A big focus on small creatures for PetTeet Park between Beverley and York | weekly farm
MORE than a decade ago, Kevin and Pam Johnson’s retirement plan was simple:
Escape to the countryside, buy a property and manage a small herd of animals – including lambs – for the grandchildren.
A shift in gear offered the perfect opportunity to unwind and enjoy life at a more relaxed pace, after many years of working as publicans in the motel/hotel scene.
The Johnsons have found a piece of paradise between Beverley and York, on the edge of the Wheatbelt and 100 km from the grandchildren in Perth.
The property was attractive for its location, size, and access to water.
Meanwhile, the proposed “small” herd of animals has technically – and literally – stayed true to size.
“We thought, if we’re going to raise, why not raise sheep and animals that are small all the time?” Mr Johnson said.
“Instead of having sheep, which are only small when they are lambs.”
PetTeet Park was founded in 2008 with the purchase of Babydoll Southdown sheep from one of Australia’s oldest flocks, Hillgrove, registered in Victoria in 1921.
The name of the park is a pun and one could probably guess the size of the animals the couple keep.
There is an eclectic mix of miniature and exotic livestock including Babydoll Southdown sheep and Australian Hereford miniature cattle, Belted Galloway cattle, chickens, goats and pigs, as well as livestock guardian dogs, horses and alpacas from the Maremma.
“We call ourselves PetTeet Park, as in small pets,” Mr Johnson said.
“We try to do the lot – all in miniature.
“Pam’s father had worked for a well-known Southdown stud for many years, so that’s where we started.
“Then we got into miniature cattle and it all snowballed from there.”
The Johnsons ventured to America and met the late Robert Mock – the man who coined the name Babydoll Southdown to differentiate the original Southdown.
Babydoll Southdowns are twice as long as they are tall, making them perfect for orchards, vineyards and small animal properties.
Their intention was to inject new genetics into Australia, but that proved difficult.
“Americans transport their animals all over the country and there are no regulations,” Ms Johnson said.
“So there are quite a few nasty diseases, which Australia doesn’t want.
“Basically, we needed to find a breeder who had been free of scrapie (a fatal brain disease) for five years.
“But to prove they were scrapie-free, a sample had to be taken from the brain of a safely euthanized animal, which most breeders didn’t want to do.
“Needless to say, we couldn’t bring the genetics from America.”
Instead, they bought 30 modern Southdowns from a stud in Narrogin.
The problem was that most of them came from the Hillgrove line, where the basic stock of the Johnsons came from.
“We ended up with the largest gene pool in Australia when we started,” Mr Johnson said.
“We had five different lines.”
While also in America, the Johnsons met with a professor from Washington State to discuss raising miniature cattle.
For a few years now, they have been crossing miniature Hereford bulls with miniature belted Galloway cows to create a panda-like appearance of their offspring which they have dubbed “PandTeet Park pandas”.
“Putting the Hereford on it, we end up with a bald, black or red, white-belted calf,” Ms Johnson said.
“That has been central to our breeding and although they are technically not purebred, it is a bloodline that we will try to focus on.”
For an animal to be considered a miniature, it must measure less than 60 centimeters at the shoulder for sheep, pigs and goats and less than 110 centimeters for cattle.
Miniature accreditation is about size, as opposed to weight.
After opening PetTeet Park, the Johnsons decided to venture into tourism, encouraged by the County of York.
Each year they open to the public for up to six weeks.
This gives tourists the opportunity to take photos in the canola crop planted for this purpose and also meet the animals.
The couple said it served to educate visitors about canola oil production, animals and agricultural biosecurity, while luring city dwellers around the country for that “safe, Instagram-worthy selfie” that so many people are suing.
It’s a relatively short drive from Perth to PetPeet Park.
Ms. Johnson said visitors can walk through the canola crops when they bloom, take photos and meet the animals.
“Before coming here many people think the flower is the oil, so we decided to put up a big screen detailing what happens during growth and key facts about canola production in Australia,” she said.
“We have a lot of international visitors and really do our best to educate them.”
During “canola season”, they also sell honey produced from their own beehives, organic free-range eggs from their hens, and homemade soaps and candles.
As for future plans, they are looking to open up their property for concerts and glamping on the farm during the cooler months.
They have a permit for up to 20 glamping tents.
For those unfamiliar with the term glamping, it’s short for glamorous camping.
Each tent will be equipped with beds for singles, couples and families, as well as its own bathroom.
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