A Bellawongarah couple has launched a bold new agricultural endeavour, growing sheep for meat.
Robert and Lee Hamilton purchased the historic Rockfield Park, which was the first settlement on Berry Mountain back in the 1860s, some 20 years ago, from Frank Swane of Sydney Swane’s Nursery fame.
After running a successful Charolais beef stud, the couple moved into sheep breeding three years ago, a decision that has thrown up a few challenges.
Nowra Sale Yards doesn’t handle sheep, which means the nearest sale opportunity is Goulburn or even further west to gain a good price for their animals.
Undaunted by a challenge, the couple has now decided to have the animals slaughtered locally and then market the lamb from the farm gate.
“We just saw it as an alternative way of making the new venture sustainable,” Mrs Hamilton said.
“With nowhere commercially to sell the lambs locally, we had to come up with an alternative.”
The answer was to have the animals slaughtered at the Milton abattoir and they have also installed their own cool room to store their carcasses and sell them from the property.
They have already supplied meat for a number of local restaurants, as well as their near neighbours.
“We are slaughtering around 60-70 head a year as well as growing our flock, which is around the 200 mark at the moment,” she said.
“It is only early days but it is proving a success.”
When the couple purchased the property in 1992, they had no real background in agriculture.
“I came from a family carpet business background and Robert was from a commercial art background. We were just looking for a substantial property within a two-and-a-half-hour radius of Sydney,” Mrs Hamilton said.
The 75 hectare farm, which has stunning views over the Shoalhaven, also came with a small herd of coastal black baldies (a Holstein-Hereford cross).
“We knew nothing about cattle, we learnt on the run and in a hurry,” she said.
They spent two years cleaning up the property and installing 13km of fencing.
They persevered and in the end converted their cattle operation into a Charolais stud.
“Unfortunately this area didn’t really prove a viable financial prospect for the breed,” she said.
“And in the end the cattle were getting too big for us.”
Looking for an alternative to her growing fireweed problem she came across Dorper sheep, which devour the weed that infests vast tracts of Shoalhaven land.
“Three years ago we made the decision to get into sheep,” she said.
Mrs Hamilton has always had an interest in genetics; she said they were now working on establishing a breed of sheep that suited the mountain environment and terrain.
“The Dorpers are a great animal but are more suited to a harder, tougher country out west, somewhere like Bourke,” she said.
“We started with a dozen or so cross breeds and put some top quality Dorper rams over them and we have tried to increase our flock size with each drop of lambs.
“The Dorpers are a cross breed between Persian sheep and British Dorsets – this country probably doesn’t suit them, it is too good for them, so we are now looking to introduce a newly developed cross breed of sheep called Australian whites.”