Couples and young families from Perth are keen to enjoy a farm experience little more than an hour’s drive from the city.
"You’ve got to engage your core and squat down,” says Joel Cochrane. And though this might sound like advice for lifting heavy items or engaging in some new fitness fad, it’s actually a tip for sheep drafting.
Such a task, which involves sorting sheep in a stockyard by funnelling them down a raceway and through a series of gates, is all in a day’s work for a farmer like Joel.
But he’s made a game of it for our benefit, marking the sheep’s wool with colours and instructing us to divide each shade into different pens.
A young woman visiting from Hong Kong is the first member of our group to try, and she’s soon drafting the sheep with such proficiency — not to mention hearty cries of “go, go, go!” and “yes, yes, no, no!” — that Joel admits he’s tempted to offer her a job.
We’re at Ferndale Springs — the property at Coolup, south-east of Mandurah, where Joel and his wife Danielle live with their two young sons — for a hands-on taste of farm life.
So far, that’s included everything from learning about raising cattle to whip cracking, damper making and a barbecue lunch. But foremost among the attractions, for me at least, is the chance to meet the farm’s menagerie of animals.
There’s Chocolate the brown-and-white cow, which is among the herd that awaits us in a paddock as we arrive in a tractor-towed trailer. She was christened by one of Joel and Danielle’s sons, who accompany us to handfeed the cows with hay.
Later, in a small paddock that doubles as a petting zoo, we’re introduced to residents including Bobo the miniature horse, a greedy little goat, and Baby the decidedly un-babyish cow. (“It seemed appropriate,” Joel shrugs.) Their number will soon be bolstered by Sugar, one of a litter of piglets being raised in a nearby pen.
Then there’s Bruce the crotchety ram — by far the most unco-operative of the sheep during the drafting game — and Empress, a Cleveland Bay horse belonging to Joel’s mum, Brenda, who is involved in preserving this rare British breed.
The property itself has been in the family for nearly three decades.
Since Joel and Danielle took it over about 16 months ago, they’ve committed to sharing it with visitors — so far, mostly couples and young families from Perth keen to enjoy a farm experience little more than an hour’s drive from the city.
For those who want to extend the visit, there’s a pair of neat one-bedroom cabins — the Blue Wren and Red Robin — which are available to rent via Airbnb. And an additional four-bedroom rammed-earth house will soon also become available for farmstay guests.
In the meantime, our group leave with smiles on our faces — and a potential career change in sight.
- Stays in the cabins at Ferndale Springs are $120 per night for two people. The rammed-earth house is $195 per night for two. Camping and caravan sites are also available.
- A three-hour Working Farm Tour including cattle feeding, the petting zoo, sheep drafting, barbecue lunch and more costs $55 per person. Other experiences are from $35, with options including a sunset and stargazing tour.
- Phone 0407 479 899.
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