Meeniyan Stories

Turning flood into fodder

Tim and Amanda Calder are Legendairy farmers with a Legendairy farm located in Meeniyan, Victoria, the 2015 Legendairy Capital of Gippsland.

The family own the iconic paddocks that travellers on the South Gippsland Highway, see as they cross the Tarwin River.

The land is regularly flooded, turning the low-lying areas of the farm into a picturesque ‘Lake Meeniyan’ that eventually drains away into the Tarwin River.

After heavy rainfall, two branches of the river - from as far afield as the Strzelecki Ranges - bottleneck at the bridge, forcing water to back-up onto the paddocks until it can make its way downstream.

While casual observers would imagine it’s a curse, the river silt and moist soil can help grow feed for the Calder’s cows until well into the dry summer months.

The rest of the 122 hectare property is a productive dairy farm - rain, hail or shine. Tim and Amanda have turned a run-down property into a well-run dairy business that milks 250 stud Holsteins.

It’s taken 15 years of hard work, but the Calders finally have the herd and infrastructure they need to take the next step in their business.

“Every year you chip away a bit more and 15 years later you have a dairy and laneways and paddocks,” Amanda said.

For Tim, building up his herd size and quality has been a particularly satisfying part of the journey. Today, together with Tim’s parents, they run Calderlea Holstein Stud, which has an enviable reputation for breeding bulls that produce top quality cows.  

“When I started out I had 60 cows that I bought from Maffra in the middle of a drought for $600 each and we got 12 mature cows from Mum and Dad,” he said.

Tim’s parents are Les and Louise, who farm in a business partnership with Tim and Amanda, but run a separate herd and milk them in their own dairy on a similar sized property next door.

Tim is grateful for the assistance and advice he’s received from his parents, but was also keen to gain a broader education away from the family farm.

“I have an agricultural science degree which opened my eyes to different ways of thinking,” he said.

“You don’t just look at what your parents did and think that’s the best way to do it. A science degree teaches you analytical thinking.”

With two young children – Lloyd, 2, and James, 6 months – the couple is also analysing the pros and cons of business growth versus family happiness.

Amanda, who has a business degree and will shortly return to work as a manager at Rabobank, said the dairy lifestyle can be great for raising a family.

“I was talking with some mums at Mother’s Group the other day and they were quite envious because Tim gets to come in most days and have breakfast with us,” she said.

Amanda, who sees the economics of dairy farming through her work, said the impact of the industry on the local area should not be underestimated.

“You see the whole service provider side of things and how much money flows through the community from it,” she said.

It’s a sentiment backed up by Tim, who said the money that washes through the dairy industry impacts on every aspect of life in Gippsland. 

“Not everyone around here is involved in the dairy industry itself, but you see the money that flows from dairy and feeds back into the district.” 

Dairy farming for the whole family


THEY say you shouldn’t mix your work and home life, but Rhys and Sheree Livingstone wouldn’t have it any other way.

The Legendairy farmers from Meeniyan, the 2015 Legendairy Capital of Gippsland, are raising a family while running their dairy business and are finding it an ideal way to maintain work-life balance.

With work and home at the same location, the young couple are never more than a few minutes away from lending each other a hand with domestic or farm duties, which gives them plenty of time with sons Archie, two years, and Kade, six months.

“You do work hard as a dairy farmer, but I think the lifestyle benefits outweigh that,” Rhys said.

“Especially in the last couple of years since we started the family, that’s when we have really seen the benefits.

“It’s being able to help raise the kids. If Sheree needs to help on the farm, the kids can come or we have Nana close-by which means Sheree and I can work on the farm, while the kids are looked after.”

Rhys’ parents Tony and Joyce still live on the property, although they’ve handed control of the farm to the next generation under a lease agreement.

Tony still helps out, enjoying the lifestyle of dairy farming without the worries that come with managing a business.

The Livingstone’s run a small herd of between 180 and 200 Friesian/Ayrshire crossbreeds on 117 hectares, including 16 hectares that Rhys and Sheree have recently purchased. 

Their relatively low stocking rate points to a business model that is all about making a profit, without risking their lifestyle.

“If we grew the farm business too much it would eventually take away that lifestyle we’ve been talking about,” Rhys said. 

The breed of cow also points to their determination to avoid the peaks and troughs of dairy farming. 

“The Ayrshire brings longevity, they hold their condition well. They need a lot less feed to keep themselves fit and maintain their body condition. They have no health issues and not much mastitis,” Rhys said.

“They don’t have the production that others have, but we feel they make up for it with their other traits.”

While Rhys always wanted to be a farmer, his parents encouraged him to have a look at the world outside before making a decision on his future. He took their advice and completed a building apprenticeship before returning to the dairy.

Sheree didn’t grow up on a dairy farm, but having dated Rhys since high school, was well aware of what she was getting into.

She now looks after the farm finances, having reduced her on-farm work to concentrate on raising their two boys. It’s a lifestyle she has embraced and one that neither of them take for granted.

“We went for a drive the other day when the kids were asleep in the car and had a look around and thought how lucky we are to live in such a beautiful place,” she said.

They feel fortunate to be able to farm such productive and picturesque land and are determined to make it a sustainable property for future generations. 

An example of this commitment is the recent planting – with the assistance of a Landcare grant – of bankside vegetation along the Tarwin River which borders their property.

“It benefits our farm production-wise, but also benefits the environment,” Sheree said.

“We want to look after the farm so our kids have the option to take it on if they want to.”

