and two goat-herds totalling 2,500 goats, with 500 of each being milked at any one time. The Cameron family farm pioneered the production of ewes' milk cheese in Australia in the 1980s, and has since become one of the leading producers of goats' milk cheese. Production levels are consistently high, with 1,000 liters of ewe’s milk being produced daily for yoghurt and 250 tons of goat cheese being produced each year. Products are sold Australia wide and exported to Asia, Europe and United States of America.  Torquay Landcare visitors recognised these demanding levels of productivity and asked how it was achieved, particularly as they know sheep and goats to generally be strong seasonal producers, producing one/two offspring in Spring.

The secret seemed to lie in the studies of Sandy Cameron, a qualified vet. His (1985) PhD research focused on year round reproduction, so that sheep are now organized so that lambing occurs each month. It is this arrangement that enables year round production of fresh produce for the demanding retail markets. The cross breeding of imported Arabian varieties of sheep have also helped to increase the output - which began at 20 litres of sheep’s milk per lactation but has been increased to 300 litres per lactation. The difference in these production figures is something the farmers on the Torquay Landcare visit could connect with. Having each sheep and goat‘s history recorded via a computer chip takes the farm into the future and impressed us all with its thoroughness and ease of management.

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the dairy was seen to be the extent to which the Camerons manage the property so as to reduce their carbon footprint, ensuring that they are being proactive in their environment and taking into account the issues surrounding climate change.  This was achieved by the undertaking of projects that reduced energy consumption, while utilising environmentally friendly energy such as solar and wind.

Benefits of the tour

As fellow producers, the Landcare visitors benefited from what was witnessed on the day; for instance, we received inspiration to try new enterprises; we saw how a farming system can be semi self sufficient in terms of producing its own crops for stock feed and spreading manure back onto crops. We were reminded how the revegetation and growing of deep rooted perennials like lucerne can be built into a profitable farming system. We saw at close range, how a carbon neutral system can be developed through sustained effort on a single property. We learned of the importance of establishing an ethical framework on which to base our farming business; and above all, we learned the need for continual research so that farming decisions are based on fact, not just emotion or farming trends a farmer may have simply inherited.

On the way home, the Torquay Landcarers stopped off at the nearby Lethbridge winery to sample and buy Meredith cheeses – as well as the biodynamically produced wines.  This topped off a remarkable day.  We would like to convey our heartfelt thanks to Julie Cameron for the generous manner in which she answered our many questions and for the time she put into our visit.  We also thank Lisa Miller for endorsing the Torquay Landcare Farm tours as well as the Department of Primary Industry (DPI) and the Corangamite Catchment Management Authority (CCMA) for funding the transportation and catering.  We look forward to our third farm tour of the year, which is to visit the farm trials at Rokewood.

Farm tour on the move, led by Julie Cameron & Murray Johns