Yapunyah Meadow Grazed Chicken

In central Victoria there is a small farm which bases its farming systems on keeping in balance with nature and improving the biological health of the soils.

Yapunyah is a 415 acre property in Graytown, a small locality in Central Victoria. Surrounded by the Heathcote-Graytown National Park, Ian and Mandy McClaren were drawn to this property 8 years ago.

“I loved the fact that it reminded me of the farm I grew up on below the Kinglake Ranges, it too was surrounded by National Park” explains Mandy.

“We named our property Yapunyah after a eucalypt species we saw on a friend’s property North of Bourke in North Western NSW. Yapunyah trees only grow in the Cuttaburra  basin and Paroo river system in North West NSW. Yapunyah trees have the most stunningly beautiful bronze coloured trunks that glow in the sunlight. A unique and beautiful tree just like our unique and beautiful property” describes Mandy McClaren

Ian and Mandy, with their sons Darby 8 and Bryce 5, grow chickens, pigs and beef on their property. The Chickens are the main part of their farming business ‘Yapunyah Meadow Grazed’ and are sold at Farmers Markets, to restaurants and to small providores and select butchers.

Yapunyah is based on the US Farmer Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm. Joel Salatin is getting quite a following and has been featured as ‘the natural farmer’ in Michael Pollan’s ‘The Omnivores Dilemma’ and the documentary movie ‘Food Inc.’. Joel’s holistic farming systems are well documented in his books and use the animals own physiological nature to help improve the soil health, fertility and production on the farm. Joel uses cell grazing for his beef herd, he follows the beef herd with egg laying chickens in mobile ‘tractors’. Free-range pigs are used to ‘plough’ the ground that needs aeration and Polyface uses large cages moved daily through the pasture to grow broiler chickens and fertilise his pastures.

Yapunyah Meadow Grazed Chickens is set up in much the same way. Ian and Mandy cell graze their cattle in wagon-wheel systems with two hectare cells around a central water point. In the early years, they fenced off the both sides of the creek (approximately 2 km of fencing) to protect the creek from the cattle. 

The small herd of Berkshire pigs are used to turn over the crusted soils that often form in the soils surrounding Box ironbark forests. After the pigs have moved through, the soils are aerated and have much better water holding capacity.

The broiler chickens are grown in a brooder shed until they are big enough and covered in feathers and able to cope outside

‘We believe that healthy food comes from healthy animals grown on healthy plants that grow on healthy soils’ explains Ian. ‘We have farmed this property biologically for the past ten years’

Mandy and Ian have been involved in Landcare for many years and helped start the Graytown-Costerfield Landcare Group. They believe farming can be in balance with nature. Yapunyah is registered with Land for Wildlife and Ian and Mandy are also supporters of the Whroo Goldfields Conservation Management Network (CMN).

Sharing the knowledge

Ian and Mandy were delighted to be able to host Joel Salatin for one night during his visit to Shepparton in August 2011. Joel is a kind and gracious man who was happy to have a tour and see some of the adaptations of his system in Australia.

In February this year, Ian and Mandy were happy to be able to share their experiences and knowledge with other farmers in a Field Day held at Yapunyah with Joel’s son and Polyface Farm Manager, Daniel Salatin. The Field Day was organised by Regenerative Farming Educator, Darren Doherty and had farmers from as far as South Australia and Western Australia in attendance.

Soil health

Mandy and Ian believe soil health is integral to the production of good food. Shortly after purchasing Yapunyah in 2005 they tested the soils which resulted in spreading 1.75 tonnes/hectare of lime and trace elements across most of the 415 acres. During their eight years on the property they have also tried compost teas and other natural inputs, however it is the response from grazing and then moving their egg-laying chickens around their orchard that had the most impact and started them on the journey with the broiler chickens.

As Ian explains, “The orchard just seemed to take off in terms of fertility after the chickens had been moved through. There was one phalaris plant that was nearly as tall as me (180cm)” 

“Even today, some 12-18months after the laying chickens have been moved from the orchard, the soil is still spongey underfoot and has vastly improved water holding capacity.”

“So we thought that if this can be achieved on a small scale then why not on a larger scale out in the paddocks” continues Ian “So Yapunyah Meadow Grazed Chickens was born.”

Yapunyah was also one of three properties used for the Federally funded farm trials ‘Convention vs Innovation’. These trials saw the cell grazing of two hectare cells on nine different natural treatments

The challenges of working with nature

Running a farm  surrounded by National Park also has its challenges, from the hundreds (literally) of kangaroos that want to graze on the pastures every day to the wedge-tailed eagles, brown falcons and whistling kites that would love to get their claws on the chickens and turkeys.

Ian and Mandy knew from the beginning the kangaroos would always be a challenge so they bought the biggest electric fence unit they could and fenced most of the property with electric fencing. Low offset wires help to discourage the female kangaroos from coming under the fences into the paddocks.  It doesn’t stop all of the kangaroos but it has helped to reduce the grazing pressure from these marsupials.

With regards to the birds of prey, Ian and Mandy love having them around, however they acknowledge they could not run the broiler chickens out in the open air as they would be quickly picked off by these larger predators. A keen amateur twitcher, Ian has kept a record of all the birds identified on the property, at present count Ian has identified eighty different birds, including emus, powerful owls, yellow-tufted honeyeaters and a nesting pair of brown falcons.

For more information on Yapunyah Meadow Grazed Chickens head to the Bendigo Community Farmers Market, Lancefield Farmers Market, Flemington Farmers Market or Fairfield Farmers Market and say hello to Ian and Mandy.