Small Portugal farms support large families

31 May, 2010 04:00 AM
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Robert Lindsay (centre), Cora Lynn Merino stud, Peak Hill, NSW, with four of the ten family members that reside and work at the 100ha Courela Seca Estate near Gafanhoeira, located east of Portugal's capital Lisboa, Pedro Spudaleira (left), Inacio Salgado, Libania Lavado and Mancio Salgado.
Robert Lindsay (centre), Cora Lynn Merino stud, Peak Hill, NSW, with four of the ten family members that reside and work at the 100ha Courela Seca Estate near Gafanhoeira, located east of Portugal's capital Lisboa, Pedro Spudaleira (left), Inacio Salgado, Libania Lavado and Mancio Salgado.

WE would normally associate 100 hectare properties with lifestyle blocks, orchards, vineyards and market gardens.

But in Portugal, properties of this size are common, accommodating numerous farming enterprises and supporting several families.

Australian delegates to the eighth World Merino Conference got to experience first hand, the traditional Portuguese farming property of the Salgado family's Courela Seca Estate.

The 100ha property is located near the small town of Gafanhoeira in the municipality of Arraiolos, about 100km east of the Portuguese capital city of Lisboa.

The property has been in the Salgado family for more than 30 years and today supports ten family members.

Although extremely self sufficient, given the low European commodity prices, the viability of the property in its current structure could be in doubt without the assistance of government subsidies.

The European Union (EU) Common Market Policy governs all farming practices in the countries of the union.

A family spokesman said the EU is trying to reduce sheep numbers in Portugal and in the last five years, the sheep population has reduced by 10 per cent.

For example, EU subsidies in the sheep enterprise amount to around 24 Euro per head for sheep and 250 Euro per head for cattle running on the property.

Due to the Common Market Policy governing stocking numbers, farmers are also awarded around half these subsidies for non-existent stock that make up the property's stocking quota calculated by the EU.

Courela Seca Estate is a mixed farming enterprise, ranging from cultivated crops through to various forms of livestock totalling 330 head.

The main types of crops grown are an annual planting of ryegrass and oats during the autumn and winter with barley (autumn-winter) and sorghum (spring-summer) also grown depending on the season.

Due to the aggressive Mediterranean climate, fodder and pasture crops are also sown to be cut as hay and stored for stock feed.

There are 241 Merino-based sheep run on the property.

But like most other European sheep producers with wool fetching as low as 1 Euro per kilogram, wool is referred to as an inconvenient by-product to meat production.

Due to this, the family has steered away from Merinos with Il d'France and Laconia crossed into the flock for improved meat and milk production.

The excess milk produced by these ewes is tapped for a small production of home-made cheeses.

The sheep are shorn once a year in the spring and cut around 3kg of wool. They are shorn on the concrete shed floor with a makeshift assembly to suspend the shearing head from the shed roof.

With such low wool prices, quality wool handling practices are non-existent and the wool ends up in the same bale and is sold to textile companies.

Lambs are sold at two to three months of age, weighing between 25 and 30kg and securing around 45 Euro per lamb, which according to the family spokesman, is the same price they were getting 25 years ago.

There are 52 breeding cows run on the property made up of Holstein-Friesian, primarily for milk production and Charolais and Limousin to breed vealer calves.

A total of 35 pigs are also run for both family consumption and sold to the trade.

They are mostly cross-bred using the Pork Alentejo breed, a breed well-known and appreciated for its superior taste, common in meat and sausages.

One of the more interesting enterprises on the property was the harvesting of cork and processing the cork oak into charcoal.

Dead cork oak trees are either gathered from the property or purchased in 15kg lots costing 1.75 Euro.

The cork is harvested from the tree and sold for making domestic items such as cork placemats.

The remaining oak is then stacked into kilns and burnt for five days.

The charcoal is bagged into seven kilogram bags and sold for 30 Euro cents per kilogram for use in domestic heating and barbecues.

One kiln burn produces 200 bags of charcoal.

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