Caring for all manner of species

Colin Chevalley with his beloved South Devon and Brahman cattle, each of whom he calls by name.

Colin Chevalley with his beloved South Devon and Brahman cattle, each of whom he calls by name.

When visitors came to enjoy Colin and Helen Chevalley’s open garden at Rose-Lea on Timbarra Rd as part of Rotary’s Jazzy Garden weekend in October, they didn’t restrict themselves to the house yard.

They also discovered lots to explore outside the garden fence, with the Chevalleys doing much more than propagating plants. There’s also the South Devon and Brahman cattle studs as well as a commercial herd of Herefords and crossbreds, 10 different breeds of purebred chickens (plus the garden-variety egg layers), an aviary of breeding finches as well as another one of breeding budgerigars.

Mr Chevalley said it’s common for cattle breeders to also be into chickens, possibly keen on pursuing the ultimate producer be it beef or egg. While he credits Mrs Chevalley with being the chook fancier, he has been a cattle producer since growing up with Herefords and Poll Herefords on the family property on the Clarence.

He purchased his first registered Brahman bull while still there (ironically off Tenterfield grazier Stuart Bulmer’s dad Earl), and began delving into South Devons in the late 1980s when he was living between Dalby and Kingaroy. He currently has around 250 plus breeders spread over three properties at Timbarra totalling 900 acres.

Lovin’ those South Devons 

At the start of his career in breeding South Devons Mr Chevalley had an arrangement with a Victorian stud to sell on bulls and cows to northern clients, and said at that stage he was selling two bulls a month. He feels the medium-sized breed doesn’t get the recognition it deserves. This is due in part to its Australian history of breeding up fullbloods from dairy cattle, still sometimes evidenced in poor hindquarters and at one stage producing huge bulls that resulted in calving difficulties.

The breed is traditionally dual purpose (producing both milk and beef) in its British home, which sent out purebred stock on the first fleet. Only in recent decades has it regained a foothold as a cattle breed, but Mr Chevalley fears for its future given the lack of encouragement for young breeders to enter the system.

The number of studs has dropped from a peak of around 180 to around 40 operating today, including Mr Chevalley’s. He regularly shows his South Devon stud cattle (along with his Brahmans) and was in the process of submitting his entry forms for the RNA Brisbane Show in August when the Star caught up with him. 

Nursing at Tenterfield Hospital

When he’s not on the farm you can find Mr Chevalley at the Tenterfield Hospital where he works as a registered nurse. His nursing career has taken him all around the region, although back in the start of his career in the early 1970s he came up against many matrons who weren’t keen on a man filling the traditionally female role.

“There was a Grafton matron though who preferred male nurses, because they didn’t get pregnant,” he said.

After a marriage breakdown 20 years ago he wanted to be closer to where his children relocated and had the option of three jobs: in Armidale, Emmaville or Tenterfield. He felt Emmaville was too small and the Armidale job was in community health which he’d done in the past, so he took the Tenterfield one.

He’d only been on the job a couple of weeks when widow Helen Butler did some casual nursing shifts at the hospital before disappearing. He was later offered a position at Glen Innes Hospital, where he’s worked previously, but by then Helen had reappeared. The couple went on to marry and settle at Rose-Lea along with Helen’s teenage son Cameron. Her daughter Lisa was already old enough to leave home.

These bully brothers are stars of Colin Chevalley's Brahman cattle stud.

These bully brothers are stars of Colin Chevalley's Brahman cattle stud.

Opening the garden gates

Mr Chevalley said he taken aback when approached by nursing colleague and Rotarian Frances Overell to open up the garden to visitors as part of the Jazzy Garden weekend last October. He had extended the garden from the house yard into the neighbouring horse paddock, and is a prolific propagator of begonias amongst many other plants.

As daunting as the prospect was, the garden was opened to much acclaim and the Chevalleys enjoyed the experience, to the extent Mrs Chevalley suggested they open it the following weekend as well. That may not have happened but the couple are lining up to open their garden again for the next Jazzy event, and have also welcomed several garden clubs to their home since.

He felt visitors appreciated a smaller garden that was manageable and that they could replicate. Judging from visitors’ comments on the three gardens open that weekend, Kim Thomson’s appealed with its formality, Julie Ware’s with its quirkiness and the Chevalleys’ with its colour, thanks to the foxgloves, dianthus and other blooms. 

Rose-lea was truly a country garden experiences, with access not only to livestock but also produce, with Mrs Chevalley selling 35 dozen farm eggs over the weekend.

Mr Chevalley also sold a heap of propagated plants, although there was a rather casual approach to sales. Chief helper Matt Warburton sold pots for $4 a piece while, unawares, Mr Chevalley sold them for $2.

From the open garden experience he sees a large untapped potential in bringing garden tour groups to Tenterfield, and would love to pursue it.

“We had the Lismore Garden Club here in February, and I was surprised how many didn’t know about Oracles, and they’re probably the target market,” he said.

He said the Bangalow Garden Club is visiting at the end of October and there are many other clubs out there who would love to do likewise.

“We should create a garden trail,” he said.

“They travel up on Saturday morning, see a couple of gardens in the afternoon and then stay in town overnight, bringing dollars into local economy. Then next day they can see one more garden on the way home.”

This poddy calf is happy to come up for some attention.

This poddy calf is happy to come up for some attention.

Retirement plans

Much to the dismay of his patients and their families, Mr Chevalley is planning to retire from nursing in 12 months or so, after a career spanning 46 years. (We nearly missed out on having him at all. Before coming to Tenterfield he was one or two credits short of completing his real estate licence, which could have taken him in completely different direction.)

He plans to cut down on livestock numbers as well.

There won’t be a lot of travelling in the Chevalleys’ future however. They had a 10-day honeymoon trip (a month after they married) but since then have never been away from home for more than five days.

There will, however, be more time for gardening, and maybe continuing Mr Chevalley’s support of the Tenterfield Show Society as stud cattle steward. His show society stud cattle association began down at Grafton Show in his youth, but he deplores the move there and elsewhere to an interbreed format which pits one breed against another without due consideration of a breed’s unique traits.

He has seen this approach decimate the number of exhibitors, demonstrating they much prefer the approach taken at the Tenterfield Show and elsewhere in New England where animals are judged within their breed before the champions are compared against each other.

Should we lose his services at the hospital let’s hope he’ll still be around to keep the stud cattle pavilion in order, in between propagating begonias.

Colin Chevalley with some of the girls (and a bull or two).

Colin Chevalley with some of the girls (and a bull or two).

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