An icy wind and some very friendly animals welcomed us to Taranaki farm. Set in the rolling hills behind Woodend and with stunning views to Mt Macedon, Taranaki farm is impressive to begin with.
This is a fourth generation family farm, now run by Ben Fallon and inspired by the practices of the famous Joel Salatin from Virginia USA, who promotes poly face farming or regenerative agriculture. These are systems with a high diversity and are commercially viable. You can read more about Joel Salatin’s farm here.
Ben spoke a lot about letting animals express them selves – chickens should be able to express their chicken-ness and also how their nature can be utilised. The farm is possibly best known for the chicken tractor system which follow the movement of cattle. The cows are moved into a new area each day, this is know as cell grazing, and mimics their natural movement over grasslands, high density herds moving to fresh ground each day. This means grass has time to regenerate and the ground doesn’t become overly compacted. The grass certainly was thick and the earth spongy underfoot. Chickens follow 4 days behind the cows, scratching up any cow pats to get the insects underneath thereby spreading out nutrients and sanitising the ground from parasites. The also add their manure and so improve the quality of the pasture long term. An the by-product? Eggs!!
At Taranaki farm everything seems to move often. There are also meat chickens in moving shelters, a mobile dairy, a large A frame with chickens for intensive egg production and forest pigs. Even the fences aren’t static being made from star pickets and eclectic wires. Dams, swales and roads are built on contour in harmony with the existing shape of the land to maximise water infiltration. This is a managed ecological system. More information about Taranaki’s farming techniques are available on their web site.
Of particular interest to us city dwellers was that Ben mentioned the best type of eggs come from a chicken attached to a kitchen, eating kitchen scraps and without the pressure of productivity. Commercial chooks need to lay around 7 eggs every 10 days, backyard chooks are more easily forgiven for barren periods
While Taranaki farm is totally GE free, Ben said that sometimes he thinks local is more important than organic, he said he would rather buy local grain to feed the chooks than organic grain from Queensland
He also spoke about how its important to become reconnected with the land, that people in cities shouldn’t forget they are a biological entity- they are part of the earth’s ecosystem whether its acknowledged or not. To acknowledge this Ben recommends that we patronise local farmers, so we have a connection with our food, we know what’s in it and how it is grown and its impact on the earth.
So for the things you can’t produce yourself find a local farmer! Ideas for how this can be done at include farmers market, community supported agriculture, our local Eaterprises network or setting up your own co-op system.
Words and Photos By Elspeth Brock