Written by Lilani Goonesena.
We peered over the fence and 50 pairs of eyes peered unblinkingly back at us. Long white noses and alert ears protruded from fat, fluffy, well-rounded bodies. Baaa. It was a herd of extremely photogenic Coopworth sheep (see below) at Cloudy Bay Homestead.
These sheep were nicely rounded not because they were headed to market but because in a few weeks, they will be mothers. Owners Kim and Jason Evans had rounded them up for us to observe up close and personal.
It was day two of our Electrolux Appetite for Excellence Tassie produce tour and we had taken the ferry to beautiful Bruny Island.
If you were a sheep here – and an ewe at that for the females are mostly kept for breeding – it would be a pretty good life. Cloudy Bay Homestead is a small, 220-hectare free-range farm that borders South Bruny National Park and the Southern Ocean. The sheep forage on two to three different types of native grasses, clover and herbs, and they change paddocks every 7-10 days.
“The type of forage is really important”, says Kim. “We liken it to a human diet; a variety is good for us and it’s good for our sheep too”.
Kim is a former teacher with a Masters in environmental management and Jason, who grew up on a farm, is also an abalone fisherman. They are both very keen to preserve the environmental heritage and biodiversity of their land. They have re-vegetated wetland corridors on the property, fencing them off from the sheep, and propagated seed from native trees.
“We’re here for the sheep but we appreciate our environment and we want to do the right thing by both”, says Kim.
“The health of the sheep comes from the soil and we’re in that chain”, says Jason. “What’s happening in the soil affects us too”. That’s why they don’t use chemical fertilisers, sprays or toxins on the soil, even in their ‘fattening paddock’ where the lambs spend a few weeks before market.
“In the fattening paddock we use a liquid fertiliser of seaweed kelp, chicken poo and different types of rock dust to manage the mineral content in the soil”, says Jason. “We keep it natural”.
Cloudy Bay Homestead has over 1000 head of sheep. There are 500 breeders with one ram to 100 ewes. “At breeding time, the rams and ewes have 4-6 weeks together and then after a 153-day (five-month) gestation, the lambs are born in a 4-6 week period.
All the young females are kept for breeding and the males go to market. The older ewes go to mutton. They use a local abattoir less than two hours away that practices low stress and old-fashioned butchery.
We moved inside the shearing shed where sheep are shorn of 4-5kg of coarse wool each year to “give them a haircut for summer”. Again, no chemical treatments are used on the wool that is pressed into 200kg bags and sold.
Next door, four edgy rams buck inside a wooden pen. Jason shows us how he inspects them for market. He is cross breeding their Coopworths with black Suffolks. This is a common, more compact breed with shorter legs that is preferred in retail markets.
Jason runs the rams through a wooden passage and onto a weighing scale. At 40-45kg the sheep are heavy enough for market but a stint in the fattening paddock will round their rumps. He opens the gate and they dash down the ramp and outside again.
Visiting Cloudy Bay Homestead has been great experience for our group. “I’ve never been to a farm like this before”, said Emma Barnes, a chef from Clarke’s of North Beach in Perth. “It was great to learn the process of sorting out the sheep and weighing them”.
Australians are becoming increasingly more discerning in their meat purchases and there’s a growing demand for organic and natural produce. So too, people want to know that farmers are raising healthy, happy animals in a chemical-free environment.
On that front, Cloudy Bay Homestead ticks all the boxes.
About the Breed:
The Coopworth breed was established in the 1960’s from Southern New Zealand, and originally stems from a cross between a Romney ewe and a Border Leicester ram. Cloudy Bay chose Coopworth because of their excellent fertility rates, high lamb survival rates, and that the mothers are renowned for being highly attentive and protective. Another big plus is that as South Bruny receives one of the highest rainfalls in Tasmania the characteristic hard, black hooves of the Coopworth breed are a great match for the island’s wetter conditions.
About the farm:
Our vision is to improve the environmental integrity of the farm using methods that require minimal chemical inputs, and that promote good soil and animal health. Our sheep are hormone free and we only use organic based fertilisers.