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TAS Country : October 21st 2010
16 Friday, Octob Feature farm Ortawenah The legacy of Tucke FORTUNATE: Bruce Muirhead is continuing the family tradition of mixed farming at his s Mum's the word at a farming property in the state's North-East, which has been handed down from generation to generation GOOD LINES: Some of the Muirheads' fine herd of cross-bred cattle. land THIS Karolin MacGregor OPTIONS: Centre-pivot irrigation is providing mo SITTING in the undulating hills of Tasmania's North-East not far from Winnaleah, Ortawenah is a property with a unique history. Unlike many Tasmanian properties with long family histories, Ortawenah has been passed from generation to generation mainly through the maternal line. The property is now owned by Bruce Muirhead, who grew up there and is continuing the family tradition of mixed farming. Ortawenah was originally owned by Mr Muirhead's great-grandmother, who was one of three Tucker family daughters who received a parcel of land. After passing down through the family, the property was taken on by Mr Muirhead's mother, Rhoda, who had grown up there, and his father Lewis, who was originally a farmer from Queensland. When the pair took over the property it was about 97ha and since then has it has expanded to more than 688ha as neighbouring properties have gradually been added. In those early days, dairying was one of the farm's main enterprises. ''Pretty well all the farms around here were dairies in those days, it was the rule rather than the exception,'' Mr Muirhead said. Ortawenah is an Aboriginal word meaning many stumps, and Mr Muirhead said this was an appropriate name, because when the property was still being developed large areas of native forest were being cleared to make room for pasture. Mr Muirhead said he was not all that keen on dairying, so that side of the operation was phased out in 1975. Instead, the family expanded its existing commercial pig production and increased the number of cross-bred beef cows they were running. Mr Muirhead said the family produced pigs initially to use up the unwanted skim milk that was left over from the dairy. At its peak, the pig operation brought in about 60 per cent of the farm's income, and it continues on the property today, but Mr Muirhead said it had been wound back in recent years because of higher grain prices and tighter margins. Beef cattle have always been a significant enterprise at Ortawenah but things have changed significantly over the past few decades. ''We used to put the beef bulls over the dairy cows and produce the cross-breds and we ran quite a few Friesian steers as well,'' he said. ''You don't see a lot of them now but they used to grow into big cattle and we'd mainly sell them into the Jap Ox market.'' Mr Muirhead said the time needed for the Friesian steers to reach the right size and get adequate fat cover, however, was not economical so that side of things was phased out in the early 1990s. The property also ran a herd of breeding cows, which at its peak got up to 400 head. In the past few years Mr Muirhead said they cut back to about 250 cows. Now, however, the breeding herd has been sold and the last of the cows were trucked off the property in autumn. ''It wasn't an easy decision, but when you look at the margins, trading is a better way to go for us here,'' he said. Mr Muirhead said, while they had run a mainly cross-bred herd for many years, in the early 1990s they had shifted over to an Angus herd as demand for the breed increased, especially with the introduction of the Tasmania Feedlot at Powranna. Now most of the cattle operation is based around backgrounding cattle for the feedlot and also buying in store cattle to finish. Most of the Angus steers are sold to the feedlot, but any that do not meet the specifications, and all the heifers, are sold to Greenhams Tasmania. They run about 1700 cattle on the property and are registered ALEPH producers with the Greenhams' export program. After a series of highly successful research grazing trials on the property, Mr Muirhead said they had adopted some of the methods used in the trials across the farm. He said introducing these methods had improved their production and stocking rate capacity. Mr Muirhead said it was a system that gave them a certain amount of flexibility and worked well. With Tasmania's North-East Coast and Flinders Island clearly visible from the property's highest points, Mr Muirhead said they enjoyed a fairly mild climate at Ortawenah which was good for pasture growth. ''We're on fairly early country here,'' he said. ''It can get pretty windy, but we don't get many frosts.'' The family also has a long history of cropping on the property which has been boosted in recent years with the introduction of centre-pivot irrigation. Mr Muirhead said cereals used to be their main crops and were grown to supply the piggery, but now they grew a range of other crops including potatoes and onions. One of the more unusual crops is parsley which they have been growing for about 15 years. Each year Mr Muirhead said they grew about 14ha of parsley to supply the essential oils market. ''It's a micro boutique market and the main markets are in the United States and Europe,'' he said. ''The whole market is only about seven tonnes a year but it's something we've been doing for a long time.'' The parsley is harvested in February and the plants last about two years. After two bad experiences growing poppies in the industry's beginning, Mr Muirhead said they did not grow any poppies on the property again until the 1990s, but now they are a regular on the
October 14th 2010
October 28th 2010