Shelley and her family have created a beloved home and haven for rescued and retired animals, and those in need of some country R&R.

By Sue Turpie – Photography by David Field

Hidden away in the undulating hills of Axedale, Yalooka Farm is a haven to the animals who find themselves there and the people who are lucky enough to visit. It’s an animal orphanage cum retirement village cum breeding facility cum family home and secluded accommodation run by Shelley and her family.
It is no surprise that the family came to live on 54 hectares here, Shelley is originally from Bendigo, returning after years living on the Apple Isle and her husband, Ed, is a sixth-generation farmer from Tasmania. The couple even turned to the land when naming their property. The word Yalooka comes from the local Aboriginal community — it was the name they gave to the Campaspe River. The couple had not long purchased the land at Axedale when their first furry housemate came along.
“Daisy rescued herself; she just turned up,” Shelley laughs. “We came to the property one day and there was this cow.” From that one unexpected visitor grew this unexpected lifestyle.
“When we brought our initial stock, the guy was selling up everything because he was retiring. We brought about 50 goats off him. We had no idea at the time. We were like a lot of people and thought you stick goats in a paddock and they eat anything.”
Now Shelley is expert in her field.
“Google was our best friend to start with,” she jokes. “Now we’re in a lot of Facebook groups. The goating community is very supportive. You can often put up something on the Facebook site and you’ll get plenty of comments saying what you can try. Goats Australia have a couple of vets who have goats and they’re happy to give advice or tell you that you need to see a vet.
“My vet in Strathfieldsaye is great. Sue wasn’t really a goat vet, but is now and does webinars and that sort of thing on goats. They are so compassionate — we wouldn’t be where we are now without them.”
Not that Shelley minds the vet bills or the outlay, for her it’s no different than having to feed, house and upkeep the children. The establishment is self-funded, with farm stays helping to pay for the upkeep of rescued animals, as does the breeding program which involves adopting goat kids out to suitable homes. Given her passion for the animals in her care, Shelley scrutinises potential families and none of the rescued animals are adopted. The only animals that leave the property are kids that have been bred at Yalooka and even then “our girls get a good year to two years’ break between kids. Their health is more important to us,” Shelley says.
The animals that now call Yalooka home have come from near and far. A goat, Alfie, was born in a stock crate when a truck broke down. One of a group of linesmen working nearby took Alfie in, but their backyard in Melbourne was too small and after eight weeks they couldn’t keep him. The family phoned Shelley and asked that he come and stay with her.
“They still come and visit Alfie,” she says, “and I send them pictures every now and then. We’ve got a few like that. People have brought a goat from a market cheap because they (felt sorry for them) and then realised they can’t keep them. We’ve a set of twins, Basil and Lilly, and their owner still comes to visit them and he brings a big bag of carrots and things for us.
“We’ve had quite an influx recently, so we’ve got 81 goats. The retirees and rescues just chill and do their thing. Even our chickens come from Edgar’s Mission, one of the biggest farm animal rescue organisations in Australia.”
Listening to Shelley describe each animal is like listening to someone give an update on their neighbours; that one there can be a bit moody, while that one can be a bit cheeky. And Shelley knows them all by name. William, Edna, Audrey, Felix … everyone has a name and their own personality. There’s even a Steady Eddie. “I had to sit there and go through the baby name books, when you’re naming like nearly 80 goats,” she laughs.
The people who stay at Yalooka are as dynamic and varied as its permanent residents. Many come from Melbourne, keen to teach their children about farming. “Some kids have never been around farm animals, they’ve only ever known a dog or a cat,” Shelley says. “I get women having a girls’ weekend; they go to the races and then light the fire pit, sit around and enjoy a drink. I’ve got a set of astronomers who go to an event in Heathcote. It’s nice to be able to share what we have, and educate a few people in a roundabout way.”
There is a go fund me which is used for bills and food. Shelley is trying to build more shelters but as she says: “It all takes cash.”
“We plug along doing what we do. If anyone wants to volunteer they can, it’s tough work, I can tell you that, cleaning up and feeding, but it has to be done. My husband works away quite a bit. We’d love to take more animals but I’m only one person, and we’re not going to take more animals if we can’t give them the proper care.”
Any animal lovers or veterinary students who would like to volunteer can contact Shelley. For more information on Yalooka Farm go to www.yalookafarm.com.au