Despite the St Ivan Fire of February 2017, we are again able to take reservations for the Gundooee Getaway cottage (from October 2017 and beyond).
Whilst discussing topics with Rob, you will be walking among the cattle as they graze on the farm. This can be anywhere from a 2km stroll to a 10km walk/drive and will be driven by your preferences.
Some common topics that will be covered include the farming practices that are required for organic certification, rotational grazing, drought management, life cycle of cattle and plants, soil fertility, genetic diversity and heard health and behavior. This will, of course be tailored by the questions you have and the topics you are interested in finding out more about.
There is a self contained cottage on site which has a bathroom (toilet and shower), bedroom, basic kitchenette (microwave, kettle and sink), air conditioner and a BBQ. This is next to the homestead where Rob and his family live.
Please e-mail us directly to cancel your Gundooee package. It is fully refundable 5 weeks prior to arrival date, and reduces by 20% of deposit every week there-after.
After details regarding the stay (including the package value) have been finalised, a 50% deposit, by cheque or bank transfer is required to confirm the booking. The balance, which may also include some on-farm purchases, is due prior to leaving farm by cheque or cash.
The meals at the homestead will feature Gundooee Beef, be fully catered, and could include a BBQ, roast, Osso Bucco or broth/soup in winter.
All ingredients will be provided such that you can prepare Breakfast, Lunch and snacks at your leisure.
Breakfasts will be continental style, or a simple cooked breakfast . The other meals of the day (which are not held at the homestead) can be at the cottage, a BBQ, or we can pack a hamper to have out on the farm. Morning and afternoon teas will include some home-made baking.
The cottage has one double bed and is therefore ideal for couples.
Although my kids grew up safely on the farm, given the potentially unpredictable nature of the animals and machinery on the farm children under the age of 18 are not encouraged.
Yes. As well as our organic wagyu beef, we have a well-stocked vegetable garden, hens (for eggs) as well as a growing range of home-made preserved foods and condiments – upon availability
Apart from Kangeroos, Wallabies, Wombats and some introduced species, there are glossy-black cockatoos (on the ‘endangered’ list), possible echidna sightings, a range of reptiles, an eagle nest and much more.
Enroute (either direction from Sydney), there are the Mudgee and Hunter Valley wine-making regions. If visitors have some spare days, these two fantastic destinations could be incorporated in a ’round trip’. There are also other local attractions – visit the Mudgee Tourism website for more details.
Pets are not encouraged but happy to discuss on application
Gundooee has a 10 km driveway, which may cause some issues for smaller vehicles with low ground-clearance, particularly if the weather is wet. If concerned, vehicles can be left on a neighbouring property near our turn off with prior arrangements made.
It is Japanese for ‘Japanese-style cattle’. Translated, the ‘Wa’ means ‘Japanese-style’, and the ‘Gyu’ means ‘cattle’.
Yes, A-grade certified with the BFA/ACO since 2005. Synthetic fertilisers, weedicide, pesticides and many animal husbandry products are all prohibited inputs under the terms of the ‘Biological Farmers of Australia’ (BFA). This is our certifying body which works under the organic guidelines set down by the Australian Quarantine & Inspection Service (AQIS), the government body responsible for organic standards in Australia. When we feel it necessary to apply inputs, we use approved ones like manures and stimulants for the soil, and ground coconut husks (copra), garlic & minerals for the cattle. This passive, low-impact approach works better with the biological processes that keep our soils functioning, and as a result we have few of the problems that are often associated with conventional high-input / high-output systems like bloat, toxicity, parasites and others.
More specifically, the cattle are ‘Pasture-Fed’, and on deep-rooted native species (mostly perennials). We don’t use the term ‘Grass-fed’ anymore, as cereal crops are technically a species of grass, and stock can be grazed on these more ‘artificial’ pastures (usually a monoculture, and these annual species are only shallow-rooted). The reason farmers put cattle onto these crops is because the soft green feed is easily digestible and high in energy which equates to growth. The growth rates for cattle grazing on a barley or oats crop can be up to 2kg/head/day higher than those rates achieved from the native pasture, being virtually nil for the winter months and about 1kg/head/day for the spring months (winter and spring are when these winter cereals are grazed).
