DROUGHT RELIEF: Ballina Ice Creamery part owner Renee Walker (centre) and shop assistants Elise Luhrs (left) and Mikayla Adams with a photo of Mudgee sheep farmer Michael Kiely who they have helped through raising money in their store.
DROUGHT RELIEF: Ballina Ice Creamery part owner Renee Walker (centre) and shop assistants Elise Luhrs (left) and Mikayla Adams with a photo of Mudgee sheep farmer Michael Kiely who they have helped through raising money in their store. DAVID NIELSEN

Help for a desperate farmer

WHEN Ballina cafe owner Renee Walker saw the plight of farmer Michael Kiely on a television current affairs program, she immediately empathised.

Mr Kiely, who runs a farm in drought-stricken central NSW, was desperately trying to raise money to feed his Merino sheep.

He had already been forced to send 1000 of his best sheep to the slaughterhouse and had resorted to hand-feeding to keep the rest of the flock alive.

“I grew up in Wagga and I know what drought is about,” Ms Walker said.

“Farmers shoot themselves.”

So when Mr Kiely launched his ‘adopt-a-sheep’ campaign in 2006, Ms Walker jumped at the chance to help out.

The unusual campaign allows people to adopt a sheep from Mr Kiely’s flock for $35.

The money feeds the sheep for 100 days.

Adopters get a photograph of their sheep and a certificate of adoption.

Ms Walker placed a donation box on the counter of her cafe and with the help of staff tips and customer donations, started adopting sheep.

Two years later, the Happy Buddha Cafe has raised more than $2000 and adopted 14 sheep.

Photographs of the sheep, with names including Wellington, Polly, The Drought Breaker and Baa-Baa adorn the cafe’s walls.

Ms Walker said staff and customers loved to see the photographs of the sheep and felt a special connection with them.

When space on the wall started to get short, Ms Walker stopped adopting sheep and started raising money for water tanks on Mr Kiely’s property.

Ms Walker said Mr Kiely kept her up-to-date about the progress of the sheep and the situation at the farm.

Mr Kiely is now looking at ways to drought-proof his property and is sharing his ideas with other farmers.

“You help one person, they can help others and then it just snowballs,” Ms Walker said.

The adopt-a-sheep program is just one of the ways Ms Walker and her customers are helping their local community.

Alongside the sheep donation box on the cafe’s counter are donation boxes for the Westpac Lifesaver Rescue Helicopter, and Australian Seabird Rescue.


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