Life as a COVID-fighting goat farmer

Life as a COVID-fighting goat farmer

Chris Bishop of Beaupre Farm at Lymington is one of six small scale farmers to be inducted into this year’s Sprout Producers Programme which, in 2021, enters its 10th year.

The Sprout Producer Programme includes a series of educational units, including both on farm and off farm topics, farm field days and mentoring sessions across a 12-month period to support and develop producers to achieve their goals.

Chris was originally successful in her application to the 2020 programme, but her desire to improve her husbandry skills had to go on the backburner as a global pandemic saw her experience as an epidemiologist indispensable to the frontline work of controlling COVID-19.

After working as a consultant epidemiologist with the World Health Organisation (WHO) for many years overseas, and ready to reintroduce her daughter Kate to her Australian family and culture, Chris and her partner Colin Skidmore were looking for an opportunity to put down roots in their homeland.

The three fell in love with a small farm on the Beaupre peninsula on the banks of the Huon River at Lymington, which they had found on the internet.

“Popping over” from her base in Kosovo to check it out, after convincing the real estate agent that she wasn’t a scammer, Chris, Colin and Kate purchased Beaupre Farm the very next day and arrived to make it their home at the end of 2018.

Concentrating on renovating a cottage on the farm for use as visitor accommodation to start, it wasn’t until the couple turned their eyes to clearing the land of invasive weeds that goat farming became a consideration.

“I’ve always been interested in regenerative farming practices,” said Chris.

“The bottom paddocks were just covered in Spanish heath and gorse and we didn’t want to use chemicals to bring it under control.

“We could dig out the Spanish heath fairly successfully, but the gorse was something else.

“And then we read that goats love to eat gorse.”

With Beaupre Farm sharing a boundary with a blueberry farmer, good fencing and good communication were key, and Chris and Colin conferred with neighbours and installed goat (and wallaby) proof fencing before they started to build their herd of South African Boer goats, famous the world over for their quality meat.

in Latrobe and importing two stud rams from one of the largest leading Boer goat studs in Australia, Valley Boers in western New South Wales, Chris and Colin started their own breeding programme.

Then came COVID-19, and it wasn’t long before WHO came calling on Chris and, just as Australia’s borders were slamming shut, she headed to the Solomon Islands to help with the public health response in the lesser developed nation.

“I was heading to my daughter’s wedding in New South Wales for the weekend, Kate was coming with me, and then the Tasmanian borders shut,” said Chris.

“So I sent Kate home, but I didn’t have time to come home and pack anything extra, I flew to Brisbane and then on to the Solomon Islands with two days’ worth of clothes,” she laughed.

Picking up a few bits and pieces at the airport before leaving and a lot more in the famous “bale shops” (second-hand shops) of the Solomon Islands to keep her going, an original three-month contract, was eventually extended to 10 months.

With a dedicated team of health professionals, gathering restrictions and border controls, it wasn’t until October last year that the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in the Solomon Islands, when repatriation flights for students stranded in the Philippines began, but for Chris it meant working six days a week, 14-hour days.

Meanwhile back at the farm, Colin and Kate were kept busy looking after the goats, which were making good inroads into the weeds on the property, but Chris said it was tough to be apart for such a long time.

“It was just easier to stay over there and keep working,” said Chris.

“The border restrictions were so tight and there were no flights into Australia, but it was a long time and Kate just grew up so much.”

Returning to Australia in late November, Chris spent her two-week quarantine period in Brisbane, enjoying the opportunity to decompress and build some meditation and yogic practices into her daily routine.

She finally arrived home in time for Christmas, has rediscovered her love of farming and is ready to take on the Sprout Producers Programme.

“I’m incredibly grateful to be part of the programme and to be sponsored by Tasmanian Women in Agriculture,” said Chris.

“I am committed to sustainable, regenerative farming practices and I think we can build a quality brand of Tasmanian goat meat.”

There is a lot of work to do, however, to get that reputation established.

While Australia produces 50 per cent of world goat meat exports, there are very few Boer goat herds established in Tasmania, and Beaupre Farm is the only registered Boer goat stud in southern Tasmania.

While the farm sadly lost stud goat Skeletor to a snake bite early in the season, Chris and Colin are still breeding with Tsar and are looking at options to improve the herd’s genetics, perhaps with artificial insemination.

There is no association for Boer goat breeders in Tasmania at present and no real opportunity to show Boer goats in the state, but Chris is working on addressing that deficiency.

“I think Sprout can help develop me, so that I can develop that,” she said.