MEATY Dorper sheep are the attraction at Highfield Farm, Adelong, in southern NSW.
“I love their big fat bodies,” Louise Freckelton said when asked why she was grazing Dorper sheep on her property.
It is easy to appreciate her enthusiasm for the shedding breed when she walks around her contented flock.
“They are tough animals, they do very well on our native pasture... and they eat well,” she said.
Louise and David had lived a busy inner- Sydney lifestyle, but escaped as often as they could to go bush walking through the Southern Alps.
They always thought to purchase a small farm, and when Louise was offered a redundancy from her position, she accepted it and moved to the 300-hectare property near Adelong.
A pre-existing nature conservation covenant over 200ha of the property was a decided incentive for Louise and David to purchase Highfield Farm.
“We thought, when deciding to make our purchase, we would be very interested in rehabilitating a property by establishing natural bush areas,” Louise said.
“This property already had an established regenerated area so it fitted nicely with our plans.”
The 200ha covered by the covenant is managed by the Nature Conservation Trust of NSW, and under the terms, grazing at certain times is allowed.
On the 100ha available for grazing, Louise said she and David decided to go with Dorper sheep for their shedding traits as much what she thought was their aesthetic appeal.
She started with 38 Dorper ewes to allow her some experience with sheep and property management, as obviously neither she nor David had any prior understanding of the challenges of farming on a small scale.
“We selected Dorpers because our passion is for meat rather than wool,” Louise said.
Admitting she was new to the farming game, Louise read a lot of articles and brochures dedicated to raising sheep, attended local courses organised by the Department of Primary Industries and the Local Land Service, and listened to district farmers with experience.
“As a novice I wanted to take in as much information as I could,” Louise said.
In the three-and-a-half years they have been on Highfield Farm, Louise and David have increased their Dorper flock to 100 mixed-age ewes.
With their numbers at the desired level, Louise can now concentrate on culling off - type ewes to raise the standard of her flock.
“Our numbers are now stable, so it is giving us the chance to improve the quality, checking mouths, udders and feet so we will only keep the best ewes for future breeders,” Louise said.
“I would also like to get more length in their bodies and a bit more height.”
The Dorper lambs are processed at the Gundagai abattoir, and the weighed and packaged cuts of meat are sold through the local farmers markets in Wagga Wagga, Tumut and Albury.
“We attended markets in Sydney, and because we appreciated the freshness and provenance of our food, it was easy for us to become involved with local markets as a convenient outlet for our lamb,” she said.
To ensure a constant and consistent supply of lamb, Louise has three lambings a year.
“We are only small scale, so to satisfy our customers we have a breeding program which makes certain of continuous supply,” she said.
Louise is studying for a Diploma in Organic Farming through the National Environment Centre at Thurgoona and is taking on many of the concepts of organic farming, using inputs to improve the soil fertility and raise their livestock ethically.
“We were coming from a blank piece of paper, so we were able to put our minds to testing the received notions,” she admitted.
“We like the holistic management principles, and have developed a farm plan with more water points and new fences.
“I don’t look at standing feed as a waste, rather we understand plants take time to recover so we move our ewes around.”
Taking a moment to reflect upon her time at Highfield Farm, Louise admits there is “no simple recipe” to successful farming.
“Our carrying capacity is determined by rainfall and soil fertiliser, and gradually we are developing a better grazing system,” she said.
“We have remnant Kangaroo grass and it is spreading and we expect it to become prolific with our new holistic grazing system.”