Chicken run

Frank SmithCountryman

Simona and Elwyn Willis bought a bare block in Bullsbrook while they were still farming in the eastern Wheatbelt and they have gradually changed it into an oasis.

Elwyn ran an 800-hectare wheat and sheep farm between Merredin and Bruce Rock. “It was a small farm, ” said Elwyn. “I needed to work off the farm to keep afloat when high interest rates came in.”

Simona worked in health education at Merredin. They bought the Bullsbrook property in anticipation of retiring.

“When we bought it in the mid-1980s, it was a bare paddock. The previous owners kept horses that had ringbarked all the trees, ” Simona said.

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“We started with windbreaks then added major trees. Some were natives and some exotic — a bit of everything. We are getting to stage two, when you lose some trees and replace others.”

The couple’s narrow eight-hectare property has excellent bore water.

“We call it an ‘underground spring’. It is better quality than rainwater. It is important to look after the ground water quality, ” Simona said.

One of the first areas they planted was a half-hectare orchard for personal use. It is home to a range of citrus, pome and stone fruit, as well as grapes, olives, passionfruit and loquats.

“There is too much frost to grow tropical fruit here, ” Simona said.

For several years, the couple have been involved with Land for Wildlife, a voluntary scheme that helps private landholders to provide habitats for wildlife on their property. “We have been involved in Land for Wildlife for five or six years and more than 30 years in Landcare, ” Elwyn said.

“We are keen on native animals. There are lots of bandicoots, a rare phascogale that lives in the treetops and an unidentified marsupial we saw in the chook pen. There are also plenty of native birds, including blue wrens.”

On their previous property, Simona germinated native tree seedlings from seeds that she had collected. “At Merredin, I germinated 7000 seedlings for planting to prevent salt. Then a locust plague destroyed the lot, ” she said.

Australian plague locusts are not a problem at Bullsbrook, but wingless grasshoppers are.

“They stripped the trees when we first planted. We had to come down from the Wheatbelt every fortnight to put out bran bait, ” Simona said.

“They are less of a problem now, because they need a bare patch of soil to breed.”

“We started because our son was interested in his teens. When he was at university, he wanted chooks. It snowballed from there and we started up again when we moved to Bullsbrook, ” Elwyn said.

“We are passionate about the old breeds. They are beautiful birds with individual colour and temperament. We need to keep the breeds going.

“We’ve got Australorps, Sussex, Silver Laced Wyandottes and Gold Laced Wyandottes, Barnevelders and Minorcas. Minorcas are a very old breed, at least 300 years old.”

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