This water drilling family has switched from life on the road to farming – setting out on an ambitious task of growing hay in the middle of the desert to supply the local cattle industry.
It’s been over 18 months since Danyelle and Anthony Haigh sold their home in Queensland to move some 3000 kilometres away to a remote 5000-acre farm.
Best known for running Murranji Water Drilling, which saw them living life on the road with their two young sons – Heath, now nine-years-old, and Theo, aged four – the couple’s move into farming was aimed at providing a more settled life for their boys.
Though they’re no strangers to the outback – as many would know from their regular appearances on television series Outback Truckers – it’s the first time they’ve tried their hands at farming. And there’s a lot riding on them being able to turn it into a successful business model. They have a lease to buy agreement on the farm, located about 200 kilometres north of Alice Springs, to eventually purchase for just under $7 million.
Theirs is one of only six farms in the Northern Territory to be producing hay. “That will be the main source of income,” said Danyelle. “The farm was completely nothing when we took it over, they hadn’t really grown much here for several years. It’s been hectic – crazy busy. We don’t know whether we’re coming or going!”
Although her farming expertise was very limited, “I didn’t even know how to grow a veggie garden,” Danyelle admits, she believes it’s definitely been the right move. “Our boys love it here and they have normality and stability now. We have an oasis in the middle of Australia. We all love it, it’s nice to call this place home and feel settled. It’s been a big change though. We’ve been working our butts off around the clock and trying not to lose everything since we took such a big risk in doing this.
“We sold our family home, many of our possessions and took this on not knowing whether the crops were going to grow, or whether we’d have any clients. We had a lot of hiccups along the way, but now we’re coming out the other side.
“We’re still doing the water drilling but nowhere near as much. That’s what is keeping us afloat while we’re still developing this place.
“Anthony loves being in the bush and loves living off the land. I wasn’t sure if I was going to like it, but it’s definitely been a game changer.”
While the hay industry in the Northern Territory isn’t huge, the cattle and beef industry is.
“We were looking for a station to buy up here and initially thought of cattle because we wanted to slow down a little from the drilling, especially for the kids. Then this place came along so we got the opportunity to do something different,” added Danyelle. And with that, the focus turned to hay.
With many Northern Territory cattle farms getting their hay supplies from South Australia or Victoria, freight costs can be quite high as a result.
With the help of Danyelle’s 2015 Mack Superliner – or ‘Pink Bits as she’s named it – and Anthony’s Western Star 4964 prime mover, the idea is that they can provide lower transport costs to their clients, as they can grow the product and transport it themselves.
Their latest endeavour has been documented in a six-episode series called Outback Farm. It’s been produced by Prospero Productions, which was also behind Outback Truckers.
“The show pretty much follows our day to day activities. There are no scripts, no lines, it’s literally what happens in the middle of outback Australia – the hurdles and things you have to overcome to achieve your goals. It shows what it’s like to live off the land; and how hard it can be to live off the land.”
Executive producer Julia Redwood explained, “They’ve set the goal to produce good quality hay and to be able to deliver it cheaper than their rivals. They’ve put in a 28-hectare field serviced by a massive pivot.”
The couple is hoping to bring in $1.6 million a year from their hay, which is what they’ll need to turn it into a profitable business.
“Our last hay season finished in May and we sold all of our hay before we’d even cut it off the paddock,” said Danyelle.
Irrigation across the farm is provided via the use of pivots. “We have three pivots with Rhodes Grass Hay now up and running and we’re looking at putting in a fourth pivot to get more hay growing out there. Hay is a seasonal thing so we have oats growing at the moment, which is a winter crop,” explained Danyelle.
Along with hay, the Haigh’s inherited 300 lemon trees and 30 almond trees. They’ve also done various trials to determine what else grows well in the rough and rugged conditions they’re faced with. “We’ve been trialling agave and have about 30 of them now. We’re sussing out a few other things that are coming into season too,” said Danyelle.
Along with the farming aspect, the couple has also opened a caravan park on the property. “It’s exciting that we’ve created a space that people actually want to come and stay at. We’ll also start offering different experiences too including interactions with the animals,” said Danyelle.
And there sure are animals aplenty. “We have cows, donkeys, goats, pigs, horses, ducks, guinea fowl and chickens. They’ve all been hand raised and are very tame, so you can pat them, cuddle them, play with them and feed them. Then we have some sheep, buffalos and camels on the way. I’ve always dreamed of having a Noah’s ark and having lots of animals. The kids love it – they go and say good morning to them every day.”
Outback Farm will premiere on 7Mate on August 22 at 8.30pm.