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TAS Country : August 5th 2010
16 Friday, Aug On farm Fonthill Sister act transforms OLD WORLD CHARM: The majestic Fonthill homestead was built in 1840 and is now b Fonthill is a property steeped in history and now a new chapter is about to be opened there after the introduction of two new livestock enterprises. By Karolin MacGregor FAMILY: Susan Harvey and her three sisters have bought back their old family farm. They are just so cost effective and low maintenance that I wouldn't even consider going back to merinos now.' PICTURESQUE Fonthill sits in the southern Midlands, not to far from Oatlands and is owned by the four Harvey sisters --- Rose, Patsy, Di and Susan. After growing up on the property along with their two brothers, a bitter family dispute 30 years ago saw their family forced to leave, but in 2001, the sisters banded together and bought it back. They went on to establish a fine wool production business and a farm tourism enterprise. Now, after spending five years farming in outback New South Wales, Susan, along with her two sons Ben and Richard have leased the property. Susan, who lives at the magnificent Fonthill homestead, has introduced Boer goats and Dorper sheep to the property for the first time. ''I'm so excited because this really is something completely different to what we've done here in the past, but I think it will work really well,'' she said. With the help of farm manager Basil Winspear, who is also her ex-husband and father of her two sons, Susan said they hoped to develop the goat and Dorper enterprises into sustainable businesses. The Harvey family's involvement with Fonthill dates back to 1926 when it was purchased by the sisters' great grandfather David Harvey. Since taking over the property, Fonthill has earned a reputation as one of the state's top wool producing properties in recent years under the careful guidance of Di, but now the merino flock has been sold. While Dorpers are not yet a common breed in Tasmania, Susan said her experiences with them on the mainland, where they are now found in big numbers, had convinced her they were the right breed to make the most of Fonthill's mix of improved pastures and native run country. ''They are just so cost effective and low maintenance that I wouldn't even consider going back to merinos now,'' she said. Susan bought about 550 Dorper ewes into the state, many of which are due to lamb in the next few months. Twenty Dorper rams were also purchased. Eventually Susan said they hoped to run a flock of about 2500 ewes. A major benefit of both the Dorpers and the goats is that they will readily eat gorse, which has been a weed the Harvey's have battled against for years. Despite its reputation as a costly problem, Susan said gorse did have nutritional benefits, which included a high level of protein. ''Having the goats and the Dorpers has really changed my attitude toward the gorse, because now I see it as something the stock can use, not only for feed, but it's also very good for shelter,'' she said. Mr Winspear said Dorpers are an easy care meat breed of sheep that have short tails and do not require shearing or crutching because they shed the small amount of winter fleece they grow naturally as the weather heats up. They are also more resistant to internal parasites than other sheep breeds. Mr Winspear said the breed's excellent fertility was another advantage, as they were able to lamb every eight months, or three times within two years, which could help push up production. With low birth weights, Dorpers rarely have problems lambing. Mr Winspear said their exceptional growth rates meant they would aim to be turning off prime lambs at about 45kg liveweight at between 100-120 days old. ''They start eating grass as soon as they're one or two days old, so once they hit the ground they just grow,'' he said. Full grown Dorpers generally weigh about 60kg. Mr Winspear said they would sell the lambs over the hooks and would also retain some ewes to help build up flock numbers. While they already have some lambs on the ground, the main part of the flock is not due to lamb until about November. Mr Winspear said because of the breed's exceptional fertility and growth rates, ewes could have their first lambs at between seven to eight months old. ''They're a bit different to other breeds because they don't cycle on the season or on age, they start cycling on their body weight,'' he said. Susan said Dorpers' ability to perform well even under tough conditions was another bonus. ''It means that we'll be able to run ewes and lambs on the parts of the property where we used to only be able to run wethers, which from a production point of view is much more efficient,'' she said. With a growing demand for goat meat both domestically and overseas, Susan said they could also see great potential in the goat meat industry. ''Up until now, supply has been one of the biggest problems, there just aren't the numbers to keep up consistent supply, so it's been difficult to create a good market,'' she said. ''We're hoping that now we've got bigger numbers here, we'll be able to
August 12th 2010