Running a meat sheep enterprise on the Mid North Coast is providing plenty of new learning experiences for Andrew Yeo.
Andrew isn't new to farming having worked on his family's farm at Dubbo where Merinos and then Australian White meat sheep were run in conjunction with cropping.
But now farming at Bulahdelah is according to Andrew far more challenging than managing the property west of the Great Dividing Range.
Andrew and his wife Em, own Yeo Farm, a 40 hectare property they bought in 2017, having moved to the district in 2015.
They bought 160 ewes from the Dubbo farm to start their coastal enterprise and as luck would have it the drought which impacted the district during the past two years meant the adjustment for the sheep wasn't too bad.
"Coming from a significantly lower rainfall region to the coast was made easier for our sheep by the drought but nothing else was," he said.
Summer rainfall transformed the property but then COVID-19 arrived which meant the couple's other source of income online video webcasting of equine events including campdrafts and rodeo sports came to a sudden halt.
While their off-farm income ceased, life on the farm remained virtually untouched by the pandemic, in fact like many intergrated producers demand for their meat increased as people sought out local suppliers.
Yeo Farm are members of the Great Lakes Food Trail and supply product to its online Farm to Fridge enterprise in addition to selling their sheepmeat direct from the farm as they have a licenced onsite storage facility.
Visitors are welcomed to the farm to learn about how the sheep are reared and the overall management of the property to increase biodiversity and ecological sustainability.
They hope to grow this side of the operation once life returns to what politicians like to call the 'new normal'.
In the meantime there is plenty of work to be done managing the main challenges of coastal farming - wild dogs, worms in the sheep and developing pastures and soil fertility.
"Wild dogs were not a problem out west but on the coast with many properties joining parks and state forests, absentee landholders along with those with no farming experience - dog management is a real issue in this region," he said.
To prevent a problem becoming a nightmare the Yeo's installed exclusion fencing on the farm and to date no sheep have been lost.
The sheep are grazing during the day outside the exclusion fenced zones but returned each night to those zones. Given the success so far with this method the couple are considering extending the fencing despite its high cost.
On the worm front they hope to establish, through selective breeding, a line of worm resiliant Australian Whites.
"We will not only be looking for frame, growth, and meat eating qualities but also their ability to withstand some worm burden but remain highly productive," Andrew said.
To assist in the worm control the sheep are grazed on a holistic basis which means regular movement into new paddocks with fresh pastures.
Pasture development and sustainability is one of main focuses of the Yeo's farm improvement with direct drilling of sub-tropical pastures including Digit grass and Bambastic Panic along with summer and winter annuals and legumes to boost productivity.
Increasing biodiversity on-farm through the use of permaculture principles is also a driving force for succeeding in the coastal environment.
"Observational based farming is how we like to describe what we are doing on the property trialing different and unique methods and seeing what works best for us," he said.
"For example we has planted windbreaks that are also edible so they can have multiple purposes by feeding and protecting the sheep but also providing habitat for wildlife."
Maximising on-farm water storage to increase productivity and biodiversity is also an important part of their management.