Every time Sarah Chant steps on to her farm near Colac, she brings a piece of her father Steven with her.
Steven passed away a year ago leaving Sarah, now 26, with big boots to fill. However, he did his best to make sure she was ready to take the reins.
Sarah started the process of running the farm a year before her father died and a diary he kept continues to show the way.
“Dad had cancer for a long time so I’d been gradually stepping up,” Sarah said. “We knew it was terminal so he started keeping a diary for me and jotted down little notes of things I’d need to run the farm. It wasn’t easy but it was easier knowing that it was going to happen. It wasn’t like I woke up one morning and was in charge of a 250-cow dairy farm.”
Losing her father at age 55 might have made Sarah stronger in many ways, but it still hurt. “It was infuriating,” she said. “He was fit and strong, barely drank and quit smoking when I was a little girl because he realised how bad it was for his health. He had a healthy, active lifestyle and still got cancer.”
Sarah grew up on the farm at Warrion, 20 minutes north of Colac and had just returned from Canada when she learned of her father’s illness. “I probably would have travelled for a couple more years but I was always going to come home on the farm,” she said. “I’d wanted to do it since I was a little girl.
“I have older brothers but they didn’t want the farm so it went to the youngest daughter. We broke tradition there.”
Sarah’s Mum Roslyn does the books and Sarah runs the farm business supported by long-time employee Joel Kirkman.
“When I was first in charge I was a bit nervous,” Sarah said. “Joel knows the run of the place so when I started making the calls I’d ask if it was the right thing and he’s say `whatever you think Sarah’. I’m getting more comfortable with it now.”
From a dairy perspective, Steven’s death couldn’t have been at a worse time. “We got news of the milk price drop the day Dad died,” Sarah said. “I know it was terrible for farmers but it didn’t upset me that much; we had bigger things to deal with.”
The Murray Goulburn supplier has weathered the storm. “We’ve coped quite well,” Sarah said. “There was a bit of cost cutting and we’re not spending where we don’t have to, but having such a fantastic season has saved a lot of local farmers who buy in feed. We cut more hay and silage than ever before with the good spring. If we had the milk price drop and a tough season it would have been a lot worse.”
The farm at Warrion, 20 minutes north of Colac, was purchased by Steven’s parents when he was 18. It’s on the northern edge of Western Victoria’s dairying region but irrigation and “amazing soil” make it good dairy country.
“Growing up on a dairy farm you’re born into loving it,” she said. “It’s a job you can never perfect. You’re always learning new things.
“I love working with the cattle and rearing calves; I’m a sucker for going back to the calf shed after hours if anyone is sick. I love being outside on the farm. Having lost Dad, it’s a bit of a connection to him.”
Sarah was recently a finalist in the Best Employee category of the Great South West Dairy Awards.
Phil and Symone Vines started their farm ownership dream eight years ago with Hope and a lot of ambition.
That was when Phil and Symone purchased their first cow – appropriately named Hope. Today they own nearly 800 cows, are purchasing their own 117-hectare farm and are leasing another at Simpson in south-west Victoria.
“We called her Hope because we hoped she wasn’t going to be the only one,” Symone said. “It’s nice to be able to show it’s achievable – that you can go out on your own and start from scratch and do this.”
They milk Friesian cows on a new robotic dairy on their farm and Jerseys on the leased farm.
Both Symone and Phil come from dairying backgrounds but didn’t have any family help to set up their flourishing business.
“We’d always wanted to go out and do our own thing so when an opportunity came up to buy cows then later a farm we thought we’d go for it,” Symone said.
Needing to replace the 50-year-old herringbone dairy, the Vines decided to look at a robotic system and travelled to inspect examples in Gippsland.
“Phil fell in love the first minute he walked in,” Symone said. “The cows were the boss; they ran the system and weren’t stressed at all, and Phil said these are the type of cows I want.
“I was more of an office girl but I find myself in the dairy every day now,” she said. “My interest has grown so much. I love the fact the cows walk themselves up to be milked and they’re so calm.”
With four children aged 1-17, the Murray Goulburn next generation suppliers have coped through a tough time in the industry and were recent finalists for the Young Farm Leader, the Employer and the Farm Manager awards in the 2017 Great South West Dairy Awards.
“The last 12 months have been difficult,” Symone admitted. “When the price dropped, we were so busy getting the robotic dairy ready we didn’t want to make any knee-jerk reactions. We extended the overdraft, kept our cow numbers and put in a massive harvest effort.”
With the only robotic dairy in the region, Phil and Symone are keen to help others interested in the technology and regularly host industry and school groups, and even a Men’s Shed team.
“There’s a huge divide between country and city and we need to show people what we do and where their food comes from,” he said.
This time last year the future looked bleak for Drouin dairy farmers Rose and Glenn Atherton.
A dairy industry crash had seen their milk price cut to well below what they needed to survive. Having just purchased a new block of land, they had no idea how they were going to make ends meet.
But Rose isn’t easily defeated and she soon found a lifeline in Melbourne’s Fitzroy-based St David Dairy.
Today the Atherton farm is the sole supplier of St David Dairy, giving Rose and Glenn a new lease of life in the industry they love.
The former Murray Goulburn suppliers had been stunned when their price was slashed.
“I was like a zombie for 24 hours,” Rose admitted. “It was like a death in the family and a real kick in the guts because we’d just purchased an extra 70 acres. We didn’t know how we could survive.”
Rose said the farm would have gone bust if they hadn’t changed.
“We’d been with Murray Goulburn for nearly 20 years but the maths didn’t add up,” she said. “I rang all the big milk companies but no-one would take us on. Then I googled all the little milk and cheese companies in Melbourne and rang them, but they all said no.”
When all hope seemed lost, a friend liked St David Dairy on Facebook, giving a new option. Rose hadn’t heard of them but contacted manager Ben Evans and by September the Athertons had become the micro-dairy’s sole supplier.
The benefits flowed both ways. The Athertons are now more viable and St David Dairy can now tell customers they source their milk from the Atherton’s 300 Friesian cows in the rolling green hills of Gippsland.
St David Dairy has more than 300 customers across Melbourne and Gippsland and sends its 10,000 litre milk truck to the Atherton farm five days a week. The Ferraro Dairy Company takes the milk on weekends and public holidays.
Ben Evans says finding the Athertons “was the last piece of our puzzle”.
“By teaming up with a single great farm we have the benefits of a reliable source of beautiful milk, while being able to feed information back to our keen customer base of where the milk is from, the breeds, feed and on-farm practices,” he said.
