Julie Sade has a unique problem: her Highland cattle are too friendly. People visit her farm stay, Highland Getaway in Ranelagh, for the opportunity to brush the “giant grass puppies,” as she calls them.
“If you brush too softly, they’ll go to someone else who brushes harder,” she says. I’m drawn to a shaggy, reddish-coated calf named Jasmine, whose glassy eyes close in delight with each brushstroke. “They’re like a two-year-old child; they’re gorgeous animals but they’ll push the boundaries.”
True to form, when I stop to take a photo, Jasmine gives me a gentle nudge with her head, urging me to continue. Ranelagh is located at the gateway to the Huon Valley, a region known for its farms, fruit orchards and cool-climate wines. This year, the Tasmanian government has injected millions of dollars into developing this sort of agritourism experience, but Julie was ahead of the curve when she started her business in 2018. And it’s not a bad place to work. From one of the suites attached to her home, I look out over paddocks sloping gently towards the tannin-brown Huon River.
In the distance stands a quaint wooden house on the water’s edge, where guests can spot platypus. Not that I can see much of the little cabin this morning, the pine-blanketed view slowly emerging from fairytale-like cloud. Just across the river, at the bottom of the property is Glen Huon Dairy, where Karen and Richard Butler tend to a different herd. The couple moved to Tasmania in 2017 after their U.K. farm tenancy ended.
They work for Nick Haddow, who purchased the property a year earlier to better control the quality of the milk going into his Bruny Island Cheese Company products. “This milk has to be used within 24 hours of leaving the farm, and you can see it labelled here,” says Karen, pointing to a date on a semi-hard wedge of cheese. “That means Richard can go back and find the exact paddock the milk came from.” As Australia’s borders tentatively reopen post-pandemic, the plan is to host long lunches, workshops and events at the refurbished apple shed.
“Not many working farms want to open up to the public, so people see the value in a farm with open doors and make the most of it,” says Karen. At outdoor tables, visitors sample some of Bruny Island Cheese Company’s produce: the rich and oozy white mould Saint; marinated one-day-old curd; or the semi-hard Nanna’s Undies, cheekily named for the rosemary and lavender rubbed into the rind. Delicious as their cheese may be, the herd numbers just 55 and so isn’t considered commercially viable.
“If you’re only selling milk, you’re going to need 500 cows on the ground, and you’re dictated by supermarket prices,” says Karen. “But Richard knows every one of our cows by sight and temperament. When you’re not working commercially, everything is treated better: the cows, the land, the people.
Read the complete feature in the print edition of National Geographic Traveller India May-June 2022. Get your copy here.