Australia’s Legendairy farmers are committed to ensuring a sustainable future for current and future generations: 

Meeniyan's put Legendairy on the menu

Meeniyan's put Legendairy on the menu

MEENIYAN is a small town with a big reputation as a foodie destination – and its local dairy products are at the heart of its thriving restaurant and café culture.

The South Gippsland village, which was named the Legendairy Capital of Gippsland for 2015, is surrounded by farms that export their ‘clean and green’ dairy products around the globe.

But its right in their own backyard that dairy farmers are seeing just what can be created with their world class produce.

A quick look at the menus in the main street eateries shows that this is a true dairy town at heart.

From a smooth latte featuring local milk, to pizzas topped with sumptuous regional cheeses or rich dessert creations that tempt the most disciplined dieter, Meeniyan is a town that fully embraces its local dairy culture.

For Marty Thomas, starting his Moo’s at Meeniyan restaurant six years ago was an opportunity to create a menu based as much as possible around local produce – with dairy the cornerstone of his culinary creations.

“It was my passion to use local produce and the area already had a name for it,” he said.

“Locally produced ingredients are very important to me so when I started, I went out to find as much information as I could about local dairy produce.

“Over the years we have been able to get in contact with more and more producers and the dairy industry is obviously a very big part of the local food industry.”

It’s the same story at the Meeniyan Store where Felicity Jones has created a niche business based on making the most of what she can grow in her café kitchen garden and source from the district’s many farmers.

She uses locally produced milk because she thinks it makes better food and drinks and because it’s part of living in a dairy community.

“We think it is better quality and we are all about the low food miles, so the closer we are to where the product is made then the better for everybody,” Felicity said.

“We use heaps of milk and, since the word got out that we are using local milk, we find a lot of the locals will come in and buy it, because they like to support the region.”

And it’s not just locals who are enjoying South Gippsland produce in Meeniyan. The town has become a popular destination for the thousands of tourists who flock to South Gippsland’s coastal areas each year.

“I think that’s the number one reason people stop here now,” Felicity said.

“The art culture has always been here, but the foodie culture is definitely growing. We get a lot of tourists coming in.”

Trulli Pizza owners Francesco Laera and Rhia Nix have built a booming business combining quality fresh ingredients and flavours inspired by Francesco’s home town in southern Italy.

Local blue cheese or buffalo milk cheese can be found atop some of Trulli’s pizzas, while world famous Berrys Creek cheeses are an integral part of their antipasto platters.

For Francesco, who grew up on a small dairy farm where his mother still makes her own cheese, sourcing dairy products locally is a no brainer – especially when their restaurant is based in South Gippsland.

“I truly believe it should be one of the most famous dairy regions in the world,” he said.

The Berrys Creek cheese-makers are regular diners at Trulli, as are many others from the dairy industry who love to enjoy their own products in a local restaurant.

For Marty Thomas, serving the people who make his ingredients is what true local food is all about.

“The dairy industry is not only a very big part of my business, they make up a large percentage of my customers as well,” he said.

“They look after me just like I try to look after them.”

Meeniyan – a world class dairy town

Meeniyan – a world class dairy town

BRENDON and Kate Martelli have seen plenty of the world – but they still reckon Meeniyan might be the best place they have lived and worked.

Having grown up on a New Zealand dairy farm, Brendon was far from home when he met Melbourne girl Kate in a London pub.

The young couple have since married, had two children and are successfully dairy farming in Meeniyan – the Legendairy Capital of Gippsland for 2015.

Coming from outside the tight-knit community, Brendon and Kate are well placed to judge the friendly spirit of the highly productive dairy town, located near Leongatha in South Gippsland.

“The community in Meeniyan is amazing – it’s a brilliant place. Everyone is so friendly,” Brendon said.

Since arriving in the town in 2008, the young farmers have become involved in the local primary school, where 7-year-old Holly is a student and at the kindergarten where Archie, 4, is enrolled.

“Now we’re at kinder and school it’s an even stronger community link,” Kate said.

The 37-year-old neo-natal intensive care nurse grew up in Melbourne’s sprawling south eastern suburbs, which are only a 90 minute drive, but a world away from the small dairying community.

Kate said the little things like having to pick up the mail at the post office and having friendly neighbours has helped bring them closer to the local community.

“We found great neighbours; we just knocked on their door to say hi. They have kids about the same age as ours, so they can just drop by when they want.  They’ve been great,” she said.

The couple share-farms with Brendon’s parents, who moved back to New Zealand a couple of years ago.

With 140 hectares to farm and 310 cows to look after, Brendon was appreciative of all the help he could get as he developed his farming skills.

Luckily for him, there are plenty of locals willing to share their knowledge and experience with their fellow dairy farmers.

“We have good discussion groups which have helped us a lot,” he said.

With the daily grind of big city life still a clear memory, Brendon and Kate couldn’t be happier with where they have ended up.

“Mum and Dad looked at a lot of farms and we were pretty pleased they ended up around this area,” Brendon said.

“It’s a great dairy area with a huge number of dairy farms … although I reckon with the quality of the land around here, there should be even more.”

The Legendairy spirit of Meeniyan can be seen through its many community organisations, including its kindergarten and school, numerous sporting and recreational clubs, a strong fire brigade, active church groups and much more.

Dairy Australia’s Legendairy Capital program celebrates and showcases Australia’s most vibrant, proud and resilient regional communities

Meeniyan was awarded $2500 in Legendairy Capital funding this year to help build a community space where people can get off their farms and connect with family and friends.

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