Situated in the New England region of New South Wales, at an elevation of approx. 1000m a.s.l. the soils on the farms derive from heavy basalt, sediments and granite with large granite outcrops prominent on and around Mt Duval that has an elevation of 1400m. Vegetation includes native and improved pastures with areas suited to cultivation, through to the densely wooded Mt Duval supporting old growth native forests and differing forest and woodland types. Mt Duval contains an area of 300ha that has been left ungrazed by livestock since being purchased by UNE in 1972 and provides a model natural ecosystem for ecological research. Riparian zones across Newholme have also been fenced off to exclude grazing by livestock since 1982.
The UNE SMART Farms are predominately grazing enterprises utilising perennial pasture with a small area of annual forage cropping. A 2000 ewe commercial Merino flock is managed on Kirby and Newholme along with a 1000 Maternal and Merino ewe flock that forms part of the MLA Resource Flock providing genomic information for industry. Replacement sheep and wethers also form part of the sheep flock. A 175 commercial cow herd is run on perennial pasture at Tullimba, along with a 1,000 head research feedlot with infrastructure that allows replicated research design. Along with livestock, there is an abundance of native wildlife for ecological and ecosystem research.
Along with the usual farm infrastructure of stock handling facilities, woolshed, fences and stock water systems the UNE SMART Farms also have a range of other infrastructure to facilitate research including:
The SMART Farm Innovation Centre (SFIC), located in the middle of Kirby and Newholme, is the physical hub of a heavily-connected landscape with a network of on-farm connected devices. On-farm connectivity comprises the latest and emerging methods including store-and-forward and mesh telemetry, Long Range Wide Area Network (LoRA WAN), mobile phone network and satellite-direct. The networks are linked to the outside world via fibre, fixed wireless and satellite national broadband network, and the Australia’s Academic and Research Network (AARNet) national fibre network. The SFIC is an 'instrumented' research and teaching laboratory and the ultimate site to evaluate and inform innovations in practice and new technologies in a working farm environment.
Connecting researchers in partnership with agtech innovators and producers creates the ideal ferment for innovation. The SMART Farms are an ideal environment for innovation in areas including: spatially-enabled livestock management; telecommunication systems and Internet of Things (IoT); earth observation systems monitoring feed base and landuse sustainability; datasets of soil, land types, pasture systems, elevation, weather and livestock health; remote & automated monitoring systems; and data integration to assess the effectiveness of management decisions and optimise planning of new infrastructure. The SFIC provides a base for research in these areas but also serves as an education and outreach facility to connect researchers with students, producers, industry and the community.
Nestled at the base of the Mt Duval, Newholme Field Laboratory is an ideal launching base for ecological research in native flora and fauna and undergraduate teaching. Across Newholme are long term soil, vegetation and wildlife monitoring sites that provide a picture of the change to the natural ecosystem with different farm management practices including grazing, deforestation and reforestation. These sites provide valuable information on the changes in flora and fauna species and nutrient cycling. Across Mt Duval are 25 camera traps monitoring the fauna both native and invasive, and remotely feeding back to a computer in the Newholme Field Laboratory. These cameras record activity from native animals including four main species of macropods and koalas along with other animals such as foxes and deer.
A number of poultry facilities located on Kirby and Laureldale include caged, barn and free-range systems used to study poultry health, behaviour and productivity. The housing facilities are operated to perform research in both, free range egg and meat production to mimic and assess industry and commercial practice in these areas. The layer facilities include an open curtain shed with battery cages, a barn shed and 40 free-range layer pens while the broiler facilities include the Rob Cummings Poultry Innovation Centre at Kirby with four 20 x 40 m rooms with independent ventilation, lighting control and variable partitions along with other facilities with floor pens and battery cages. Some of these facilities are equipped with video monitoring that can be accessed remotely for monitoring and managing of the animals. The Poultry Research Group provides skills and experience in planning, designing and performance of animal trials. State of the art research is performed by providing a chicken model of necrotic enteritis, housing 24 NET energy chambers, complex carbohydrate analysis and gas/odor analysis. By providing excellent contacts to the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation, Australian Eggs, and all major companies involved in poultry production, the transfer of results obtained from these facilities are highly relevant to the industry and public.
Tullimba Feedlot uses GrowSafe feeders to monitor individual feed intake and allow calculation of breeding values for feed efficiency in beef cattle. GreenFeed units allow measurement of methane emissions from individual animals. Utilised by industry and commercial beef producers (for occasional custom feeding) this feedlot provides the facilities to investigate issues such as feed efficiency, behaviour and effluent management. Tullimba is also home to a 1300 ML dam with a large irrigation licence.
The recently upgraded Laureldale Dog Research and Training Facility provides the opportunity for controlled studies in canine behaviour, training and nutrition. Research is non-invasive, using privately-owned dogs. Some of the current research focuses on scent detector dogs utilised for quarantine and wildlife conservation.
Used primarily as a teaching and amateur astronomy site, the Kirby Observatory holds astronomical equipment including the Webster telescope a 14-inch (35 cm) diameter Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope and multiple 10-cm refractor telescopes. The UNE and Northern Tablelands Amateur Astronomy Society are a community group of enthusiastic amateur astronomers that use and maintain this equipment along with using their own equipment to take astronomical and solar measurements including images and the optical spectra of astronomical objects.