“It also allows us to pay a good price direct to the actual producers of the milk, which is easily lost when procuring milk from different sources. It was extra satisfying hearing and seeing the impact it had for Rose and Glenn in what was a tough time, and was such a “win-win” situation.”
Rose says the arrangement is working well. “It’s 10 times better than this time last year, but it’s still a hard slog for everyone,” she said.
Glenn grew up on the farm and Rose, originally from New Zealand, has also been in the dairy industry all her life and didn’t want to quit.
“It’s a great way to raise our four kids,” she said. “We’re close to town and only an hour from Melbourne so we didn’t want to leave, but we couldn’t sleep at night worrying about how we were going to get out of it. We’ve been lucky, but as my accountant says, `Rose you didn’t let ‘no’ stop you. You kept going until you found a solution’.”
Many farmers have been through a tough year and Rose realises they were lucky to find a new option in St David Dairy. “It’s a nice fit and they make amazing products,” she said. “I remember years ago saying to my husband that I’d love to open a factory here and bottle and sell our milk. Now we’ve got the next best thing.”
The CFA is a necessary fixture in all rural communities and is almost completely manned by volunteers. As part of the patchwork of each community, dairy farmers are often called upon to fill a spot on the back of the fire truck.
Part of the succession plan in the CFA starts at an early age and Tatura Brigade is one of many nurturing the next generation of firefighters, some of whom are also the next generation of dairy workers, just like many of their peers across regional Victoria.
In an astonishing achievement, Tatura‘s junior fire brigade members recently took out the State Championship title for the fourth consecutive year.. Both the U14 and U17 Tatura teams dominated the two day event which included the U17 team breaking a 19-year record in front of a captivated crowd of 1500 spectators.
Two regulars for the Tatura team mix their fire brigade contributions with part-time work on local dairy farms.
They continued their dedication to the CFA by competing as seniors at the State Urban Seniors Championships at Bendigo over the March Labour Day long weekend. Following the juniors winning form from a few weeks earlier, the senior members dominated, successfully taking home the state title for the first time in 30 years.
Senior team member Jeremy Withall, 18, is currently completing a building apprenticeship but keeps alive his passion for working on a dairy farm by doing weekend shifts for some extra spending money.
“I love it,” he said. “I grew up on a farm and used to work full-time on a family friend’s dairy farm. After my apprenticeship I might go back to working on a dairy farm.”
Seventeen year old student Tim Wilson has been part of the Tatura CFA junior team for the past four years and milks for a family friend every weekend.
“I enjoy the challenge of the competition, especially being in the seniors eight-member team events, of which we recently broke a state record.” he said.
While uncertain of his future work plans, Tim plans to continue as a CFA volunteer and help out with milking when he can. “It’s a great feeling to give back to your community, he said.’
From the tragedy of her father’s death and the devastation wrought by the milk price crash, Sallie Jones has helped create something both inspirational and meaningful for the dairy community.
The Warragul mother of three has joined with Jindivick dairy farmer Steve Ronalds to kick-start the Gippsland Jersey milk brand.
So far it’s been a raging success with consumers responding to the twin messages of backing local dairy producers and supporting those in the community who are doing it tough.
For Sallie, losing her dairy farmer father, Mike Bowen, in March last year was a devastating blow. He was a huge figure in her life, teaching her to be an independent thinker and to turn tough times into opportunities.
“He had an ability to dream big. While they were still running a dairy farm, they bought an ice-cream machine, leased a shop in Lakes Entrance and started selling ice-cream,” Sallie said.
“There was no limitation in the way I was brought up by Mum and Dad – they always thought outside the square.”
Not long after Mike died, the milk price came tumbling down, leaving many in the dairy industry struggling to stay afloat financially.
“Steve suggested that we bottle milk and use it to honour Dad,” Sallie said.
“My reason for starting Gippsland Jersey was in part to support the Ripple Effect, which is an organisation very much about smashing the stigma around mental health and farmer suicide.
“One pillar of the brand is about mental health and the other is about kindness and giving back, because when people are kind, it’s such a circuit breaker for people that are struggling mentally.”
Sallie cites the other strength of the brand as taste. She believes Jersey milk, with its high fat content, that many health conscious people are embracing, “tastes like milk used to” and can do wonders to a cappuccino.
“Baristas love it because it has high fat which, in a cup of coffee, coats the tongue and makes the coffee taste smoother,” she said.
While Gippsland Jersey has only been in shop fridges for five months, Sallie said it’s already having the impact that she and Steve had hoped for.
“We’ve been able to bring some positivity back to the dairy industry which has been so fulfilling,” she said.
“I think farmers who have been following our story have been encouraged by seeing that people are so passionate about supporting dairy farmers, and that there is so much goodwill out there from consumers wanting to support them.”
Ben Taylor’s father inspired him to start showing dairy cattle at the tender age of five, and now he’s doing his bit to encourage the next generation of farmers.
At 26, Ben has been involved in running the past three National All Breeds Youth Camps and is determined that more budding farmers will get to enjoy the camp in years to come.
The committee chair, who farms near Timboon in south-west Victoria, was motivated to help after attending the camp himself about 10 years ago.
“I met a lot of people and made a lot of friends that I still keep in touch with,” Ben said. “I think that’s the biggest part of it; you meet people from all parts of farming.”
Ben joined the committee during a transition phase and quickly took on the responsibility of chairman. After a 12-month break, the camp returned to Tatura in northern Victoria this year and Ben says the 35 participants came away knowing more and feeling enthusiastic about the dairy industry.
“Everyone in the industry wants to see it continue,” Ben said. “You only have to look at the success at the Dairy Week Youth Show. There were more than 300 entries and 94 kids in the three handling classes.”
Ben farms with his parents Murray and Andrea. They milk about 300 Holstein cows on 360 hectares and supply Warrnambool Cheese and Butter.
The Taylor family has been farming in the area for more than a century. Ben is the fourth generation on the current farm, although a fifth generation got into dairy farming on a nearby property more than a century ago. His grandfather Colin is now in his 80s but continues to help around the farm.
Ben studied agricultural science and worked as a field officer for Murray Goulburn before returning to the family farm.
“Dad said I had to work for someone else before coming home,” Ben said. “It was very beneficial but long-term I wanted to come back to the farm. It was a matter of when the time was going to be right.”
Showing cattle has always been his passion.
“When I was about five, Dad found out about a calf show and he dragged me along. I took a calf and won the class, and had a good day. It grew from there,” he said.
“It’s probably a big driver of why I wanted to go home and be on the farm.”
Ben usually competes at Dairy Week and the Warrnambool and Noorat Shows, and has helped others compete at regional interstate shows.
