Talking to the animals
Sean Gleeson is a man who throws his heart and soul into everything he does.
When he and his wife Jody took on her family farm in the Camden Haven 11 years ago, Sean was rolling up his sleeves to make the most of the opportunity.
He’s also a man who loves a good chat. When he moved from working in a busy engineering shop near Sydney, managing 50 boilermakers, to a beef cattle farm in the Camden Haven, the conversation moved from two-legged to four-legged creatures.
“I used to work in a very social environment, and when we moved to the farm, I found myself talking to the cattle. They do have different personalities as people do.
“Our family has always been very pet-oriented, and we treat the cattle like they’re our pets. Obviously, at the end of the day, they’re a product, but while they’re here, we treat them with the same affection we have for our pets.”
The Gleesons run cattle on two properties in Johns River. One is 60 acres set up for strip grazing cattle and rearing calves, once weaned. The other is 120 acres and is home to the breeding stock.
Sean loves the rural lifestyle and producing grass-fed beef cattle. He is enthusiastic about running his farming business, about the success of farming in the region generally, and flow-on business in the Camden Haven.
Sean didn’t come into farming without experience.
“I’m from Narrabri originally. I’ve moved around the state a fair bit. I did my best to stay out of Sydney, but I did spend 10 years living in the southern highlands. I did have some dairy cattle in Narrabri, and we used to milk them by hand. So, we’d get up at 4am and go down to the dairy.
“Coastal farming is different. I’ve learned a lot from people here in the valley. They’ve been so helpful to us, and we thoroughly enjoy it. It’s a great lifestyle and better than diary farming because I like my pillow too much. I don’t like getting out of bed early.
“The Camden Haven is a lovely place to live. When you move from the Southern Highlands where it gets down to minus two or minus three degrees, to here where the weather is absolutely fantastic, you don’t look back.
“It’s magic to live in a place that produces top quality food, from seafood, macadamia nuts, blueberries, to beef cattle and dairy.”
Sean Gleeson Pictured At Gleesons Farm Johns River
Learning to manage beef through challenges
Knowing the quality produce grown on the Camden Haven, Sean was a quick study, learning what it takes to breed beef cattle and manage ryegrass pasture to produce healthy cattle and great-tasting meat.
“We produce nice, quiet cattle. We can walk around them and make sure they’re all happy and have plenty of food and clean water.
“We don’t do grain-fed because I believe grass-fed beef has a better flavour. So it’s heading into summer, we’ve got ryegrass in, and we’ll have the cattle strip graze, and we’ll rotate them around the paddocks.
“When the ryegrass is going to seed, we will harvest the seed and prepare the grass to be made into silage; that will prepare us for the winter. In winter, we plant the seed and start the cycle all over again.”
The Camden Haven is still recovering from the drought which severely affected the region over at least two years and the 2019 bushfires. The Gleesons came close to the brink.
“We were very close to selling off all our cattle. And to do that, that’s all that genetic line lost. We were down within two big square bails of feed to selling off all our cattle.
“For us, it was all or nothing. We took that gamble, and we were lucky that we got rain within that week in January.
“Taking that risk put us in a really good position after the rain. Other farmers, especially out west, they’re trying to restock now. We’ve got calves being born, and we don’t have to buy that stock.
“That last couple of years here on the coast was something. I’ve spoken to people in their 80s, and they’ve said they’ve never seen it this dry. For us to get through it in the position to what we did, I’m pretty proud.
“It’s going to take a lot of farmers, a lot of years to build that herd back up again.”
Herd Of Grass Fed Beef Cattle At The Gleesons Farm
The bushfires of November, December and January came close to the farm. Sean loaded 1,000-litre water tanks on his trailer and spent weeks putting out spot fires in the paddocks.
“We were lucky the planes turned up just in time to bomb the fire that came up the back of South Brother Mountain. Our property backs onto it.
“But every day, each night we were going out, checking to make sure that spot fires weren’t around. And of course, the other problem we had was, with a lack of water wild dogs were coming in. So go around, check each night where the cattle were, making sure wild dogs weren’t bringing down any calves.
“So, I mean with everything, there are always problems, but there’s ways around it. You just got to keep getting up and go around and do what you got to do.”
Sean Gleeson Working At Grass Fed Beef Cattle Farm
What’s on your plate?
Sean says farmers who are producing a quality product are getting noticed by consumers who want to know where their food comes from, how it’s grown or raised, and the practises used on the land. He said by seeking out local products from local businesses, customers can understand more about their food, who grows it and if any additives or supplements used to enhance the cosmetic appeal.
“People are becoming more aware of what they’re buying. People need to be aware of what type of product they are purchasing, how it’s being brought up, what treatment it has had. They want to be more aware of how their meat is produced.
“People are starting to look into the type of cuts and how to use them. If cheaper cuts are cooked low and slow, it’s better value and flavour. I mean, there’s also still good quality cuts with your blade, your topsides, all that the premium cuts. The more that people can educate themselves in that way of cooking and preparing their meals, the better off it is for themselves in terms of value for money for them in the long run.
Sean Gleeson Pictured On Quad Bike With Grass Fed Beef Cattle
“Go to your local butcher. I cannot stress that enough. They know where their products come from. Ask for their advice about how you should be preparing something. They’re the best people to ask; they know what’s going on. I think people must realise that if they do get meat from a local butcher, it hasn’t had too much transport, it’s fresh straight to the butcher, a few days in their cool room then on your plate.
“And I don’t want to knock any supermarket or anything like that, I think at the end of the day, if the meat is packed on a tray, you don’t really know where it’s come from, how it’s been treated or anything like that. I know there are guidelines that they do put in place, but me personally, go to a local butcher.
“I don’t think people realise how much power they have when it comes to how this economy works out. At the end of the day, it’s supply and demand. If people go and spend their money in the local area, that money keeps going round, and it eventually finds its way into local sporting clubs, local organisations. Local businesses are the ones who sponsor your local shows and everything along those lines.
“Each time you go and buy a local product, it keeps farmers working to produce hopefully the best quality food which we do produce here on the coast. Without the consumer buying our products, this cycle doesn’t happen.”