Saturday, December 3, 2022

Happy animals, tasty organic meat and each other – in a nutshell

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Nutshell Organic Farm at Peacock Creek
Graham and Sharon Collins at Nutshell Organic Farm at Peacock Creek.
Photos: Susanna Freymark

Sharon and Graham Collins live on an organic farm in the curve of the hills at Peacock Creek.

Englishman Graham calls himself an accidental farmer, he’d never planned a life on the land. His wife Sharon grew up on a dairy farm in Cornwall in England and she described herself as a ‘”compassionate farmer”.

They raise and sell English black pigs, have cattle, sell duck and chicken eggs and recently got some goats.

Throw into the mix, a Maremma sheepdog that looks more like a polar bear, nine-week-old working dog Molly, the rascal foxy terrier Dennis and a flock of noisy guinea fowls and you have Nutshell Organic Farm.

“We love our animals,” Sharon said.

“We stick to nature as much as possible. The calves stay with their mothers and we talk to them,” Graham said.

“Our cows are so well trained and tame,” Sharon said.

The same with the pigs which is their main source of income.

When the pigs go to the Booyong abattoir, Sharon said they are calm and easy to lead on and off the trucks.

“The first time we killed a pig, I wrote on Facebook – ‘I am a complete failure as a farmer,’” Sharon said.

She cried and never thought she’d be able to eat the pork.

“I thought we’d made a terrible mistake.”

She received a comment on her Facebook post.

“A man wrote – ‘You are a complete success.’” in response to Sharon’s failure comment.

Honouring the animals, caring for them and killing them in the most humane way possible, and even crying over them was all part of compassionate farming.

Nutshell Organic Farm
Sharon puts the ducks to bed.
Nutshell Organic Farm
Meet Ruff, Sharon’s favourite pig.

Four years later, Sharon is used to the tears and letting go of animals she has become attached to. And eating the beef and pork from those animals is part of the process.

Sharon tells the story of slaughtering their first steer named Waif, so named because he was orphaned.

“It was life-changing,” she said.

“When the slaughterman came, he gave us instructions not to feed Waif the night before. When Waif was let into the paddock, he was hungry and keen to eat. Waif was eating and when he looked up, satisfied from eating, the slaughterman shot Waif in the head.”

Sharon reckons Waif died with a smile on his face.

“He’d had a beautiful life in the paddock with the other cows. His coat was gleaming and he was happy,” Sharon said.

Graham and Sharon got two steaks from Waif.

“I felt wonderful eating that meat, Waif had the best possible life and best possible death,” she said.

Nutshell Organic Farm
A sick calf is getting some extra care from Sharon.
Nutshell Organic Farm
The new goat additions to Nutshell Farm.

Four years ago, the couple found the property after looking at 40 different farms in the Northern Rivers.

They were tired of looking and were keen on a place closer to Nimbin.

Peacock Creek was their Friday house (the last one to look at that week). They were living near the Glasshouse Mountains in Queensland and had a market garden business and were running out of space.

The 17ha Peacock Creek property didn’t have a fancy house, the fences were in a state of disrepair and the place seemed like an unlikely choice for them.

When the real estate agent showed them around, Sharon peeled off and walked up the back of the property to one of the hills with a “spectacular view’.

She stood beneath a tree they now call the Tree of Hope.

“I stood there. I couldn’t breathe. Tears came, it was so beautiful,” Sharon said.

“I’ve come home,” was her overwhelming feeling at that moment.

When she walked down the hill, she tried to hide her strong feelings so Graham could make up his own mind.

“What do you think?,” she asked her husband.

“There’s a lot to do,” he said.

“What do you think?” she asked again.

“I love it,” Graham said.

Nutshell Organic Farm
The chicken tractor chicken house.
Nutshell Organic Farm
Molly learning how to help on Nutshell Farm.

The first task was to get an organic and biodynamic certificate which meant replenishing the minerals in the soil. It took four years to get that certificate.

They supplement the cows’ diet with biochar feed from Mara Seeds.

When the carbon in the soil was recently tested it came back with 28% more carbon in it than four years ago, Sharon said.

With the high demand for organic pork, and not many farmers supplying it, Graham and Sharon have a niche market.

In 2019, during the months of bushfires at Tabulam, Graham was rushed to hospital with a mystery illness that caused internal bleeding.

It was a tense time for them both. Graham will be on medication for the rest of his life but it has made them appreciate what they have.

Happy animals, tasty meat and each other – in a nutshell.

Graham Collins
The Accidental Farmer Graham Collins.

This article appeared on indyNR.com on 5 January 2022.

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