Doug and Pam Hardgrave have been involved in beef cattle production for forty years. They’re proud to produce grass-fed Angus beef from lovingly raised cattle using best-farming and ecologically sustainable practices, and they sell their premium natural beef direct from the farm. As well their grazing property, Pampoola, until recently the Hardgrave family owned the award-winning Lillydale Farmstay, where they lived for nearly fifty years. Lillydale Farmstay was one of the oldest farmstays in Queensland, which offered guests an activity-filled holiday on an authentic agri-cattle property in the beautiful foothills of Mount Barney. Pam and Doug operated Lillydale Farmstay with their daughter, Bec, and with Kaine Smith. (www.lillydalenaturalangusbeefdirect.com.au)
DOUG & PAM HARDGRAVE, BEC HUDSON AND KAINE SMITH
Where are you from?
PAM: I am from Maroon, and Doug is from Mount Lindsey. We met at a dance many years ago and, when I was seventeen, we married. Doug is fourth-generation Hardgrave.
Where did the idea come from to have a farmstay?
PAM: It was my crazy idea. I took my husband of few words up to the rocks and I sat him down and I said, ‘Our beef cattle prices have plummeted. To sustain this, we need to do something different. If you had to, do you think you could talk to people? You just have to say hello and goodbye. You don’t have to say much.’ Little did he know I’d planned to put him in the limelight because of his laconic sense of humour. He has sat at many a bonfire ever since — I’d say thousands and thousands of bonfires — with local and international guests, and he sat and told the same story every night, and they loved it. We did it since 2000, for seventeen years.
What is your story, Bec?
BEC: When I finished university, doing Applied Science, I wasn’t ready for a real job. I came back here briefly, then I went to the States for eight or nine years, riding horses and training them. I started in South Dakota and worked my way down to Texas. It was pretty awesome and I met my husband over there. Eight years ago, we moved back. We have a little block off the end of Mum and Dad’s paddock.
PAM: We turned it into a real family affair because Larry came over, with his American accent — it is a real, true-blue American one, isn’t it? He still does the roping lessons.
BEC: Well, we get a lot of little kids here and they want to be cowboys or cowgirls when they grow up. Basically, Larry teaches them how to rope a bucket, first of all, just getting their swing in and trying to get it smooth. Then we’ll get him to run in front of them, or we’ll try to get Kaine to run in front of them, and they get to rope a person. If they get to rope their mum or dad they think it is awesome. It is fun.
Were your visitors local or international?
BEC: We probably had close to forty per cent domestic and sixty per cent international.
PAM: Singaporeans — they were our main international market. They usually only get a week’s holiday, and for them to have been coming back year after year was amazing. It really made a challenge for us because we had to come up with different activities to keep them coming back.
You are teaching Kaine the ropes on the farm?
PAM: Kaine joined us full-time last November when he finished grade twelve. He’s an amazing young man. I have never met anyone who at eighteen has such a great smile and attitude.
You have a sustainable farming focus, is that right?
BEC: I don’t think there has ever been a farmer that says, ‘Hey, let’s make this the worst property we’ve ever had.’ So, we’ve always had a sustainable focus and Dad has always understocked cattle, rather than getting as many as you can and hoping you get a good winter. He’s always understocked and made sure there’s enough feed.
When Mum and Dad started the farmstay, we were in a big drought and a lot of the farmers in the area were having to shoot their cattle. There just wasn’t enough food left for them. But, because Dad had planned for it, we actually had grass left. The cattle were okay and we pulled them through until we did actually get some rain.
Mum and Dad decided to take it a step further and put in clumps of trees everywhere and water troughs around the place so the cattle didn’t have to wander so far to get water or shade. And then, just last year, we did a holistic farm management course down in Murwillumbah, and that opened our eyes to some new ideas. Since then, we’ve slowly talked Dad into some new techniques. We’ve cut the paddocks up a little bit finer and we move the cattle more regularly. Now, we go out and we look at the paddocks to see how much grass is there, how much it will take for each beast to be able to maintain their weight in that paddock for that time period. We might have planned for them to be in there for three months, but sometimes they’ll be in there for four months, and sometimes they’ll be in there for a month. So, it is just having more to do with the cattle and monitoring them more carefully.
The added bonus is, by shifting them around, you don’t have to worm them or spray them for insects. We have a lot of buffalo fly and ticks in this area, but I think this year we’ve only had to spray once. We’ve also been using the backrubs for the ticks, which are more natural. The backrub is a mixture of oils — citronella and such — which help keep the flies away.
How do you sell your beef?
BEC: It is pretty simple, really. We have a Facebook page, and a website. People can check on our website and see what they’re going to get. We sell quarters and halves; we don’t just sell cuts. They can either pick up from us, or we use The Butcher Co in Kalbar, and they are amazing. They’re really good if someone has special requests, like gluten-free sausages.
Is there anyone who inspires you?
PAM: Doug, I think because, throughout forty-five years of being together, he is the one person I trust more than myself. He would risk his life for me. He would do anything for me and vice versa. We just get on with life. He has been a real role model. His three daughters absolutely adore him. He is just one of the most amazing men.
KAINE: He is my role model. There’re a lot of people around in the district that really helped me out, but Doug is the top bloke. He’s in his early seventies and he can do more stuff than I can do. They always say when you turn eighteen you are bulletproof, but I think Doug is still bulletproof. He is hard-working and nothing stops him.
What do you love about the lifestyle?
PAM: We’ve met some amazing people. And getting up and looking at this view. I’ve looked at this mountain for forty-five years and, I swear to God, I can see something different every day.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
PAM: I think the fact that we strive to be a great team. We try and give the best. Even though, at the end of the day, a glass of red is waiting, I think I’ve earned it. We’ve all done so well and we get on so well as a team. We don’t sit here and argue; we have discussions. Oh, only when Dad’s getting the sheep in, but we can’t tell those stories.