Our farm is farmed almost how it was farmed last century using crop rotations and livestock to enrich the soil and deter weeds. The simple theory is that animals will fertilise the soil as they wander through the paddocks at the same time as reducing the weed burden. By effectively managing soil fertility in this natural fashion the soil is better equipped to produce top quality crops. The principles of organic farming rely on this interdependence between animals and plants and it is rare to find monocultures on organic farms.
That isn’t to say, however, that things are allowed to just happen; organic farms are managed as well as conventional farms. We do soil samples yearly to assess what our soils need for a particular crop and then use rock minerals to improve the soils if and when needed.
A requirement of our certification is that 10% of our land is set aside for non farming activities. This is to allow native fauna and flora the opportunity to flourish on farms, coexisting with farming practices.
In 2003 we undertook an ambitious tree planting scheme which saw us plant 18,000 native trees and shrubs in a winter creek line which had been prone to flooding each year. Most of these trees survived the droughts of a couple of years ago and are now well above head height. They have had a dramatic effect on run off from the eastern side of the farm.
Harmful synthetic chemicals, such as glycophosphates etc are not permitted on organic farms but there is more to organic farming than merely the absence of these herbicides and pesticides. Just because you have decided your farm is to be organic doesn’t mean the weeds and pests stay away so the organic farmer has to find alternative means of dealing with them.
Some of the strategies, as described above, rely on the rotations of livestock and crops around the farm. In addition to our pigs, sheep and cattle we also have a small collection of poultry; a mini flock of Australorp and other rare breed chickens headed by our roosters Hamish and Andy; a small flock of geese and our growing flock of ducks. We have six horses and ponies most of who are well into their retirements and are collectively known as the moving scenery. Not forgetting the donkeys, Maddy and Bo, alternatively known as psycho and killer donkey for reasons that become apparent on meeting them.
Traditionally this is how all farms were cultivated with a mix of crops and livestock. Spencers Brook Farm was originally a 1500 acre estate built and farmed by the Wilding family for many years. It produced award winning cattle and sheep every year at the Royal Show and champion draught and race horses. The first WA winner of the Melbourne Cup was allegedly bred on the farm and in our front paddock there used to be a racecourse used before the one at Northam was built. Incidentally our all wooden shearing shed which dates back to the turn of the previous century was used as the spectator stand for the races.
The original railway line from Perth terminated at Spencers Brook before the lines were extended to Northam and York and in its heyday there were grand plans to turn Spencers Brook into WA’s own New York- a plan we are very grateful never came to fruition.
Today the valley is quiet and tranquil and the perfect anecdote to city life not that life on the farm is at all laidback and uneventful!