“Dairy farming offers something different every day and being outside makes it a lot more enjoyable,” he said. “It’s what I’ve grown up with and when it’s something you enjoy and you also get paid to do it, it’s even better.”
They came from cities and even beef farms, but all 35 participants in the new-look National All Breeds Youth Camp have left with a better appreciation of the dairy industry.
The youth camp in Tatura has been hailed a success that will inspire more people to think about careers in the dairy industry
While many participants used the camp to hone their existing dairy skills, some came to the January 3-7 event from different backgrounds.
Camp organiser Lucy Galt said it attracted a big spread of people aged 16-20 from across Australia.
“We had one young person from Melbourne who didn’t have any background in dairy,” Lucy said. “By show day Jamie’s cow looked fantastic and she had the biggest smile on her face. She excelled and won a scholarship to come back next year.”
“Being from the city, I didn’t know what to expect,” Jamie said. “But I had such an awesome time, met some great people and my Jersey heifer had a huge personality. It was just such a great opportunity. I’m really looking forward to going back next year.”
Lucy said the camp aimed to encourage people into dairy careers while giving existing young dairy farmers valuable learning and networking opportunities.
“Some people came from beef farms to look at what dairy is about, we had an international backpacker and one person who hadn’t been off the farm for six months.
“We want to give more exposure to the careers in dairy and to promote the industry, but dairy can be quite isolating and the camp gives kids who live and work on a farm an opportunity to network with other people,” she said.
The camp was re-launched this year in a new format and at a new venue in Tatura, the home of International Dairy Week.
It started nearly 20 years ago as a local activity in northern Victoria before moving to the Melbourne Showgrounds.
Originally the camp was for young local people who would go home for the morning and evening milking. Now it’s a full-week, on-site camp with accredited training through the National Centre for Dairy Education where participants get hands-on experience and complete five units of the Certificate III in Agriculture.
“A lot don’t have an opportunity at school to do agriculture; hopefully this will encourage them to keep going,” Lucy said.
This year the camp had a focus on job-ready skills and featured a number of presentations from young dairy industry professionals.
The National All Breeds Youth Camp was supported by Dairy Australia’s Young Dairy Network and Legendairy to raise the profile and reputation of the dairy industry.
Lucy said the camp was a great success and several participants want to return next year. “Everyone had fun; without a doubt,” she said. “Some participants say they had the best week of their lives.”
Self-confessed `townie’ Melissa Berry is as surprised as anyone that she’s found inspiration in the dairy industry.
The Timboon P-12 school teacher admits she knew nothing about the industry when she was asked to help with the school’s extensive agricultural program.
She even confesses to being “a bit of a princess” in her early days, far removed from someone comfortable on the land.
“I grew up in Warrnambool, Victoria, with no dairy farming in my blood,” she said. “My mum grew up on a dairy farm just past the Warrnambool Cheese and Butter factory and when I was little I used to go out there and pretend to help.”
Now married to a paramedic, Melissa became involved in the Timboon Agricultural Project (TAP) and things started to change.
“To start with I was apprehensive when TAP coordinator Andrea Vallance asked me to be involved,” Melissa admits. “I didn’t know if I could do the project justice, but I loved every minute of it and I’ve found a deep respect for farmers and everyone in the dairy industry. I learnt a lot more than I expected.”
TAP is an award-winning agricultural program across all year levels with a particular focus on the importance of the local dairy industry.
Melissa used Dairy Australia’s (DA) resources to introduce a Farm to Plate unit for Year 4 students, linking farming to literacy, numeracy, science and other parts of the curriculum.
In 2015, the connection was expanded to include DA’s Picasso Cow Makeover program, with Timboon P-12 winning the Victorian title.
“The students designed pictures to go on the cows and then spent 12 weeks painting them. We went on to win at state level against all the big schools,” Melissa said.
This year the school also joined DA’s Discover Dairy Pen Pal program and paired up with a sister school at Lysterfield, on the eastern outskirts of Melbourne. “We write letters to the students at Lysterfield about what we do here, what farming life is like and how agriculture is part of the school,” Melissa said. “They write back with questions for our students to answer and we plan to meet in early 2017.”
The school is also involved in developing a DA online educational game about farm safety.
Students in the TAP program follow the path of milk from the paddock, through the dairy and processors, and eventually to the supermarket, and they learn about the history and importance of the industry to the local area.
“The kids retain the information because it’s meaningful to them,” Melissa said.
Melissa recently learned about DA’s Australia’s Legendairy Women’s Network, also known as ALWN, and supports the idea of promoting the role women play in dairy. She now plans to become involved in the network and pass on her love of the industry.
“From being a townie, everyone laughs now at how obsessed I am with cows,” she said.
Hannah Wandel wants young dairy farming women to follow her footsteps from the country to creating change in Canberra.
Hannah, the founder and voluntary CEO of Country to Canberra, made a call to action at a Young Dairy Network forum recently to inspire young people to pursue their dreams.
“The country is the lifeblood of Australia and I want people in cities to understand that,” she said. “One of my ingredients to success is being action-oriented – getting things done and having a go.”
A social policy adviser at the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and gender equality advocate, Hannah is based in Canberra but her heart remains in the country.
“Canberra is a great place to advocate and make sure no-one forgets about rural and remote communities,” she said.
Hannah grew up on a sheep, beef and cropping farm at Blyth in mid-north South Australia. She loved the lifestyle and community but became disenchanted about the challenges facing young people in rural areas.
In 2014 she launched Country to Canberra, a national not-for-profit empowering young rural women to reach their leadership potential.
She says motivation, having good mentors and networks, learning how to apply your skills, and positive leadership and values, are the key to success, but inequality for women and prejudice against rural areas continue to bother her.
“When I was about 15, I started to become really passionate about combatting some of the geographical barriers to success,” Hannah, now 27, said.
“I became frustrated that the more remote rural students are, the worse their education outcomes and the harder it is to access mentorship and tertiary education.
“I also wanted to do something about the under-representation of women in politics and in business and to help young women in rural and remote areas overcome some of the gender inequalities.”
A $2000 grant from the YWCA got her started with a website and logo and Hannah encouraged politicians to support the campaign.
“We started in 2014 with one program and only three girls involved. Now we have a leadership competition called Power Trip, a blogger team so girls can talk about their communities and voice their opinions, and a new leadership workshop series in rural schools called Project Empower. It’s exciting; we have growing numbers of students involved every year,” Hannah said.
Country to Canberra will launch new leadership workshops called Project Power in rural schools next year to talk about goal setting, leadership development and career strategies in local communities.