When experiencing dry times, the first supplement we feed out is copra meal, which is the white meat from inside the coconut shell, dried and ground to a powder. It is very high in protein and a good source of energy. If the dry continues, the stock are given a small ration of grain for energy, which would always constitute less than 5% of their total dry-matter intake (as per the Australian Certified Organic specification). In severe and prolonged dry periods, hay is fed out (we have only ever had to do this once), but in this situation, the option to send the cattle on assignment (if there is any certified country available) is always taken.
The only other time the cattle feed is supplemented is when sale cattle are just about to be trucked. We feed them copra meal (as described above) from daylight on the day they are trucked (being when they are yarded) which provides both a boost of energy and protein for the following 24 hours they are off feed and in yards. This also helps ‘dry’ the existing feed in their stomachs, which slows down their process rate, and helps maintain ‘gut-fill’ and muscle glucose levels for longer.
Is the glass half full or half empty?
We are responsible for creating about 130 cattle lives each year, and we insure every single steer and heifer are never short of quality feed and clean water. As humans, we mistakenly assume cattle have an understanding of their length of life, which they don’t. They might have one bad day in their lives (when they die), but hey, it is quick and clean and far more importantly, they have lived a happy life. You see, once it is understood that cattle don’t actually know how long they can live for, the quality of life for the cattle becomes the real issue.
This ranges from between 2 and 3 years of age, and is dependant upon weight gains, fat levels, physiological maturity and the markets at the time.
After an animal dies it undergoes the rigour process where the muscle keeps working. With the heart no longer pumping, the muscle relies solely on ‘muscle glucose’ (MG, or energy) to feed it during this phase which requires 64 units of MG. If the muscle runs out of energy before the rigour process would otherwise finish, the meat will be dark in appearance and tough (called a ‘dark-cutter’ carcass).
So how do we maximise MG prior to slaughter?
This is achieved through reducing stress (which can use up to 10 units of MG per hour), and also by giving a high-energy feed. We feed Copra meal (powdered coconut meat) a few hours prior to trucking. Any spare MG that is not used for rigour is the sweet caramelized flavor found in our beef.
The cattle are sent to the Cowra Abattoir, which is located about 270km (four and a half hours drive by truck) due west of Sydney.
As we often find ourselves as the conduit to consumers of information regarding the processing of our beef, we felt it imperative to have an informed understanding of the whole procedure and so in September 2015 we were given the opportunity to visit Cowra Abattoir. Details of the procedure from start to finish are outlined in a personal account below.
The truck arrives late on a Monday afternoon, and the cattle are kept as a single mob (usually between 8 to 10 head), and are on clean water from the time they arrive to the time they ‘check-out’. The organic run is always first-up the next morning, so the cattle are not off feed for more than 24 hours. We feed them copra meal (ground coconut husk) prior to leaving the farm to ensure energy levels and some gut-fill is maintained during this time. Handling of the live cattle is one of the most critical parts of the Abattoir, as stress is a major determinant of meat quality. We were pleased to observe the stock-handlers worked well with our quiet cattle.
On Tuesday morning it was really hard to see die and we thought about whether they sense death? If they do, it was not apparent to us, as the cattle behaved no differently than they do at the farm. The stun procedure is first and this is done with a ‘bolt’ which fires out into the brain (and back), removing all consciousness instantly. The gun operator immediately checks for a ‘Positive Corneal Response’ (PCR) to ensure the stun has been effective. Despite all the great improvements made to the ‘Knocking Box’ area (to maximise operator safety and animal considerations), no system is perfect, but the back-up system was. One of the 10 animals processed on the day gave a positive PCR – with-in seconds, the back-up gun was employed, and the issue was averted.
The processing of the carcass is as what you would expect – confronting for the un-initiated. Once the body is inverted, the oesophicous is clamped to avoid carcass contamination later. Next, low-voltage stimulation (for about 30 seconds) is used to help the bleeding out process, then the body heads into the processing area. Whilst the plant is not new, it has been modernised with all the latest equipment, and the work was done with great dexterity and very professionally.
