Karyn Cassar and Carissa Wolfe run Benmar Farm – a beautiful property located on Hannam Vale Road. Their business encompasses both dairy and beef, and the girls have a special interest in the more unusual Fleckvieh breed of cattle. Offering tours of their business operation and the chance to get up close and personal with their stock, Benmar Farm is one of the less common organic dairies in NSW you can visit …
How did you two meet?
We were penpals for quite some time, before meeting face to face (Karyn was in Australia, Carissa in America). We never dreamed we’d actually physically meet; we were across the globe from each other! But the world’s not such a huge place, after all!
Karyn grew up in Berry on the South Coast; Carissa in Troy, Montana, a little town in the Rocky Mountains. Karyn was still in the South Coast when we met; Carissa had spent a few years in the Portland, Oregon area.
What led to you working on Benmar Farm at Hannam Vale Road, Moorland?
We were in the USA (in Portland, Oregon) for 10 years, but “the plan” was to return to Australia to have our dairy business.
In 2012 we came back and started looking for a farm; 18 months and much searching later, this property kind of found us. We’re so grateful; we love it here!
Benmar Farm is the name of our dairy business (we lease the property), and is a combination of both our names (we haven’t heard a property name for this land; we’ve wondered, though!)
You produce both beef and milk on your farm, so what are the various breeds of cattle you look after – and how many stock do you currently run?
We currently have 130 adults cows, plus the young stock from birth to adult is 220 total.
There are two reasons for the different breeds we have – one practical, and the other just preferential. When we started, we had to start from scratch (we couldn’t bring cows over from America with us), so our base herd is a combination of cows from other dairy herds (all very good herds, so we’ve had a great start).
Preferentially, we like the variety and appreciate the unique characteristics of the different dairy breeds – plus, having the Fleckviehs, we want the ability to compare how they perform in the Australian environment compared to the other dairy breeds, and it’s difficult to do that farm-to-farm, since each farm runs a bit differently. The Fleckviehs give us the ability to produce beef, but as a dairy business primarily, they also need to prove out in milk production.
The other beef breed we have is “Pustertaler”, which is a heritage breed that is almost extinct, but has incredible qualities. The dairy breeds that we have are: Jersey, the “queen” of creamy milk; Ayrshires, who have a naturally homogenised milk (meaning the cream and the milk don’t separate as much, like sheep’s milk); Holstein, the “queen” of volume production; and Brown Swiss, another Alpine breed.
The Fleckvieh breed – which (correct me if I’m wrong!) has Germanic origins and appears to be a versatile breed, suited for both beef and milk. What do you love most about the breed?
Oh, you asked the perfect question, according to Karyn! Yes, it is Germanic (well done!) “Fleck” means spotted, and “vieh” (pronounced “vee”) means cow, so literally translated “Fleckvieh” means “Spotted Cow”. They are a heritage breed that was originally tri-purpose, for beef, milk and draft – primarily they’re used for beef and milk these days. We like them because their dual-purpose provides a sustainable animal that (as a dairy) has value apart from milk production, are very heat and humidity tolerant (they’ll still be out grazing when most the other dairy breeds are in the shade), are steady in their milk production, lending to longevity, convert pasture to milk well (so don’t need as much “special” feed to stay healthy or produce milk), and have strong “health traits” (this covers a whole range of things, but simply put, they don’t get sick very easy and have a genetically high quality milk).
Their milk is naturally higher in protein and CLAs, and feels more like silk in your mouth compared to the velvet of Jerseys (the flavour is also not as strong as Jersey milk, so a lot of people find it easier on the palate). We’re often asked how they perform in the dairy, since they “look” like a beef cow, and in our herd they are on par with the Holstein x Jersey cows for the amount of milk they produce. Plus, the calves are cute.
What do you feel sets you apart from other beef/dairy operations?
That we milk beef cows (jokingly, since the Fleckviehs are in fact a dairy breed themselves!)
We’re the same as other farmers in loving our animals, taking care of our land, and being quirky in our particulars. What sets us apart is that we’re choosing to do these things in ways that aren’t “typical” to farming practices today … and while they work for us, it doesn’t mean they are “more right” than other ways. We do hope, though, that by doing things out of the ordinary, it encourages other farmers to try things out of the ordinary too.
We’re also an organic commercial dairy, which there aren’t very many of in NSW. Our standards for our herd health and long-term farm health are very particular, and we place a very high value on animal welfare practices and seeing what we do as producing food to nourish families.
You offer tours of your property … what do you aim to show visitors?
One of the most common things we hear is, “I remember on my [grandparents’] farm …”, and people want their children to have that experience. There’s also a lot of curiosity about how milk is produced. Our aim is to provide the opportunity for real interactions between children and cows, and a “back-stage” pass to understanding what it means to be a dairy cow and make milk as food.
Where can we purchase your products, or contact you?
For our tours and beef, you’ll need to contact us. Our general farm tours are private “immersion” experiences on a working farm; they’re best suited to family groups (kids love them!) and we schedule them per request. We can also facilitate bus tours, which are focused on the milking process. Beef is available through private purchase at request.
For our milk, soon we’ll be able to offer our milk directly, but in the meantime, our milk goes into the Paul’s brand.
Thanks Karyn and Carissa.