Winners of the 2016 leadership competition visited Canberra and met a who’s who of Australia’s federal female politicians, including Julie Bishop, Tanya Plibersek, Jacqui Lambie, Fiona Nash and Pauline Hanson.
While Hannah harbours personal political ambitions, she wants Country to Canberra to grow to empower young women until gender equality is reached.
“I am interested in entering politics one day to make a difference for regional and rural and remote Australia,” she said.
“I have a three-year-old niece living in rural South Australia and I hope when she’s my age she isn’t facing any inequality and her rural community is thriving. Diversity and equality creates strong communities and business. I don‘t think it’s happening quickly enough.”
Hannah says campaigns like Legendairy and the Legendairy Capital program raise the profile and reputation of the dairy industry and help to improve positive attitudes towards rural Australia.
“It’s using passion and motivation to promote the industry and rural communities in a positive way, and like Country to Canberra it tries to provide an avenue for discourse between city and regional areas,” she said.
“There should be no barriers to opportunity.”
At 26, Michael Hawker is believed to be the youngest ever WestVic Dairy Board member but he’s not daunted by the challenge.
In fact, he’s inspired by the idea of bringing a youthful perspective to the Board and contributing to the industry he loves.
“There’s a lot to learn about the strategy behind everything, but I think I have something to offer and it’s good to get the views of young people,” he said.
“I think outside the box a bit so hopefully I can contribute and give back to an industry that has given a lot to me.”
Michael started rounding cows when he was just four years old on the same property north of Heywood that he now farms with his parents Francis and Leanne, and sisters Tennille and Kylie.
In 2008, he attended his first WestVic Dairy function, a ‘Spring, Pasture and Silage’ day at Macarthur.
“It was nothing revolutionary but I came away with a couple of one-percenters that could save or make some money for us,” he said.
“It became like an addiction; what else can I find out? I connected with the Young Dairy Network which was life-changing. It opened enormous opportunities and was a stepping stone to the Board.”
After leaving school, Michael completed a mechanic apprenticeship, learning skills that still come in handy on the farm, but he was always headed for life on the land.
“I always wanted to come home to the farm but when I wanted to leave school, mum said I couldn’t come home until I had a trade as a back-up. Now I’m able to farm full-time and tinker with cars in whatever spare time I have.”
Some might think milking twice a day is monotonous, but Michael says being a dairy farmer offers so much more. “It’s a good lifestyle with a lot of flexibility. It’s a job that’s never the same from day to day and year to year; there’s always a new challenge.”
He admits this year has been challenging for dairy farmers, but that’s just part of its appeal.
“I compare it to driving a car,” Michael said. “Everyone gets bored on a dead flat and straight highway, but everyone loves going for a drive down the Great Ocean Road where there’s something to see, and a tight corner here and a tough spot there. I love things to be engaging and entertaining. You don’t fall asleep along that road.”
Michael admits the rollercoaster has been going downhill lately but he sees an ascent on the horizon. “We’re starting the climb back up to a scenic place at the top but we know it won’t be a straight line, there’ll be some checks along the way.”
As one of four new Board members, Michael believes WestVic Dairy can help farmers through the tough times and the good times.
“In every adversity there’s opportunity,” he said. “I’d love for WestVic to deliver the best programs and be the go-to point for all farmers.
“The strategic side is put together by the Board but it requires farmer input. The levy is collected from all farmers and we need all farmers engaged.”
Michael is a strong advocate of the Legendairy communications initiative that raises the profile and reputation of the dairy industry. “It’s critically important that we maintain a good image,” he said.
A lot of people don’t realise what it means to have a social licence to farm and we have to make sure consumers aren’t swayed by wrong information.
“The price crash was devastating, but in the media storm it was uplifting to see the general public supporting agriculture and dairy farmers.”
As for Michael’s future in the industry, he can’t see himself doing anything else.
The family farm covers 680 hectares, with 600 Holstein and Jersey cows plus about 200 heifers and 200 yearlings.
“I plan to stay in dairy and long term I’d love to have an additional farm. Dairy can be profitable but you need to be on the ball with your education, your thinking, and your management and finances.
“I don’t ignore the challenges and the negatives, but I can’t let them drown out the positives.”
In a difficult time for the dairy industry, people like Alexandra Mulcahy show just how bright the future looks.
The Legendairy 20-year-old from the Goulburn Valley has been selected as one of nine Rural Finance scholarship winners for 2016.
Alexandra impressed the selection panel with a positive attitude that is combined with a sophisticated view of the industry and how it sits in the world market.
As an Undergraduate scholarship recipient, Alexandra will receive $6000 per year over three years to help fund her studies at Marcus Oldham College in Geelong, where she is studying for a Bachelor of Business Agriculture.
She is a fourth generation dairy farmer and member of one of Victoria’s innovative dairy families, and certainly has the background to make a strong impression on the industry.
Her parents Peter and Mandy, along with two of Peter’s brothers, started their own milk processing factory at Kyabram, near their sprawling KyValley farm operation in 2000.
“It started with the aim to minimise fluctuations in milk price, which has been in the spotlight lately,” Alexandra said.
“In a good year your milk price might not be as high as it should be and in a bad year it’s lower than it should be, so Dad and his brother thought it would be better to build our own milk factory so we could control the milk price ourselves.”
With 2500 hectares spread over three KyValley farms (as well as another 2500 hectares for cropping in the Riverina), the Mulcahy’s can milk 2800 Friesian cows that produce high quality milk.
Taking milk from seven other local suppliers as well their own, the family’s Southern Processing milk plant is a success story on the international market as well as with Goulburn Valley dairy farmers.
“Sixty five per cent is exported to Malaysia, China and Singapore and the rest of the market is domestic,” Alexandra said.
“It gives suppliers a fair bit of flexibility and it offers a flat milk price all year. It does that because it was designed by farmers who understand how it should work to benefit farmers.”
The youngest of five daughters aged between 20 and 28, Alexandra will be happy to either join her sister Victoria, who currently manages the family operation, or find her own path in the world. Whichever way she chooses, she will be happy as long as her career keeps her in the dairy industry.
“I reckon the dairy industry has a long and bright future,” she said.
“It’s a fulfilling career that always has new challenges, with new technology and different ways of doing things. There’s so many ways to expand and improve.
“I’d encourage young people - or anyone else - to get into the dairy industry.”
WHEN you live on a dairy farm located adjacent to one of Australia’s busiest tourist roads, you can either complain about the noise or make the most of the passing traffic.
Legendairy farmer Kaye Courtney could always see the potential customer base that went right past the front door of her family’s dairy farm on the South Gippsland Highway near Phillip Island, but it wasn’t until she fell in love with cheese-making that she was able to take advantage of it.
