Little wonders

Frank SmithCountryman

Kevin Johnson and Pamela Sealey have a 40-hectare property near York, filled with some unusual, if not downright eccentric, animals.

“Our Dorper lamb insists on riding in the back of the ute like a dog,” Pamela said.

“And our Southdown ram thinks it is a cow. It won’t leave the paddock with the miniature Herefords.”

The farm, PetTeet Park, is Pamela and Kevin’s return to their roots.

They bought the property, a former horse stud, 18 months ago after working for 10 years in hospitality.

In a previous life, Pamela grew up on a farm at Quairading, while Kevin ran a pig farm at Gillingarra. They still own the Murchison Hotel at Cue and a leased motel at Meekatharra.

“We are now back to farming as a hobby,” Kevin said. “We are not dependent on it for our livelihood so we can enjoy it and get our income from elsewhere.”

That said, Kevin is determined that the new enterprise pays for itself in the longer term.

“We don’t intend to do anything that doesn’t make a profit,” he said.

“At the Royal Show, children crowd around the petting area and interact with small animals.

“We’d like our grandchildren to be able to enjoy the country flavour — to do and see what we did when we were children.”

Kevin’s background in tourism made him choose a property on a major road close to Perth.

“We wanted to be within 100km of Perth CBD — we are 98km away,” he said.

The other major characteristic is that the property had to have good water.

They have an excellent bore, which produces potable water, although they usually use rainwater in the house.

The property has a brook that runs for six months of the year. This caused problems because animals refused to cross the water when it was running, so they had to install a crossing. Kevin is also re-fencing the property and building laneways.

“Sneaky sheep can get out through fences designed for horses,” Pamela said.

Kevin said that, initially, the farm was for their grandchildren, but there was a huge market for miniature animals.

“There are about 60,000 small landholders in WA,” he said. “Small farms need small animals that can be easily handled. We aim to supply small animals to landholders, not big and boisterous ones.”

He said modern rams had been bred so big that they needed to be sedated before they could be shorn.

Pamela and Kevin are already receiving inquiries for miniature Southdown sheep, known as Baby Dolls. Buyers want them to graze orchards and vineyards.

Miniature sheep can’t reach high enough to damage vines and fruit trees, but they do provide chemical-free weed control.

“Growers want to go chemical free, but they can’t control grass weeds without weedkillers,” Kevin said.

One New Zealand vigneron, Peter Yealands, even tried using guinea pigs to control weeds, much to the delight of local hawks, before changing to Baby Doll sheep.

“We can’t meet demand for Baby Doll sheep, ” said Kevin, who plans to set up an AI centre to provide semen from his miniature rams.

Kevin said there was also demand for smaller roasts for the smaller families common nowadays.

“In the US, demand for small joints is being met by farmers markets selling fresh meat,” he said.

They are also looking at breeding mini-milkers — miniature milking cows.

“People can keep them on small blocks,” Kevin said. “They don’t want seven or eight litres of milk a day and they want them small enough to handle.

“Animals need to be kept in pairs. You can keep two mini-milkers, two miniature sheep and still grow enough feed for them on a small block.

“People buy small animals but they forget that they grow up.”

Pamela and Kevin insist that all prospective buyers inspect both parents before they buy a miniature.

Their stock is registered with Australian miniature animal breeders associations and adheres to strict genetic guidelines.

Kevin and Pamela say they are not breeding freakish miniature animals, rather they are returning them to their original size before breeders began selecting for larger animals about 200 years ago.

Pet Teet Park has an eclectic mix of livestock, including 41 sheep, mostly miniature or part miniature Southdowns; 18 cattle, including miniature Herefords and some Highland Cattle they rescued; seven pigs of varied shapes, colour and sizes; 20 goats, including four miniatures and 10 Angora; Muscovy ducks; a horse, donkey and hinney (a hybrid of a female donkey and a male horse).

“We try to do the lot — everything in miniature,” Kevin said.

Australian miniature pigs are particularly rare. Vietnamese miniature pot-bellied pigs, popular as a pet in North America, cannot be imported into Australia for quarantine reasons, so these pigs are just selected for their small size.

Kevin said there was a pent up demand for miniature animals.

Everyone was jumping on the bandwagon, but they were not ready to make sales yet, so Kevin plans to offer semen from miniature sires and embryos from miniature females.

Another of their aims is to be self-sufficient. At present, they buy in hay from a neighbour, but Kevin has just bought a fodder shed. The shed sprouts barley in trays, producing 1.5 tonnes of green fodder a day after seven days.

“It will provide good feed all year round,” he said.

They grow fruit for their own use and are planning an aquaponics set-up to rear barramundi in summer and silver perch in winter. Edible plants will replace the water filter in conventional fish tanks.

Further down the track they plan to turn the farm into a tourist venture with chalets for accommodation, and eventually hope to provide visitors with a farm experience.

“Milk the cows, feed the pigs and show grandkids what we used to do on the farm,” Pamela said.

There will also be entertainment for adults, such as mini golf to help maintain family motivation

“We have a long way to go. We will not be ready to promote the tourism business for one or two years,” Kevin said.

In the meantime, they have a lot of breeding to do to build up numbers of miniature animals.

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