From The Country Web Number 57 Spring 2012.
Melanie Kiel, her husband Dave and daughters Laura and Sara own and run ‘Mione’, a 135 acre property near Cumnock as a trade-cattle enterprise. Mel is the boss when it comes to the property. She buys and sells the cattle at the saleyard or online, and makes decisions about management on a daily basis.
New to the region, the Kiels moved to Cumnock from Manildra about two years ago. They bought a small property that had been previously run with pigs and had a range of management issues, including heavy weed problems and limited water access in paddocks.
After years working in Orange as a nurse and doing extensive travel around Australia, Mel and her family were ready for a change from traditional farming.
These days, the Kiels are a great example of how to make a small farming enterprise work while managing it in a sustainable way.
‘Mione’ supports an average of 55 head of cattle, which fluctuates depending on what Melanie can trade and how much feed is available.
In addition to this, Mel also works part-time as a nurse and in the pathology centre at Molong and looks after her two young girls (aged seven and nine) who attend Cumnock Public School. Her husband Dave supports her in this role and also works as a farm contractor. The family also agist stock on two properties near Manildra.
‘We would love a bigger place, but I also want to be able to sleep at night! We feel good that we are running our place as well, and we turn off a similar amount of stock to a much larger operation, just due to the way we do things.’
Mel and Dave agisted 200 acres near Manildra for a number of years. After having a bad experience with a sale they decided that ‘there had to be a better way’. In 2008 they attended a marketing course in Orange to learn how to better buy and sell their animals.
‘I came home after completing the course and just started doing it the next day. ‘Now I go to the yards and buy my own cattle. I know exactly how much I can afford to spend before I go to ensure I make a profit. It’s an empowering experience that allows me to feel completely in control of my business’.
She also keeps in contact with other farmers using a similar approach through a marketing Mentor Group. The group meet every couple of months and provide an important support network to work through problems and share new ideas.
Meanwhile, Mel and Dave were going through a tough time with their daughter’s health.
‘Her allergies made us look at how people farm their land and the amount of pesticides and fertilisers used,’ said Mel.
‘This can all filter through into our food so we have tried hard to limit our reliance on these artificial inputs. Something was just not right—there had to be a better way than the constant cycle of spraying and weeds.’
They decided to attend a Holistic Management course run through TAFE in Orange. As a result they have implemented a sub-division program—splitting the property into 12 paddocks and installing watering points. They carried out weed control, and used ‘clean-up’ crops and high impact short duration grazing to move to a permanent perennial pasture base for their cattle trading business.
‘It’s working really well, we are getting great response from the paddocks,’ Melanie reports.
‘What was once wall-to-wall horehound is now moving to a great native pasture base. We want to produce happy and healthy cattle. I feel that we are doing that with our approach. We give them a good life while they are here and I think that gives a much healthier end product.’
Melanie was introduced to Little River Landcare Group by a family that her daughters go to school with. Joining a Landcare group wasn’t an automatic thing for her coming into the area.
‘There is still a definite ‘greeny’ stigma attached to Landcare, and I’m embarrassed to say that I didn’t really want to be involved in this type of group,’ she said.
‘But I became friends with people in the group first and then realised the benefits of becoming a member. We’ve had lots of help from Pip at Little River Landcare in working out the details of what we do here.
‘We’ve been able to go along and see so many excellent speakers through the field days and workshops that the group run. These days we really value our involvement in the group.’
The Kiels are one of many farming families in Central West NSW committed to improving the environment, running a sustainable business and providing food and fibre to the wider community.