“To be truthful, it was the noisiest dairy farm that I’ve ever been on, they are usually such peaceful places, but when I first got here in 2006 they were doing road duplication and we were under the helicopter flight path for Bass Strait,” she said.
“But that has turned around to our benefit, because we front such a busy tourist route, the traffic can come right in.”
And come right in they do.
From a hobby that Kaye hoped would earn enough to replace her time on the dairy farm, Bassine Specialty Cheeses has grown into a small business success story that is value-adding to the local economy.
Milk produced by Kaye’s partner, second generation dairy farmer Glen Bisognin and his son Luke, is used to produce a variety of soft chesses, creams and even their own brand of milk.
Much of their trade is based around the tourist traffic passing through the tiny town of Bass, about an hour-and-a-half south east of Melbourne.
With a herd size of only 150 cows – down by 50 because of last season’s dry conditions – the farm is smaller than the average dairy business. But what they lack in quantity of milk, they make up for in quality.
The 57-year-old believes their Friesian herd produces milk that is intrinsic to the cheese making process.
“It’s extremely important, the milk is make-or-break from a cheese quality point of view,” she said.
“Luke is doing a really good job producing high quality milk and that quality really comes through in the cheese.
“We also bottle some of our own milk here and once people have tasted it, they are hooked.
“We handle the milk as gently as possible. We only pasteurise, we don’t homogenise, which leaves an old fashioned type of milk where the cream rises to the top.”
Kaye’s passion for cheese started when she was gifted a cheese-making course in 2002. Starting as a hobby to be shared with family and friends, it morphed into the current thriving business about five years ago.
While Bassine Specialty Cheese is now making money and is an important part of the farm finances, it’s the love of cheese that drives the business, rather than a desire for profits.
“There’s a lot of art to it and there’s a lot of science behind it as well,” Kaye said.
“It’s also a very nurturing job, you are looking after what the cheese-makers call their little babies. We look after them and we nurture them along, which is what is so rewarding about it.
“The more love and attention you give the cheese, the better the outcome.”
For more Legendairy stories, head to legendairy.com.au
The 2016 South West Legendairy Ladies Luncheon at Noorat on Tuesday gave 300 women a chance to get off the farm to enjoy fun and socialising.
The South West Legendairy Ladies group was formed about three years ago by dairy farmers Simone Renyard, now WestVic Dairy’s chairperson, and Roma Britnell MP, Member for South West Coast.
Mrs Britnell, who was emcee for the day, said the luncheon paid tribute to the amazing women in the dairy industry and gave them a chance to network and unwind.
“It’s important for women to get together for their health and wellbeing,” she said. “This gives them a chance to debrief and it encourages strength.
“Women get good value from each other’s company. In good times and in tough times it’s important for women to get together, and there’s also value in men doing the same thing.”
“This is one of those great days where women get to network and feel revitalised.”
Nullawarre farmers Tania Nevill and Leesa Bryce both enjoyed the day as a social outing.
“It’s good to get out with like-minded people,” Tania said.
“I’m a social person and I like to go out and see people,” Leesa added. “It’s good to keep up a network and talk with people who are experiencing the same things.”
Friends from Simpson, Karen Blain, Kylie Rowe and Vicky Crole, attended the luncheon for the first time.
“It’s all-consuming on the farm at the moment so this was an opportunity for a day out,” Kylie said.
The luncheon featured GP and health advocate Dr Sally Cockburn, known as `Dr Feelgood’ who kept the room laughing. The annual event was run by the South West Legendairy Ladies and WestVic Dairy with funding support from the Gardiner Foundation.
For more Legendairy stories, head to legendairy.com.au
Resilient dairy farmers are showing true grit as they look for new opportunities to combat tough times.
Karrinjeet Singh-Mahil and Brian Schuler from Crossley in south-west Victoria are determined they won’t be beaten by the recent fall in milk price.
Instead, they are looking to capitalise on pro-farmer sentiment by activating a farm stay business that will help them to combat lower prices and improve connections across the country-city divide.
The Legendairy farmers say they are determined to find opportunity in adversity.
“One of the positive things we can do is to diversify our income streams,” Karrinjeet said. “It’s a challenge and we’re not going to give in. This so-called milk crisis might push some of us to do things we’ve been talking about.”
Karrinjeet and Brian previously operated a guest house in Warrnambool and travelled about 20km each day to the farm. Their guests would often follow them.
“They’d want to see the farm,” Brian said. “We’d have people in the paddocks being licked by cows and loving it. One Sri Lankan family saw me helping a cow give birth and then giving the calf mouth to nose resuscitation. They were surprised but they didn’t flinch.”
Karrinjeet and Brian built a new house and moved back to the farm in 2010 but wanted to keep a connection to their guests so added a separate farm stay with two units.
Now they are finalising the landscaping and hoping to revive their farm stay business.
“We were looking at how we could get through and we’ve got this facility ready to go,” Karrinjeet said.
Brian likes to show guests the whole package and pass on some of the ‘old skills that are getting lost’.
“City people want to make the country connection but often don’t know how,” he said.
“We have a real belief that we need to build links between city and country,” Karrinjeet added. “Most people in the city from older generations have a relative or can remember holidays on the farm, but the younger generation has moved away from that and we want to start rebuilding some of those links.”
Visitors can relax and enjoy the view and serenity, or they can learn how to milk cows, feed calves and grow pastures.
Karrinjeet and Brian are also investigating options for cheese-making.
“We’ve got the milk, the land and the mindset, we just have to get out there and do it,” Brian said.
Gippsland girl, Jessica Stewart, is trading the green pastures of the Macalister Irrigation District for the ice and snow of Canada in winter.
The youngest daughter of the Legendairy Stewart family of Stratford, near Sale, Jessica will be spending five months with a family outside Ottawa in the country’s south east.
It’s a path already taken by her father Iain, who spent two years in Denmark and seven months on a Canadian dairy farm, where the mercury dropped to minus 35 degrees and a rope was needed to navigate the path from the house to the barn.
Iain is hopeful that Jessica’s adventure through the World Exchange Program will be just as challenging and exciting as his experience with the same program more than 20 years ago.
“I finished my apprenticeship, worked on this farm for eighteen months and then spent a couple of years away,” he said.
“It was brilliant. I’m 100 per cent happy that I did it. It changed my view towards the dairy industry in Australia.”
Jessica, who hasn’t yet decided if she wants a career as a dairy farmer, said the prospect of being away from home from September to the end of January is both daunting and exciting.
