David Neuendorf, 9Dorf Farms at Lilydale
Words by Natascha Mirosch
Farmer David Neuendorf credits Albert Einstein, Richard Branson and Joel Salatin with providing the inspiration for changing his farming methods.
“According to Einstein, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting a different result. That struck a chord,” David says.
Having come to the conclusion that modern farming methods were no longer financially viable, David and his wife Bronwyn were looking for a more sustainable way to farm. Their research led the couple - who have 80 hectares in Lilydale in the Lockyer Valley - to Joel Salatin, an American farmer, lecturer and author.
“We did a permaculture course in Melbourne and were really excited. We’d read a lot about Joel’s philosophies but we had a few questions which were answered on the course,” Bronwyn says.
The Neuendorf family have been farming in the fertile Lockyer Valley since 1918, originally dairy cows. Bronwyn and David were growing lucerne and running cattle, but today have diversified into what some considered a surprising direction - fish and chickens.
“I think our neighbours thought we’d lost our minds when we went into fish,” says David, “but I’d read something Richard Branson had said about not underestimating what you had and working with it. We had a good irrigation system here with plenty of bore water, and with the oceans being stripped of fish but the demand ever higher, it made sense.”
The couple now have an impressive aquaculture operation producing Murray cod, jade perch and barramundi for sale to the wholesale market. The waste water from the aquaculture is diverted to the fields, the nitrogen content encouraging lush lucerne which in turn feeds the cattle.
With the aquaculture operation up and running successfully, David and Bronwyn turned to the next phase; rejuvenating the paddocks using the controlled movement of cattle followed closely behind by poultry; one of the fundamental principles of farming as espoused by Joel Salatin.
The couple recognised there was a growing demand for ethically produced chickens and eggs and now have about 700 layers and 800-1000 meat birds.
Their egg chickens are pasture-raised, engaging in a symbiotic relationship with the land - aerating and fertilising the earth as well as feeding on pests after the cattle have grazed the paddock. At night, they sleep in a caravan, which is moved regularly onto the next paddock, following the cattle.
“If our neighbours thought we were mad when we went into aquaculture, I have no idea what they thought when they saw our chicken caravans,” Bronwyn laughs.
The meat birds live in moveable coops, “chicken tractors”, that are large enclosures with an open area with access to the grass and shelter.
“They’re not as smart or fast as the layers, so they need to be kept in coops for protection against hawks,” Bronwyn says.
The Neuendorfs grow their meat chickens to eight weeks or more rather than the standard 34 days. They sell both their chicken and eggs directly to the public via markets in Toowoomba and Brisbane as well as to restaurants and via a farm gate store on the property.
”We’re bypassing the middleman which means we get a better price and so do the consumers,” David says.
The couple say they’ve been taken by surprise by both the feedback and the demand.
“At the moment we only do the Milton markets once a fortnight, because we don’t have enough product. Sometimes we sell out of eggs by 9.30am. It shows that people really want ethically produced food,” Bronwyn says.
“A question I get asked a lot, particularly by city people, is why the yolks in our eggs are so round and don’t break and spread. It’s because they’re so fresh, but also because they have the correct amount of protein from the insects the chickens eat.”
Their chickens also have a more creamy coloured flesh rather than the white typically found in supermarkets, in part due to their diet but also, Bronwyn says, because many processors bleach their chickens.
“Not only do our chickens taste like chicken, but they have a different texture. If you poke a supermarket chicken they’re plump and squishy. It’s because they’re pumped full of water and they shrink right down when they’re cooked.”
The Neuendorfs future plans for the farm include installing a small chicken processing plant, as well as investing in Angus cattle and free-range pigs, with the meat from both being sold directly to consumers as a quarter, half or full beast.
“As farmers we need to keep growing so we are viable, rather than just ‘getting by’,” says David. “It’s the only way we’ll encourage the younger generations to stay on the land.”