From left Tania Sherwood, Angela Black, Waldina Hilton, Margaret Tilley, Paula Hoffman-Madsen, Lou Lloyd, Lisa Hailes, Sally Smith-West, Natalie Hardy, David Quick and Meaghan Strickland-Wood, framed by many of David’s favourite trees and herbs.
Many thanks and great appreciation to David for hosting this weekend and for sharing his amazing experience and knowledge, and showing how he has used organic principles on his farm for the past 30 years.
David was influenced in his early years by his grandfather who was a forestry conservationist, his grandmother who gave him memberships  to soil associations and his mentor Enid Carberry who grew herbs, utilised “weeds”, practised companion planting and planted leys of herbs in  paddocks for herbage fodder.
From the age of 12, David noticed how his ponies would eat weeds when tethered on the nature strip and this interest has remained with him.  As he truly says “When does a weed become a herb?  When we find a use for it”.
Certainly many of us learnt about uses for plants which we see growing in our paddocks and gardens and thought were just nuisance weeds, but which are actually herbs with valuable uses.
A good example is dock which is considered by most to be a weed.  Its value is that its long taproot brings minerals up to the topsoil, thereby helping to repair soils,  and horses who need it will eat it as a liver tonic. The Dock family is numerous and widespread with the Yellow or Curled Dock (Rumex crispus) used medicinally as a blood cleanser in herbal medicine today.
This is the tall Dock which is common in Australia along with the much shorter, sparser variety.  It can be very difficult to identify plants correctly but it is important to do so, it is made more difficult because of the many different common names.  Wikipedia is useful as it often has many good images.   Docks belong to the same family (Polygonaceae) as Rhubarbs and Sheep Sorrels.
David’s  120 acre  farm suffered a lot in the last big drought despite having irrigation, but he was able to utilise many of his tree plantings on paddock boundaries for fodder and these are growing back well now.  One of his favourite herbs is Wormwood which grows around some of the work areas,  which he uses as a tonic and restorative.  If a horse does not need a herb, especially an extremely bitter herb like Wormwood, they simply will not eat it.   It also keeps flies away very effectively.
Apart from David’s considerable knowledge of soil, herbage, pastures and pasture plants, he is a horseman in the true sense of the word.  Both his father and his grandfather were successful Thoroughbred trainers and David worked with them both from a young age, acquiring a wealth of knowledge, dedication and a work ethic that few people have these days.
When David acquired the land for the farm there were no trees and the soil had been supered for 20 years previously so the minerals were locked up.  Gypsum and dolomite were used extensively in the first year which resulted in the capeweed disappearing in the first two years.


Notice how the Dock has sheltered the rye grass which is growing up through it

David started out with cattle losing a lot to bloat, milk fever and white scours, but once the soil improved, these problems disappeared.  He then started breeding Thoroughbreds, and planted tree lines using Cottonwood, Ash, White Willow, Hawthorn and Tree Lucerne to name a few. He also planted herbage leys in the paddocks using Yarrow, Vetch, Chicory, Nettles and Lucerne.  There is a rotation system in place with paddocks of varying sizes being eaten down often to what appears to be bare earth, but which actually contains a lot of seeds, which then come back when spelled astonishingly well.


A small paddock eaten out left with a regrown paddock on the right. Notice the trees and wormwood hedges in the background.
Stable waste is composted by mixing with herb and tree cuttings and then spread in paddocks annually using a drum spreader.  The paddocks all have significant herbage such as Horehound, Shepherds Purse, Plantain, Purslane and Mallow in amongst the grasses including Couchgrass and Prairie Grass, some Rye and many clovers.  The horses tend to eat the leys out to the base and then move on to the next one.  The manure breaks down very quickly due to the wonderful microbial activity in the soil.  Nature is allowed to do her work on this property, nothing is wasted, no chemicals are used and the horses are very healthy.  Obviously the horses require feeding and supplementation when they are stabled for starting and training and David uses high grade dolomite, seaweed and rock salt along with hay and some cereal feeds.  He kept our attention with several amazing stories of how he was able to bring horses back to health using herbal remedies such as green herb juices (Rosemary is a favourite), White Willow Bark and fresh herb poultices such as Comfrey.
It was fascinating to see the different reactions of David’s Holsteiner stallions in the stables to whom I offered some essential oils to inhale or lick as they chose.  More on this important topic in the future.
Lunch was held on both days at the neighbouring Longleat Winery where we were treated to fresh local gourmet food and wine al fresco with gorgeous rustic views over the surrounding countryside.