Gazette journalist SHELBY BROOKS visited the headquarters of the Gembrook based mobile farm company Animals on the Move to see how they had fared throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.
With hundreds of animals all looking for a feed and a belly rub, Leonie Woodham, owner of Animals on the Move (AOTM), has her work cut out for her.
Leonie has run the mobile farm business for over 20 years, raising her children and then grandchildren among the animals.
“I’m sure my kids and grandkids just assumed everyone had animals running around their house, wallabies and wombats roaming around,” she said.
“I think they take it for granted that’s normal, and it is normal for us.”
Leonie, who grew up on a dairy farm, has always had a love of animals.
“I used to collect animals- people would bring me wombats that had been hit or possums with three legs and I just used to like looking after them,” she said.
After studying animal technology at university, Leonie experienced the next challenge in her life… children.
“Children are just another type of animal,” she said, laughing.
The business relies heavily on bookings from schools, kindergartens and events, which due to the pandemic during the last two years, has obviously diminished.
“During Covid-19 we obviously couldn’t do any animal farms so we put all our eggs in one basket so to speak,” Leonie explained.
The company ramped up its chick hatching program to extend beyond schools and other community organisations so that individual families could experience the fun of raising a chicken from an egg.
“We sent eight chicken eggs or three duck eggs that are almost ready to hatch home to the participants and keep them to look after for two weeks before they returned them to us,” Leonie said.
AOTM also offer rabbit rearing and pet care.
“People can just have a rabbit, chicken, duck or turtle as pets for a couple of weeks,” Leonie said.
“Some kids are just besotted with turtles it seems.
“People don’t want to commit to a pet but they want to still have that experience for their kids. We just go pick them up when they’re sick of them!
“The mobile farm is quieter during the school holidays but we’re hoping the rent a pet will continue because a lot of our customers loved the idea.”
The rabbit and guinea pig rearing program has been especially popular.
“We love kids to have the experience to see the difference between a baby bunny and a baby guinea pig because it really is amazing,” Leonie said.
“Guinea pigs are born with teeth, their eyes open and fully furred and can eat solid food whereas baby rabbits are completely helpless.”
Another unique aspect of the business is helping to perform Hindu house blessings.
AOTM bring Buttercup the cow to the sunrise ceremony and walk her through the new house.
“It presents some problems because the floors are usually polished tile so we take fake grass and roll that out,” Leonie said.
Unfortunately, Leonie said the company did have to sell some animals during the height of Covid-19.
“Had to sell a lot of animals over the Covid-19 period because they weren’t working, they were just sitting here eating,” she said.
But the wider community has been generous in their support of AOTM.
“Our community is wonderful, we had people sponsoring animals,” Leonie said.
“We even had a kinder teacher offer to take a few of the goats to her place to do some of the mowing.”
Community members also brought left over produce from their various hospitality or supermarket jobs.
“Our animal food bill is $500 a week but didn’t have a lot of income,” Leonie said.
“Andrew from the IGA brought out two tailer loads of wheat, neighbours brought hay down, someone was bringing lettuce and cabbage leaves from the Safeway produce section and a Cockatoo Foodbank volunteer brought all the vegetables past their used by date for pigs.
“The community support has been amazing.”
AOTM also had one of its vans crushed by a falling tree last year and the community helped raise funds via a GoFundMe page.
“It has been a tricky time,” Leonie said.
“But we do it because we love it.”
AOTM are back to travelling across the metro area to community events, shopping centres and private functions.
You can keep up to date about all the community events AOTM visits at animalsonthemove.com.au.