Green grass proven winner

WHEN Rob and Sally McCreath were looking for a new farming area it was the lure of green grass and regular rainfall in Tasmania that won them over.

The couple were running a cropping and beef operation in Queensland, but said the challenges like frequent droughts made them question the long-term sustainability for farming in that area.

The originally met in Scotland when Mrs McCreath worked on Mr McCreath’s farm as a shepherd. After getting married and having children, the couple made the moved to Queensland in 1994.

“We loved it up in Queensland, we were on the Darling Downs and it was beautiful, but with drought, drought and more drought and things like mouse plagues and army worms it was getting harder,” Mrs McCreath said.

A trip to King Island and seeing the conditions there sparked their interest in moving to a region with a more stable climate.

“Our kids had grown up and we didn’t have to do the hard yards forever and we didn’t want to retire, so we thought we’re ready for another challenge,” she said.

“We hadn’t been to Tasmania before, but we came down and liked it instantly.” Their 220ha property at Montana in the state’s North ticked all their boxes.

The property had recently been logged after being used for plantation forestry and apart from a few existing gravel laneways, it was basically a blank slate.

The McCreaths set about installing infrastructure across the farm, including fencing, water troughs and re-establishing perennial pasture. They lived in a basic cottage on the property before building a new rammed-earth house that was completed 12 months ago.

It sits on top of a hill and offers views of the Western Tiers. “It basically didn’t have anything here,” he said. “There was a fair bit to do.” The property is named Shelduck Farm due to the number of native ducks that call it home.

Establishing perennial pasture across the property is now almost complete and Mr McCreath said they are using a combination of perennial ryegrass, cocksfoot, white clover and red clover.

Average rainfall on the property is 900mm a year. The couple have an Angus breeding herd and Mr McCreath said they also used Shorthorn genetics in their breeding program.

They are building up their herd numbers and will have 150 cows
calving in August. Mr McCreath said they preferred the temperament of the Shorthorn cattle to some of the Angus.

Mr McCreath said the Shorthorn genetics would also help improve the hoof structure on the cattle and provide hybrid vigour. Youngstock are fattened on the property, which is run as a breeder and finisher operation. The cattle are sold to JBS Australia and Greenhams Tasmania.

Most of the cattle are turned off at around 330kg carcass weight at 17 to 20 months of age. Mr McCreath said the last lot of steers they sold produced excellent marbling scores of between three and seven and he was keen to know why.

“The final batch had terrific marbling and I’m trying to find out why because we’ve never had marbling like that before.

“I think the reason was because they were ready to go about six weeks before we sent them, but we had plenty of feed in the autumn, so we kept them on.

So, I’d like to look into that a bit more.” Each year they keep a number of replacement heifers and buy in stores if seasonal conditions allow. The couple did a Pasture Principles course and have applied what they learnt to the farm’s grazing system. While they cut some hay and silage, he said they preferred to graze the grass in pasture as much as possible.

As well as the beef operation, Mrs McCreath has also embarked on a new business making oat cakes. While common in Scotland, Mrs McCreath said oat cakes were not made in Australia and when they could not find them here she started making her own.

“Tasmania can grow and supply all the ingredients I need to make them and there’s quite a strong Scottish history in Tasmania and I’ve always been interested in food, so I thought I’d give it a go.”

She collected recipes while travelling in Scotland and after experimenting, she started commercial production in November last year.

She makes them in her home kitchen and the range is growing to include oat cakes with flavour infusions such as native pepperberry, which grows on the farm. Oat cakes are quite crunchy and are generally eaten with cheese, but also with sweet toppings.

Her oat cakes are sold at specialist retailers statewide. One challenge Mrs McCreath is now working on is trying to find locally grown and milled oats.

Currently she buys in milled oats from South Australia. She is one of the participants in the latest Seedlab Cultivator program for start-up businesses.

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