“Most likely I’ll get on the plane, sit down and think ‘what the hell have I got myself into?’” the 16-year-old said.
“I’ve travelled before with Mum to visit her family in England, so I’m used to the long flight. I think I’ll be good.”
The Year 10 Gippsland Grammar student is hoping to visit Ontario dairy farms, which are all barn systems due to the freezing winters in the region.
Back at home, Jessica does her share of work in the dairy shed and is on duty during the busy calving season.
“I pretty much understand the basics of what you have to do on the dairy farm, it’s probably more the financial and employment side that I would have to learn,” she said.
Iain, who is a GippsDairy board member, won’t be pushing Jessica to stay on the farm when she leaves school and is hoping that travel will broaden her view of the world beyond Gippsland.
“Spending time in Canada and Denmark opened my eyes up to the rest of the world,” he said.
“I wasn’t just locked into Australia anymore, I could see how the rest of the world was operating.”
Legendairy farming families like the Stewarts are helping to sustain Australia’s $4 billion dairy industry. For more Legendairy stories, head to legendairy.com.au
WHEN the sun shines on Katandra West – and it often does – Gayle and Laurie Clark kick their machinery into gear.
The Legendairy farmers from near Shepparton in Victoria’s Goulburn Valley have installed a 30 kilowatt solar system on their dairy shed roof that allows them to run power hungry appliances free of charge.
“We only get an eight cent tariff for feeding back into the grid, which is a poor return, so we try to use as much sunshine power as we can,” Gayle said.
“During the day when it’s sunny, I will operate the roller mill and in the summertime we use the power from the system to operate the recycled water pump.”
Using solar energy to run irrigation pumps closes the loop on a system that uses water and energy extremely efficiently.
Paddocks are flood irrigated, with run-off feeding into recycled water dams. That water is then pumped – using solar energy where possible – back onto paddocks, rather than re-entering the local river system.
Effluent from the dairy is utilised in a similar fashion, with the nutrient-rich liquid pumped back onto paddocks to grow more grass for the cows.
“We use everything that we can,” Gayle said.
The solar electricity system has slashed power bills by a third, from $6000 a quarter to $4000 every three months.
While it was an expensive system to install, it has been paid-off in just three years, rather than the six to seven years that the Clarkes had initially estimated.
With a lifespan of 25-30 years for the 117 panel system, the initial outlay is looking like an increasingly good investment.
“We could see the price rises coming, so when an interest free offer came along we took it. It took three years to pay it off and I’d certainly do it again,” Gayle said.
For farmers like Gayle and Laurie, being responsible custodians of the land goes hand-in-hand with running a good farm business.
Gayle said that almost every farm in the region now has recycled water systems in place, ensuring that a valuable commodity is kept on farm and no waste is sent back into local waterways.
“I’m not sure our city counterparts realise how connected and how appreciative we are of our environment,” she said.
“We are trying our very, very best to look after our environment”
For Gayle, installing solar panels to help power the farm is part of a philosophy of making the most of technology and innovation.
“As I heard at a recent farmers’ conference, ‘some people say why, but other people say why not?’”
Australia’s Legendairy farmers are committed to ensuring a sustainable future for current and future generations: www.sustainabledairyoz.com.au
WHEN you milk cows before the sun comes up, the last thing you need is an emergency in the middle of the night.
But for Legendairy farmers and Country Fire Authority volunteers, like Evan Bourchier, answering the call for help is just part of living in a rural community.
Evan is captain of Strathmerton CFA, which deals with about 70 emergency call-outs each year, ranging from major bushfires along the nearby Murray River to house fires in the small town, just west of Cobram.
For nine-to-five workers, the regular call-outs and training can make firefighting a big commitment, but for dairy farmers like Evan, responding to emergencies can put a genuine strain on time, energy and resources.
Milking the cows can’t be put off until later in the day, so when he jumps in the ute to head to the fire station, Evan’s wife and fellow CFA volunteer Tamsin or their employees all need to step-up to help out.
But don’t think Evan or any other dairy farmer is complaining about volunteering. He sees the CFA as a vital part of the local district and is proud to share the responsibility of keeping his community safe.
“You also enjoy the mateship with your fellow firefighters that all get out of bed at two o’clock in the morning when the alarm goes off,” he said.
“Luckily we don’t have too many call-outs at one or two in the morning. But they are always the hardest, because you can’t get back to sleep.”
While CFA responsibilities can – and often do – come at inconvenient times, for dairy farmers like Evan, they offer a rare chance to get away from the farm and have a break from running a dairy business.
“I can work day and night on the farm, so as much as the brigade can be a pain when you are in the middle of doing something, it gets you off the farm and can get your mind off what’s happening on the farm.”
And the 29-year-old knows that while he may be on the truck that arrives to save a house, shed or paddock anywhere across northern Victoria, one day it might be his farm that needs help from a brigade chock-full of busy farmers like him.
“When you’re not home and something happens, it is nice to know that someone is coming to help,” he said.
“As another farmer once said to me, when the cow manure hits the fan, it’s nice to see those red and blue flashing lights coming down the road.”
MICHAEL Newton may have taken one of the AFL’s legendary marks, but these days he’s kicking goals as a Legendairy farmer.
The former Melbourne Demons player is back home on the family dairy farm in north east Victoria, more than a decade after being drafted to the big league.
Playing for Melbourne and the South Australian National Football League (SANFL) club Norwood from 2004 to 2015, the man universally known as “Juice”, cemented his place in football folklore with a spectacular grab that earned him the 2007 AFL Mark of the Year.
However, both feet are well and truly back on solid ground since returning to the picturesque 800 hectare family farm on the banks of the Ovens River at Whorouly, near Myrtleford.
Towering red gums dominate the river flats, which can grow enough grass to keep the farm’s 600 Holsteins in prime condition.
“It’s such beautiful country,” Michael said.
“When I bring mates up here, they just can’t believe how nice it is. It’s such a brilliant part of the world.”
It’s land that has been farmed by his family for four generations – and it’s not hard to see why Michael wants to keep that tradition going.
But that family link – his father Rod and uncle Wayne manage the business and cousins Josh and Andy work alongside Michael performing day-to-day tasks – doesn’t mean it’s an easy ride for Michael who can still cop a spray from his father that would do justice to an AFL coach.
“Dad likes things to run perfectly and when they don’t you get told about it,” he said.
“To have someone who is such a perfectionist to look up to, it helps you stay on the right pathway. Dad always says if you are going to do something, you may as well do it right.”
The 29-year-old said that having lived his dream of playing in the big league, he can now take the lessons he has learnt from being a professional athlete to the next stage of his career.
