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TAS Country : September 2nd 2010
16 Friday, Septe Feature Farm BONNEYS PLAINS DYNAMIC DYNASTY: Sam Nicolson and his mother Biz at the family's Bonneys Plains property, with a snow-capped Ben Lom Variety spice of this fa A strong focus on improving the natural assets on their property Bonneys Plains is now just second nature for the Nicolson family. land THIS Karolin MacGregor POPULAR ITEMS: Saltbush seedlings. BIZ and Lindsay Nicolson's decision to change their land use practices in the mid-1980s to restore some degraded parts of the property also opened up some unique business opportunities. Their change in mindset to a focus on sustainable management is also supported by the couple's children, Sam, Isobelle and Hanna. Bonneys Plains has been in the Nicolson family for five generations and sits in a picturesque valley not far from the base of Ben Lomond, a few kilometres off the Midland Highway from Conara. While they have introduced new enterprises to their property, fine wool is still the backbone of the family's farming operation and is ideally suited to the native pasture and bushland areas that make up about 75 per cent of the 5000ha property. The family run about 7000 sheep on Bonneys Plains. The flock is mainly Merinos, but the very good market for prime lambs in recent years prompted the Nicolsons to introduce about 1000 cross-bred ewes for prime lamb production into their operation. Lambing gets under way on the property this month. Mr Nicolson said they got rid of the property's cattle herd in the 1990s after a prolonged dry period and had since decided to stick with sheep. ''It's certainly a lot easier to manage as far as stock goes,'' Mr Nicolson said. ''We noticed the bush is also a lot healthier since we got rid of the cattle because they're quite hard on it compared to the sheep.'' The family's Merino flock averages between 17.5 and 18 microns. Mr Nicolson said while they had bred sheep as low as 15 microns, they tried to maintain a balance in the flock between micron and frame size. He said that with so much of their operation geared towards the fine wool industry, they hoped market conditions would improve for wool. To help with mustering, the Nicolsons have spent a number of years installing about 8km of livestock laneways around the property that all link up with the shearing shed. Sam, who has been in charge of much of the recent laneway work, said the lanes made mustering much simpler. There is now no need to take sheep away from the shed after shearing, but they can simply be let wander back along the lanes to the required paddock. ''It's so much easier with the lanes because it saves us hours of work just taking mobs back from the shearing shed,'' Sam said. ''They go a lot faster on their own than with you pushing them anyway.'' The family almost doubled their land area in 2005 when they bought the neighbouring side of the valley from Mr Nicolson's brother Rob. In recent years they have also considerably expanded the cropping side of their business, from about 40ha up to 243ha. Sam, who handles a lot of the cropping work, has also been busy clearing area of gorse with his trusty bulldozer. Once the gorse is removed, the areas can then be sown down to pasture or used for cropping if suitable. Sam said he planned out certain gorse-infested areas to tackle each year. The Nicolsons grow a range of cereal crops, including barley, triticale, canola, oats and poppies. All the crops are grown dryland, and Mr Nicolson said while it could sometimes be a gamble, their cropping results in the past few years had been fairly good after reasonably well-timed rains. ''We've got pretty heavy soils here on our cropping ground, which is mainly along the river flats, so they do tend to hold the moisture fairly well,'' he said. As well as large areas of native grasslands and bush, Bonneys Plains also has about 21km or river and creek frontage, which includes the South Esk River and the Buffalo Brook. Mrs Nicolson said a change in mindset about the environment and how it was managed had prompted them to start working at fencing off and revegetating the riparian areas on the property. They put up their first stream-side fence in 1986. She said that with a huge seed source in the form of native bush upstream, their strategy was to fence off the riparian areas from stock and allow nature to takes its course with a natural revegetation process. Now nearly 25 years down the track, the results of that work are clearly evident. Standing on the edge of the Buffalo Brook, native trees, shrubs and grasses are flourishing, and the brook looks very healthy. ''It's hard to imagine looking at it now, but when we first started it was just a horrible muddy stream with almost nothing growing along the banks, and erosion was a big problem'' Mrs Nicolson said. These days the stream is once again healthy, with a pebbled bottom and banks well covered with grasses, shrubs and trees. ''We've seen the changes happen over the years, and now the fish have come back and it's just so clean and lovely,'' Mrs Nicolson said. Parts of the farm are carefully managed for wool production, but Mrs Nicolson said there were also areas where stock were never grazed. A big part of the Nicolson's farming business now includes a native plant nursery, Taz Wild Plants, which has used the natural species diversity of the bushland and plains on the property. ''I quite often think how lucky we are to live here,'' Mrs Nicolson said. ''It really is a beautiful place and we love it.'' A huge garden made up of native plants is also used as a source of seeds and cuttings to supply the nursery. Mrs Nicolson is in charge of the nursery's day-to-day operation and is also helped by Isobelle.
August 26th 2010
September 9th 2010