Willowmavin

The Lambert family live and farm at Willowmavin, located at Molyullah near Benalla in Victoria.  Jo and John, together with their children Alex (8 years) and Tom (6 years) love the farming lifestyle.  

Willowmavin was once a part of an original 38,000 acre station from the 1800’s called Kilfeera, and the current property name may be derived from the old willow trees that grow along Ryan’s creek, which runs through the property. 

John works as a GP and Obstetrician in Benalla during the week, while Jo works on the farm when the kids are at school.  The family spend the weekends and every spare moment looking after the cattle and getting jobs done on the farm together.

Alex and Tom love to help check the cows during calving season and passionately work away at reducing the carp numbers in the creek.  Alex and Tom also help with looking after the chickens by feeding them food scraps and collecting eggs, they help chop and load firewood and are also excellent at spotting scotch thistles.

The family grow much of their own fresh produce and delight in being able to grow and harvest fruit from orchard and veggies from their garden.  

“When we first started farming we used a mobile butcher to process a steer for us to eat on the farm. The last thing the steer knew was how tasty his mouth full of grass was, he was happy on his farm and connected with his herd.  The meat was delicious, better than any beef we had ever tasted!  We did some research and found that this wasn’t just our own bias influencing our tastebuds, low stress animals really do make for tender meat. We thought how wonderful it would be if this could happen on a commercial scale. It would tick all boxes in our mind – the animals wouldn’t have the stressful experience of leaving a farm on a truck on their way to an abattoir to go through processing and anyone could enjoy such fantastic tender meat.  Win-win!” – Jo Lambert

While the Lambert family didn’t have the stomach to disrupt the red meat industry themselves, they we were very pleased to partner with the team at Provenir, who, in their words “did all of the hard work for us!”

 

Why Provenir? 

Processing with Provenir allows us to be fully engaged in the entire beef production process and avoid experiencing the guilt that comes with loading your cattle onto a truck to be driven off to an abattoir.

Our cattle can now spend their entire lives on our farm and never have to be transported anywhere.

It also puts the pressure on us to make sure that we do produce the best meat possible because people will be able to see who produced what they are eating!”  – John Lambert

Farm fast facts

Farm NameWillowmavin 
Farm Size250 acres
How many cattle?70 Angus breeders 
Who works on the farm?John and Jo work on the farm. John works off farm during the week as a GP Obstetrician while Jo wrangles their 2 sons, Alex (8 years) and Tom (6 years) and fits in farm chores in between.
 Favourite beef meal?John loves a medium rare eye fillet while Jo enjoys brisket.  Alex loves a steak and Tom enjoys a beef sausage with TOM-ato sauce.
Why Provenir?We have always eaten our own beef that is killed in the paddock without a care in the world and have found that it is second to none.  Well cared for cattle that are not stressed make the best beef.  Aside from the benefits to eating quality, with the Provenir on-farm processing we like the idea that our cattle don’t have to get onto a truck and leave the farm to go to an abattoir, they are in a familiar environment with handlers that they know.  It is a privilege to be involved with the entire beef process – breeding, raising, finishing and finally having some involvement in the processing to the final product. 

Why we farm

The space, the quiet and fresh air.

The Lambert family love living on the farm and appreciate the space, the quiet and fresh air a farm brings to their lives.  

Farming allows them to feel more connected to the land and the seasons. They enjoy their animals; working with the cows, letting the chooks out for a scratch, checking the bee hives, feeding the guinea pigs and running the dogs.  The family keep two milking cows and are looking forward to the adventure of producing their own milk once the young heifers start to produce milk, hopefully next year. 

Jo is a third generation farmer and although she had a short interlude as a Clinical Dietitian her heart has always been to live on the land.  Her grandfather and father were both beef producers and Jo fondly remembers helping with cattle work as a child.  Her favourite jobs were during calving and being a spectator should her Dad have to assist any births, along with the very important role of announcing to the world if the calf was a boy or a girl.  As a child Jo also had a job in writing out ear tag IDs and documenting weights.  It just so happens that she has now inherited her father’s ‘vintage’ weighing computer that still gets used today. 

John’s interest in learning the craft of farming has been essential to the families success in farming together.  While John may not have grown up on a farm like Jo, he is highly motivated to learn and works on the farm whenever he’s not in the Clinic.  John has also shown a natural ability to read the land and tend the cattle. 

Jo’s parents and her brother’s family continue to farm in the Riverina.  Her Dad, Harry Morshead from Yenda NSW, is somewhat of a mentor, always on speed dial.  When he comes to visit, there is a project at hand and the Lambert’s approach is often heavily influenced by what Harry thinks.  Harry is a real inspiration to Jo and John, and is a treat to watch in the cattle yards – confident, fluid and calm.    

There is also something really satisfying about producing food that you would love to eat yourself.– Jo Lambert

 

Heritage

Bushrangers once traversed the land. 

Willowmavin was once part of Kilfeera Station, which was a parcel of 38,000 acres in the late 1800s.  It has been said that at least some of this land was used for breeding Clydesdales and there are still some very old cattle yards made from hand split timbers on the property, by the banks of the Ryan’s Creek.  The area is part of Ned Kelly’s old stomping ground, having been born and raised on a property a few kilometres away.

In the early 1900s a seven year old Les Booth, known as “Boothey”, was discovered by the land owner Mr. Chivers on Willowmavin on Christmas day.  He was cooking up a Christmas dinner of a rabbit that he had trapped.  Les had been abandoned by his parents and Mr Chivers allowed “Boothey” to stay on and eventually employed him as a farm manager.  “Boothey” went on to own “Willowmavin” and raise a family there.