“I moved to Melbourne at 17 and from that point on, every decision I made, I’d question how it was going to affect my footy, so I suppose once you’ve been in that professional environment it’s hard not to be professional at what you do,” Michael said.
“In footy, if you’re good but stay with the same game-plan, everybody is going to move past you. I guess it’s the same with the dairy industry, if you don’t keep up with the modern practices, you’re going to get run over.”
When he’s not helping to develop the farm business, Michael is a key forward for the Wangaratta Magpies in the famous Ovens and Murray league.
His decision to play for the Magpies flew in the face of a strong family connection with bitter rivals Wangaratta Rovers, where his cousin currently plays and his father was a handy forward in the early 1980s.
But it was the lure of playing with Magpie mates that saw “Juice” put on the black and white stripes, despite more lucrative offers from other teams.
While it’s all a world away from the roar of the MCG, it seems Michael has rewritten Newton’s law of gravity to prove that what goes up, can keep on flying high.
“The lifestyle up here on the farm is great and it works well with footy,” he said.
“You’d be hard pressed not to enjoy working here.”
KEN Cameron looks at his family’s 400 dairy cows and sees a lot of cheese.
The Legendairy cheesemaker, whose family runs a 364 hectare dairy farm at Boosey just south of Yarrawonga, Victoria, is slowly but surely gaining a reputation as one of the best in his field.
Boosey Creek Cheese is a genuine family run operation. Ken’s brother Robert manages the farm, while parents Don and Ada are out and about at farmers markets, and delivering cheese to supermarkets and specialty stores.
While Ken started off with a bang, winning a silver medal at the Sydney Show with his second batch of Warby Red, building a hand-crafted cheese business has been all about hard graft and muscle aching work.
Four days a week, the cheesemaker fills a 500 litre vat with milk straight from the herd.
“It’s very important that we have good milk if we’re going to make good cheese,” Ken said.
“We get it straight from our cows and it’s pasteurised on-site.”
The result is a variety of cheeses including Boosey Blue, Boosey Soft and Tungamah Tasty. But its Ken’s signature Warby Red washed rind that has cemented his name among cheesemakers and cheese lovers.
For Ken, the process of turning milk into a high-end value added product is extremely satisfying.
“Taking the milk, making it into cheeses and seeing people enjoy it … it’s a different and interesting process,” he said.
Currently, Ken uses milk from just 10 of his cows for his cheese-making needs. One day, he’d like to see his family’s entire milk production used onsite for Boosey Creek Cheese products.
“I think it could be a hundred times bigger than it is now. It’s so small now, which is where the problem is,” he said.
“The next few years will be about trying to get bigger. Trying to find finance or funding to get a two or three thousand litre vat rather than the 500 litre vat.”
“I can see the potential, because we’re only using milk from about 10 cows, but we produce about four million litres from the 400 cows each year.”
In the meantime, Ken is happy making cheese that is both unique and much coveted by discerning foodies.
“As a young kid said the other day, the Warby Red, which won Gold at the Australian Grand Dairy Awards last year, smells like brussel sprouts – which is right, because that’s what it’s supposed to smell like,” he said.
“But the taste is much more delicate than the smell.”
By day, Lauren Peterson is a Legendairy farm manager, mum and student, but every weekend she also keeps the community safe as a 000 emergency call centre supervisor.
It might seem like an odd and busy combination for a self-confessed city girl, but Lauren has taken to farming like a cow to grass.
Before moving to south west Victoria with her partner Tony Hassett two years ago, Lauren admits she knew milk came from cows but not much more about dairy farming.
“I always knew there was the potential to move to the country and farm,” said Lauren, who has a background of working in welfare; is in the final year of a social sciences degree at university; and, has also enrolled in a Diploma of Agriculture course.
Tony, who also works full time in emergency services, was raised in Melbourne but dreamt of following his grandparents who were dairy farmers at South Purrumbete.
“Tony kept talking about it, so I said if I have to hear about cows they should be our cows so go and do something about it. He came home the next day and said he’d found a farm to lease.”
Now relocated to a second leased farm at Boorcan where they milk nearly 100 of their own cows plus an additional 30 for the retired farm owners, Lauren and Tony are determined to ride through the industry’s tough times.
“Obviously it’s a rollercoaster,” she said. “We poured all our savings and liquidity into buying cows and like any new small business there’s a lot of start-up debt, but we’re using that as inspiration.
“We haven’t worked this hard for the past two years to just walk away. I love that we can work as a family. We’re outdoors and I love the challenge and there’s so much to learn,” Lauren said.
She admits it has been a steep learning curve. “There are so many balls to juggle. I thought I would be a relief milker; I didn’t expect to be a farm manager or need to know chemistry, physics and accounting. There’s a lot more to it than people realise.”
In a short period of time, Lauren has become a passionate advocate for the industry and hopes her welfare background will help her to make a difference.
She has joined Dairy Australia’s Young Dairy Network, become involved in discussion groups and is active on social media promoting the needs of farmers.
“We need to stick together and make our voice heard,” Lauren said. “Australia produces such amazing fresh produce and that’s under threat if we don’t look after each other.”
Lauren believes community support in the wake of the recent farmgate milk price cut could be the start of major changes for dairy farmers.
“Once we started spreading social media posts and putting the human factor into it, people were saying this isn’t right; what can we do?”
Lauren was pleased to see branded milk selling out in local supermarkets.
“We know the domestic market is small compared to the international market, but in the big scheme of things, it does impact. This was a chance for consumers to show they support and value Australian dairy and send a message that $1 milk devalues our product. People have really taken to it.”
Lauren and Tony are Fonterra suppliers and say they’re lucky they have off-farm income to help them survive the price cut.
Lauren has worked at the Emergency Services Telecommunications Authority 000 for 10 years, originally in Melbourne and more recently at the Ballarat Centre which looks after regional Victoria. Her role is to oversee 000 emergency call-takers and the radio despatchers who review and prioritise jobs.
“It’s very rewarding but it’s a bit like agriculture; you need to be resilient and resourceful and have good communications skills,” she said.
With Audrey, six months, and Paddy, two, life is busy for Lauren who drives every Saturday to Ballarat for her 12-hour shift, and Tony who continues his full-time work.
“We don’t get much sleep and at times it can be a bit overwhelming,” Lauren said. “We love the sense of community. We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the support from everyone around us.”
From being led along the path as a child by calves keen to get a feed, to leading Victoria’s dairy industry, Kerry Callow has seen dairy from inside and out. And despite a few bumps along the way, this Legendairy farmer from south-west Victoria remains committed to the industry.
