Tommerup’s Dairy Farm is an authentic working farm on 200 acres in the Kerry Valley, part of the Lost World region of the Scenic Rim. The farm has been in Dave Tommerup’s family since 1874,
when his great great grandfather selected the land. Predominantly a small dairy farm with thirty milking cows, Dave and wife, Kay, realised they needed to grow bigger or diversify to sustain the farm. Not wanting to expand and compromise their values and way of life, they decided to diversify.
As well as dairy cows, they now keep open-range chickens, free-range pigs, sheep and goats, and offer farmstays, ‘Farm-to-Fork’ open days, market days and even a Dairy Farm School for children. Visitors are offered a hands-on farming experience where they can milk the cows and feed the animals. They can also purchase ethically raised meat, eggs, raw honey and fresh produce from the Tommerup’s Farm Larder. Tommerup’s milk goes to farmer-owned cooperative Norco, and a small portion is supplied to White Gold Creamery to make their artisan cheeses and dairy products, which are also available from the Larder. (www.tommerupsfarmstay.com.au)
DAVE, KAY, HARRY & GEORGIA TOMMERUP
So, Dave, you’ve been here all your life?
DAVE: Yes, I am the fifth generation on the farm. It was settled in 1874. It was all bush when they first came here, and it had to be cleared within a certain amount of time. In the first twelve months, they had to have it cleared, a little hut built and a fence around some of it, otherwise they’d lose that bit of land. They used to mainly run a few beef cattle, and then they eventually went on to having a few dairy cattle. It evolved from there, I suppose.
Tell us about Tommerup’s Dairy Farm nowadays.
KAY: I think we’re a full-circle farm. I don’t know any other way to describe it than that. We try to use everything from our own farm. Everybody helps each other. So, we’re doing biodynamic fertiliser, which comes from the cow manure; the whey that is brought back to our farm from the milk that we sell for cheese — we use our milk as well; and then we add minerals and things to that; we use the pig manure; the sheep manure, and everything either goes into the garden or into the big compost pile that we’ve got out the back. Then, our waste milk and our waste grain go to our pigs. Therefore, nothing is wasted on our farm.
Why did you choose to diversify?
KAY: We knew we couldn’t survive as a small farm. There’s no way. We were reminded of that very often by everyone else in the dairy industry — that if you don’t get bigger, you might as well get out. And for us, bigger is not better, and we never wanted to be like that. So, we had to find a way we could survive, introducing little things along the way. I wanted pigs and I kept saying to Dave … We used to throw the milk out on the paddock every day. It is such a waste. And I kept saying, ‘We could have pigs! Come on.’ And Dave hates pigs. But, eventually …
Do you like pigs now, Dave?
DAVE: Getting better at it.
KAY: He likes bacon. So, the pigs came in, and we weren’t even thinking about selling the meat from the pigs. We were just going to have them and on-sell them. They don’t like Tamworth pigs at the abattoir, because they’re too hairy and they’re fatty. They’re not these muscled-up bulldogs that everybody else has. They wouldn’t buy them from us. So, we were like, ‘What are we going to do with this?’ Then our neighbours said, ‘We’ll buy some meat from you.’ It started from there. People realised it actually tastes really good and it doesn’t matter it is not what it normally is.
Then, we were getting $15 for our calves when we sent them for sale. But it is $4 for the ear tag, you transport them in, you come back out, your fuel, your commission. You get nothing. We thought there must be a better way. So, we started rearing them and eating them, and they’re nice. That happened, then we had the sheep …
That’s how it went and we don’t really like chemicals. We are not organic, but we try to avoid chemicals as much as possible. To do that, we need to fertilise our crops as well. So, we’ve done an intensive, on-farm training of biodynamic farming with Kym Kruse from RegenAG. He flew down and spent three days with us, teaching us mind-blowing stuff. We thought our heads were going to explode after the third day. He’s a firecracker! And Dave had already done soil health with Adam Wilson. So, that’s what we’re doing now. We want everything to work in together and we want to keep this farm going. We don’t want to be the ones who lose it. Five generations and then you’re the one who buggers the whole thing up. And these guys [the children] don’t want to farm. So, they’ll think of something else when it is their turn to have this place. They’ll think of something else cool when it is their turn. We just want to keep it going for them.
What inspires you?
KAY: Well, the history of the place.
DAVE: Just having all that generational knowledge is good. When people stay at the farm and you tell them I am fifth generation, they’re like, ‘Wow, that’s unusual.’ It doesn’t happen very often.
You offer farmstays and open days, don’t you?
KAY: We have open days and people just flock here. Last time we had 400 people here. It was amazing. All of those people come for the story, and then they take something home with them.
We just want to be farmers and that is why we started all of these other things. That’s why we let people come here. When they do, we don’t sugar-coat anything. If people want to come here, they book into the cottage, and they come and do things with us. They can come to the dairy, they can milk the cows — and that means they’re putting the cups on because they do whatever we do — and then they come animal-feeding with me, they mix up feed with me … all the normal things I would do.
We get a lot of grandparents with their grandchildren. The grandparents have often had an association with a farm that is no longer around, and they want their grandchildren to have that. They can’t get it anywhere else. So, if the kids ask if we kill our animals and stuff, we tell them. Sometimes it is a bit upsetting and the parents are shocked, but if you come here, you are learning the whole story.
Who buys your milk?
KAY: We sell it to Norco. Norco is completely underrated for what they do for their farmers. When there’s a drought, they are in there saying, ‘Here you go: interest-free loans, feed accounts …’ Whatever. They support their farmers like you wouldn’t believe. I think if people knew, perhaps they would buy that milk knowing the farmers are actually supported by that cooperative. They are doing their best to help us.
What’s the best thing about farming life?
GEORGIA: It is a nice place to live and I like that we get fresh milk.
HARRY: Having all of the animals and all the space.
KAY: That has probably been the biggest thing — the space. You can run and jump and ride your bike and scream and do whatever you want. People often ask us, ‘Why do you stay? Why do you keep farming if it is so hard?’ I think it is because we get to live where we live. You have all of your animals around you.
DAVE: It is a lifestyle thing.
It must be terrific to have all of this gorgeous produce at your fingertips?
DAVE: People say I eat like a king, so …
KAY: I love carbonara, but it is my carbonara. Our bacon, our silverbeet, our pumpkin, our shallots, our cream, our milk. Pretty much everything that goes into it, except the pasta, is ours. And it is not like carbonara, really, but it is just what I call it. The pumpkin melts down into a sauce, and it is creamy and yummy.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
KAY: I think the main thing about us is that bigger is not always better. I’ve heard so many times — it grates on me so much — that we had to get bigger and, yes, we only milk thirty cows but we do it in the way we think is right to do it. Nobody should be pressured to be bigger or to be something that they’re not. You should be able to farm the way you think is right and be okay with that.
DAVE: Ethically farm.
KAY: Yes, ethically. We farm with integrity and that’s the way we like it.