 

“Provenir connects the farmer to the final product in a way that respects the animal and makes the best meat. How good is that!”

–  Jo Lambert

Livestock

Black Angus cattle

The Lambert family breed Black Angus cattle, currently running about 70 breeders with an aim to build their herd up to 100. 

The Angus breed was chosen as they just happened to be the flavour when the Lambert’s first started cattle farming, although just quietly they have a soft spot for Herefords too. 

The bulls are from Alpine Angus and the females are bought from “Peppertrees” Angus stud.

Jo and John grow out the calves to be finished on the farm.  They also buy in 50 or so trade steers (Angus and Hereford) from local breeders, to finish each year.  They have two bulls – Mufasa and Ferdinand (otherwise known as “Fertiman” by the kids) and ultimately, they aim to breed and finish all of our own cattle without the need to buy and transport in any trade steers.

A quiet temperament is the number one attribute Jo and John look for in their cattle, after that they look at how they perform on grass (rather than grain).  

“We’re looking forward to selecting on feed efficiency and reducing methane production in the future.” – John Lambert

Livestock management

Quiet Cattle 

Breeding for a quiet temperament means that Jo and John are confident working the cattle with their young family.  

The two Angus bulls, Mufasa and Ferdinand join the cows and heifers from August for six to nine weeks and calving typically starts in April.  Artificial insemination is used at times to diversify genetics. 

Breeders and their calves are run together until they are weaned at nine months.  We calve cows and heifers calve separately and those that have calved are moved with their calves to a mothering paddock.

The weaners and trader steers typically run together in a herd of 70-100, while the bulls keep each other company when it’s not the joining period.

Recently, the Lambert family have installed a new set of cattle yards to improve cattle handling and reduce stress during yarding and treatments for the cattle.

 

Land management

Rotational grazing and improvements to water management

Since the Lambert family have owned Willowmavin they have reduced the size of the paddocks to allow for rotational grazing and improved pasture utilisation.  This has had the added benefit of better conservation of desirable pasture species and minimising the use of herbicides.  They often oversow desirable pasture species where possible rather than spray out paddocks. 

The drainage of the low-lying, wetter paddocks has been improved, which has reduced the number of foot problems for the cattle, and enhanced the quality of water run-off into the creek.  With increasing dry weather over the last few seasons the Ryan’s Creek has not been as reliable for water over summer.  The Lambert’s have recently ensured that they have access to a piped clean water supply for water security and improved quality water over summer for the cattle.  

The Lambert family have also fenced off dams and increased the reticulated water supply to troughs, to improve the quality of drinking water for their cattle.  They have been stabilising creek banks in the revegetation zone along Ryan’s Creek and have plans for more tree plantings to create wind breaks, cooling shade, provide native habitat and revegetate the property. 

Chipping scotch thistles is a regular job on the farm, together with ongoing blackberry management along the creek and cleaning up sticks in paddocks to get ready for cutting hay. 

The Lambert’s conduct soil testing every three years and consult an agronomist to guide their soil improvement program.  At times they spread lime to ensure the soil pH is ideal, and fertilise with single super phosphate, based on advice from soils tests.  They are interested in exploring composting as a tool to improve soil fertility and increase soil carbon. 

“We like to limit the use of chemicals as much as possible. Glyphosate, however is used when we renovate paddocks and sow new pastures.  We have used it by spot spraying to initially control Chilean needle grass, but now follow this up with hand weeding and burning management.  We spot spray Grazon to manage blackberries and where possible we hand chip weeds.” 

Crops such as forage brassica are strategically planted to improve soil carbon and moisture retention.  The Lambert family do not plough their soils to improve soil structure, rather they encourage dung beetles, by avoiding pesticides and reducing the use of drench in cattle. 

“We rely on having a good autumn break in April to germinate annual pastures and get some plant maturity prior to the cold weather in winter, which slows down the growth of grass. Spring growth is pretty reliable and we cut hay to store feed for the end of summer and early autumn.”

“According to the longstanding local farmers in the area there has definitely been a change over the last few decades to a later autumn break and lower rainfall. This means we need to place more importance in optimising soil fertility and pasture management to get the most out of our pastures.” – Jo Lambert

 

Environment

Regenerating the landscape

The Lambert family are working towards operating Willowmavin as a carbon neutral farm in the future.  

They are in the process of installing a ground based solar array and battery system to produce the electricity used in the house and on the farm.  They are taking steps to increase soil carbon by avoiding tillage and planting deep rooted pasture species and encouraging dung beetles.  In 2021 they have pans to plant mixed native plant species along shelter belts, and hope to have their efforts formally recognised as a carbon reduction project by the Emission Reduction Fund. 

The Lambert’s have been eagerly following the development of seaweed supplements to significantly reduce methane production in cattle.  They are hopeful that this innovation becomes commercially available in 2021, and that they will also be able to genetically select low methane producing cattle in the future.

 

The family has always had a focus on improving native habitat and creating diversity of plants and wildlife on the farm.  They have made concerted effort to eradicate the declared noxious weed, Chilean Needle grass, from their farm.  They have also participated  in the Regent Honeyeater Project to help provide habitat for the endangered Regent honeyeater that lives in the area. 

“We have already planted areas of forest through the regent honeyeater project and our planting project along the Ryan’s Creek. These plantings have provided cool areas and shade and wind protection for cattle in adjacent paddocks, as well as bolstering habitat for indigenous species that are being challenged by climate change.” – Jo Lambert