The meat inspectors check the carcasses and offal carefully at various stages, and the floor manager watched the whole operation. Traceability is very accurately followed using a series of stickers and procedures.
The bodies are hocked, beheaded, skinned, gutted and stamped (including the round ‘Gundooee Organics’ stamp). Next, they are halved, washed, weighed, labeled, and then swung around to the chillers to commence their important rigor process. This chilling process must be done at the correct speed, and is a major determinant of meat quality.
Some time early Wednesday morning, the carcasses are assessed for fat cover, fat and meat colour, and also marbling. This information together with the hot-carcass weight (HCW) and the ‘offal recovery’ is sent to me at about 7.00am to assist with my allocation of carcasses/offal. All purchases of our beef request differing carcass specifications, and with each shipment, I do my best to match the carcass type with the purchaser. Some times this can be difficult (and frustrating), but easier when the season/growth rates are good and carcasses are fat. The marble score or the EMA (Eye-muscle area – used as a guide to asses how much usable meat is on a carcass – the ‘usable meat’ percentage) is not used to allocate carcasses as these assessment criteria are shared around equally for everyone, as all clients want the same from these two attributes.
Wednesday afternoon, the carcasses are prepared for ‘Load-out’. The sides are weighed (this is the weight I use for invoicing) then cut in half, thus making two fore and two hind quarters. This is necessary as the meat-handlers need to be able to carry the beef on their shoulder on and off the trucks, which we can tell you from experience is test of strength and will. If the bodies are too heavy (over 300km HCW), the quarters are further broken down into more-manageable sizes.
The heavy bodies are from more physically mature animals and so are sought after by many clients, but they do create extra work for the abattoir staff cutting them down further (we greatly appreciate their assistance when these occur).
Note: The carcass ‘Sale Window’ is 250kg-300kg for weight (CCW), and 8mm-20mm for fat (at the P8 site). This is (broadly) what the butchers and restaurants have asked me to supply, but it is not easy to do when the product takes over 3 years (from conception) to produce. It is even tougher when the market demands varying quantities, which is why I implemented a ‘Permanent Order’ system for carcass ordering. Physiological maturity occurs at around 30 months in cattle, which is when the growth slows, and fat is more-readily deposited around the body. Our most challenging job is ensuring all the cattle are within the ‘Sale Window’ before they become too heavy (exceed 300kg, but not enough fat).
The whole morning we spent at the abattoir was very productive and whilst visually confronting at times, it was very worthwhile and enlightening. We came away with sound knowledge, and confidence that the live animals and in turn, also the carcasses are given every consideration possible. Interestingly, our most lasting impression was our observations of the staff, and the consideration they all had for one and other. This consideration filtered throughout the entire plant, and could be found in every facet of operation. This is what we believe is fundamentally responsible for the quality of the product leaving the plant.
We thank Wayne (our tour guide), Peter and the team at Cowra Abattoir for allowing us to learn first-hand about the operation, and we congratulate them for their work.
The cattle are not sheltered/sheded during winter or at any other time as they often are in European countries, so they have the same natural day lengths as we enjoy. Every paddock has very adequate natural shelter in the way of trees, so cattle can always choose to reduce the effects of the elements (sun, rain, wind etc.).
The property is 760 ha (1,880 ac), of which about 500 ha is good grazing country and the remainder is timbered and of lighter soil. We can have anywhere between 200 and 400 head of cattle in our charge at any one time, but we have two exclusive local assignment options (certified) so we can maintain the stocking density we feel best suits the season. The average (annual) stocking rate we work on is one animal to 2 ha, so theoretically we can run just over 300 head of cattle just on Gundooee. However, we always ensure the numbers are low enough so-as to maintain availability of pasture (to ensure good growth of the animals), and as a minimum for the dry times we aim for 100% ground cover 100% of the time (to maintain soil protection and health).
