The story of how we ended up on this particular farm in Perth started when I was in high school and a new kid, Jesse, sat next to me during orchestra practice because our instruments – he played the viola and I played the cello – dictated it.
Fifteen years or so later we’re still friends (orchestra was a bonding experience), and when we started organizing our around the world honeymoon with wwoofing planned along the way, I remembered Jesse’s family used to have an organic farm in Australia. I reached out and asked whether he might have any recommendations of good farms for us to volunteer on, and as luck would have it, Jesse’s sister Emilie had taken over the family farm and was happy to have us stay. From her description, “We have a few irons in the fire business wise […], and we also host weddings, health retreats and events, like concerts, in our Shed venue (a restored Shearing Shed). As for the farming side, we raise sheep and we grow our own food via permaculture principles and try to be as self-sustaining as possible! We have a bunch of horses (I ride) and cows, pigs, goats, chickens, ducks, the list goes on and on… and of course dogs.”, I couldn’t wait.
Almost a year after we connected via email, we were finally in Australia. Landing in Perth, we made our way to Bridgetown. The bus ride flew by as both Francois and I had an eagerness to discover Australia that made even the most common hedge looks special. Then we got a ride to Dalmore Farm. What a sight! The long dirt road going from the main road to the farm was lined with towering trees, and the landscape was one of rolling hills dotted with cattle and sheep.
The Abbiss family is comprised of Emilie (Jesse’s sister), Danny, and their five-year-old twins Oli and Nate – plus three golden labradors, a border collie, Huckleberry the sheep, horses Ellie and Max her foal as well as Buzz, Boz, Missy, Jade, and the ponies Mussels (no typo) and Gus. There were also chickens, turkeys, ducks, pigs, a herd of sheep, a few alpacas, and cows.
During our ten days at Dalmore Farm, we did everything from weed the garden, harvest asparagus, clean the chicken coop and duck house, plant seeds, repaint fences, trim trees, tear down fences, put up new fences, mix feed for the animals, and plant trees. My favorite part of every day was taking care of the animals.
Each morning, we started our day by going to feed everyone and letting some animals out: Tess the border collie got let out from her five-star kennel, horses got a mix of grain and chaf (with some special bits and pieces for the older horses and Ellie who was still producing milk for Max), pigs got wet grain mix and food scraps, chickens got the other half of food scraps (no meat, citrus, avocado, or onion family bits) and let out to free range, and the ducks were let out.
If we did something else first, any of the animals we walked by would give us “the look”, making us feel guilty for not prioritizing them (I’d do the same if I depended on someone to get food!). They also never failed to make us laugh, whether it was the pigs getting covered in food scraps in their enthusiasm for getting to them, or the chickens fighting over a piece of toast.
In the evening around 5pm, horses had to be fed again, chickens brought in (made easier with a scoop of grain), turkeys fed, and ducks brought in. The ducks also got a scoop of grain as an incentive to come back to their “house” but as of late afternoon they all hung out nearby and as soon as one of us would open the gate to the field where their house was, they would get in a line and waddle on over. Impossible not to smile at such a sight!
Emilie’s energy was infectious and hearing her share some anecdotes from her pre-farm life was endlessly entertaining. Oli and Nate were home sick for a few days, so we saw how much they loved looking for bugs (they are fearless!) and playing with Legos. They know more about nature, animals, and life than many city-living adults we know.
It was also an inspiration to see how Emilie managed her yoga and personal trainer business, and to hear how Danny had acquired and was running his fencing business. This was in addition to running the farm itself and taking care of the herd of sheep! As if that was not enough, the old shearing shed has been revamped into a gorgeous venue called The Shed, used for personal training sessions, weddings, or corporate events.
We came away reminded of both how much work it takes to live on a farm and still find ways to make a living, as well as how rewarding it can be. More than ever, I for one cannot wait to grow food and have animals to share our space with (I am hoping for chickens, ducks, goats, and horses to begin with… stay tuned)!