Fat of the land

Symposiast and author Helen Greenwood interviews Vince Heffernan, biodynamic sheep farmer and keynote speaker at the Symposium of Australian Gastronomy 2018.

Vince Heffernan, from Moorlands Biodynamic Lamb, is a sheep meat grazier. His farm is at Dalton, near Yass in NSW, an hour from Canberra, and fronts the Lachlan River. It is co-owned and run jointly with Janet Heffernan. On their 1200 hectares, they pasture about 2500 Texel sheep, an old Dutch breed known for the quality of its meat.

Heffernan has a degree in ecological agriculture from the University of Sydney and practises biodynamics – his farm is Australian Demeter certified. He believes, through evidence-based research, that the soil is enhanced by using biodynamic preparations. They apply rotational grazing with a high density, short-duration regime paired with long rest periods, all of which is a derivation of world’s best practice Holistic Cell Grazing, and  haven’t drenched with chemicals in 12 years. Instead, they use rotational grazing to prevent worm larvae hatching and being ingested by the sheep.

Vince is keen on encouraging biodiversity and the pair have planted over 70,000 native trees and shrubs on the property. The endangered Glossy Black Cockatoos will only eat Allocasuarina verticulata seeds, so that is what he plants. The number of bird species has increased significantly on his land due to the tree planting program, as has the biodiversity of bats, insects, reptile and marsupial species. In creeks and dams, he is planting aquatic plants to create habitat for water birds, native fish, frogs and turtles. Vince is chair of Upper Lachlan Landcare.

Vince sells Moorlands Bio-dynamic Lamb directly. Lambs are killed at the abattoir and packaged for delivery to customers at farmers’ markets, particularly in Canberra. He writes a monthly newsletter to their customers so they understand the background to all that happens on the farm. Moorlands Bio-dynamic Lamb was a gold medallist at both the 2016 & 2017 ‘delicious’ magazine, Produce Awards.

HG: What made you decide to take the holistic and sustainable farming approach to lamb production?

VH: Exposure to other practitioners who were managing their properties in more sustainable ways was an example – and inspiration – for what could be done. I think about people like David Marsh at Boorowa, a wonderful land manager, who has been recognised this month with the National Landcare Award.

HG: Could you explain the interrelationship of soil to plants to animals in your approach to caring for land and live stock?

VH: This actually starts in the soil. Good soil biology, with not just good numbers but species diversity allows plants to grow without disease in good structured soils with adequate plant-available nutrients. These plants grow to the maximum of their natural form and they are the basis of the healthiest diet for animals to grow, breed and thrive. We are good at managing our soils. That’s why our lamb is so highly acclaimed

HG: Could you tell us a little about your work with Landcare in the Upper Lachlan region?

VH: I have been involved in Landcare for almost two decades. As President of a local group the focus was on sharing information in a fun, social atmosphere and learning from others successes (and failures!). Now, at a regional level, the challenges are similar. We seek to find issues that are concerns across our region. Then we find ways to share information, uncover solutions and support our client groups as they implement strategies for success. A recent example might be the push to plant 1000 paddock trees to specifically create nesting habitat for the endangered Superb Parrot. These are expensive and require a big labour component. We subsidise this to the tune of $50,000

HG: Why is it important to create a community of people who understand your biodynamic approach to farming and your focus on increasing biodiversity?

VH: Biodynamics is poorly understood and, worse, often misunderstood. The benefits to those who love quality food are clear: enhanced keeping quality, better texture, aroma and importantly, flavour. Modern industrial agriculture can ignore at best, and destroy at worst, ecological diversity. This has profound effects and can be avoided. These are not mutually exclusive outcomes. You can regenerate the landscape whilst producing the highest quality food. I’d like to think that is what we achieve at Moorlands.

HG: What are the benefits of selling your lamb directly to customers at farmers’ markets?

VH: Many benefits. The supermarkets with their commodity approach to sourcing and selling food do not reward good produce or good land management. With none between me and the consumer, we can ensure people know what we do and how their simple choice to buy our lamb is benefiting the ecosystem. The benefit to us is more even returns without the market dips associated with the commodity wholesale meat market.

Hear Vince speak more about his lambs and his approach to the land at The Symposium of Australian Gastronomy, 16-19 November at the Female Orphan School, Western Sydney University.  Book Now.

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