We have been practicing Rotational or ‘Time controlled’ grazing on Gundooee for about 13 years, and in that time have seen great change in both soil health and plant species. The main principle is to allow the plants to maximise their stored energy reserves (in their roots) to re-grow more- vigorously after a graze period. The vigorous growth creates more feed than pasture which is more ’set-stocked’, and also increases the life in the soil as the plants have a more active mineral cycle (hence improving soil microbe population and diversity).
There is also what is termed the ‘herd effect’, which is basically a term used to label the positive effects cattle have on the pastures (including soil disturbance and promoting plant growth). The rest period of the plants is the key, and this can be anywhere from 7 to 14 weeks (longer during the slower-growth periods of winter). The grazing period too is important (we graze for between 2 to 4 days), as stock should be removed before the young shoots begin to grow large enough to be eaten off.
Gundooee has 25 paddocks (used in the rotation) and usually we run just one mob of cattle. During a drought we can choose to run a separate ’sale’ mob so they can be preferentially fed (so-as to keep growth rates and fat scores going forward), and without the added expense of extra feeding of the younger cattle (which would be between 6 and 24 months away from sale).
Traditionally we have always produced our own calves. The past 12 months has seen an occasion for us having to purchase in cattle from another farm (not far from Gundooee – who fortunately operate essentially the same way we do), but this is only an interim measure.
At Gundooee we keep a tail hair follicle sample of every animal sold. If there is ever a question that the Gunddoee beef you have purchased is not in fact Gundooee we can send samples away for lab testing.
Cattle generally can test anywhere from 0mm to over 30mm of fat. Our clients collectively have a diverse range of fat requirements and I have asked them for their specific preferences on carcass weight, fat depth, and meat and fat colour. Once I receive the carcass assessment information back from the abattoir (the day after they are killed), I can better match the particular carcass to the client prior to trucking the carcasses. Marbling scores and EMA (Eye-muscle area – used as a guide to asses how much usable meat is on a carcass – the ‘usable meat’ percentage) data are not used by us in the process of matching the carcass with the client, as all clients would like these two scores to be high.
The ultra-sound fat-testing procedure for the cattle uses the same principals of sending out and receiving sound waves to learn what is under the skin as it does for human applications. It is easy, accurate, and painless for the cattle. The qualified assessor comes to the farm about three times every year and choose the testing site just forward on the rump beside the back bone. This has been determined historically as being the most indicative place on a cattle carcass for uniformity of fat cover distribution.
Fat can be categorised into four main categories; subcutaneous, inter-muscular, intra-muscular and inter-cellular.
Subcutaineous (under the skin) and kidney fat: These are harder, higher melting-point fats which are less ‘good for you’, as they contain higher amounts of saturated fats. Animals which grow quickly (typically feedlot animals) will put fat down at these sites early.
Inter-muscular fat (or ‘seam’) fat: This can be found between the muscle seams, and is sometimes mistaken for intra-muscular fat. A slightly better-quality fat to eat.
Intra-muscular fat (marbling): This is what has been firmly intrenched in consumer’s minds to be what to look for when buying a steak. Yes, it can be a great indicator of meat quality, but unfortunately many other eating quality attributes are often not considered. With marbling, the finer the ‘fleck’ the better quality.
Inter-Cellular fat: This is the really good stuff and it is often overlooked, as it is not really visible to the eye. Inter-Cellular fat is much more prevalent on slower-growing pasture-raised cattle, has a lower melting point, much less saturated fats/VFA’s, and higher in omega 3 and nutrients generally. This is where the great flavour is.
In an attempt to use the whole carcass, we recover all offal (or cuts from the killing room) available to us – tongue, heart, liver, cheek, tail, kidney and skirt. This is sold to a few of the closer customers (as offal only has a short shelf-life), and all the proceeds from offal sales are sent to a local Sydney charity located down near Berry (south coast), ‘A Taste Of Paradise’ farm. Tim and Andy Francis were the pioneers of this fantastic charity, which takes homeless kids from the streets and instills in them hope through improving their self-worth. The farm acts as the conduit for teaching skills, work ethics, social understanding and even home-keeping, and encouraging personal development under Tim’s strong, gentle guidance.
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