A former United Dairyfarmers of Victoria (UDV) president and the latest inductee to the WestVic Dairy honour board, Kerry was raised on her parents’ soldier settler farm near Macarthur.
“The only shift I’ve made is bedrooms,” she jokes.
She recalls being a tiny child dragged along by the calves and being amazed at how her father grew pastures up to the top of her gumboots. Today Kerry has a more worldly view of dairy.
Her parents, Ted and Nance Nunn, were always involved in their community and the industry and Kerry naturally felt the need to follow in their inspirational footsteps. “I think it’s just part of farming to understand what happens beyond your farm gate, and not just in your local area,” she says.
Kerry’s first brush with the industry was when her father co-opted her as the Macarthur Artificial Breeders Cooperative secretary.
She joined the UDV when she turned 18 – her father was chairman at that time - and 40 years later remains a dedicated member.
Kerry was elected UDV president in 2010 and held the position for more than two years. She cites as a highlight, her work with former president Chris Griffin to bring the UDV back to financial viability and to focus the policy council on the “nuts and bolts issues”.
She was also involved with setting up DemoDAIRY, the Herd Test Association and WestVic Dairy’s ‘Down the Track’ project.
“I never sought out positions; they tended to evolve,” Kerry said. “Generally I had the support of the farmers I represented; they seem to like to volunteer you for jobs.”
Her habit of “expressing my views” may have encouraged that, and occasionally got her into trouble, but she didn‘t mind and encourages others to get behind the UDV and the broader industry.
While understanding farming is more pressured today, Kerry says farmers would benefit and understand more about the organisations if they got more actively involved in the UDV and Dairy Australia programs.
“Dairy Australia runs some brilliant programs that offer great tools to young people coming into the industry, and Legendairy is a direct response to farmers asking Dairy Australia to do more to promote the industry.
“Organisations don’t run on fresh air; they need arms and legs to run them.”
Kerry says her inside involvement has given her valuable insights, although the honour board recognition was a surprise.
“You don’t do this work for recognition; you do it because someone has to do it and I’ve got a lot out of it.
“I’ve seen a side of the industry that most people are unaware of and met a lot of great people. The UDV and Dairy Australia staff who work in the background are fantastic and they all look at it as their industry. They’re as proud of it as any dairy farmer is.”
Kerry remains a committed dairy farmer and enjoys the daily challenge of running her 94-hectare, 160-cow property.
She says farming is much more complicated and professional today compared to when she started. “A lot of people think all you do is milk cows at either end of the day; the reality is that you’re running a business.”
Kerry admits to being “pretty gutted” by the recent retrospective milk price cuts but plans to stick it out and says the long-term future of the industry remains positive.
“People say if you don’t like it get out but you’ve got to be able to sell. Farms don’t sell overnight, even in good times.”
One trait all farmers need is resilience and Kerry has plenty of it.
“While the dairy industry has always dipped, it seems to be dipping more frequently in recent years but you’ve got to keep things in perspective and ride through it.
“We’ve got to try to get rid of the speed bumps that happen, but sometimes you just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other.”
Award winning Legendairy Heywood farmers Stephen and Tania Luckin realise they’re not sprinters but they love the challenge of a marathon.
That’s how they’re tackling the latest milk price challenge and they are determined to “farm our way out of it”.
The Luckins, named the 2016 Dairy Australia Farm Business Managers of the Year at last week’s Great South West Dairy Awards, say they’re in dairy for the long haul.
Their success has been built around intensive forward planning, intricate budgeting and close monitoring and they’re not about to change a successful game plan.
“It’s a long-term game,” Stephen said. “We’re not running a sprint, we’re running a marathon. “We’ve all been through an emotional rollercoaster recently but we’ve tried to put the emotion aside and deal with the facts, create a plan and farm our way out of it.”
Tania said farmers were particularly hurting from the retrospective price cuts coming at the end of a tough season.
The Luckins have looked at the short-term impacts on their business and how to deal with it within their long-term strategy.
“By focusing on it like that it took away any emotion,” Tania said. “Whatever decision we made was based on what was best for our business.”
“We can either put our heads in the sand and hope it goes away or say this is a challenge and we’re going to beat it. We’re looking on it as challenge to build a stronger and more resilient business and from that we’ll have a stronger and more resilient industry.”
The Luckins have a good track record after moving in 2009 to near Heywood where they have redeveloped the 291 hectare milking area and now milk 500 mostly Holstein cows.
They set a 15-year strategic plan and broke it into five-year phases and then into one-year action plans. The first five years were about development, including subdividing, improving facilities, renovating pastures, extending the dairy and introducing an electronic herd management system. Now they are in a consolidation phase and everything has been going to plan, albeit with the complication of droughts and the latest price crash.
In response to high feed costs after the 2012-13 drought they changed from a split calving regime to seasonal calving in March-April. This year, which turned out even drier than 2012-13, their amount of bought-in feed was 11 per cent lower than during the previous drought.
“That has been an excellent risk management strategy and it’s more efficient for the farm,” Tania said.
Another focus has been to increase the amount of home-grown fodder.
“We’ve identified that reducing debt and increasing on-farm productivity and profitability is all about growing more fodder at home,” Stephen said.
The Luckins share their annual operating plan with the farm team, set monthly goals, divide their business into six key management areas and use 16 different monitoring tools to check that they’re on target.
“That’s the key to our success,” Tania said. “Risk management is really important. As farmers we deal with volatility on a number of levels. Price volatility you have some control over by ensuring you supply the company that best suits your business and maximise the milk price your business can achieve. The other is weather – we don’t have control over that but we do have control over the impact it can have on your business.”
Originally from New Zealand, Stephen was from a farming background and worked in oil exploration and engineering but went back to farming because that’s what he wanted to be. The pair looked at buying the family farm, but decided they could get a better return on investment by moving to Australia.
“We both love Australia – 19 years later we’re still here,” Tania said.
Tania worked in retail – and even won Retail Business of the Year for a children’s store they owned in Warrnambool - and had no plans to become a dairy farmer. “Look at me now…I love it,” she said.
One of the big attractions is working together. “We love working together,” Tania said. “That’s a really big thing for us. We’re aware of our personal strengths and weaknesses. I love financials and analysis, whereas Stephen is fantastic at growing grass and making milk. Fortunately, we get a real thrill out of finding a challenge and working through it together and coming out the other side knowing we’ve really achieved something.”
Stephen says that struggling farmers will have a reason to pat themselves on the back and feel proud when they emerge from the current trough.
They are strong supporters of the Legendairy communications initiative. “The whole concept is fantastic and so positive,” Tania said.
And despite the industry’s issues, Stephen said the mood at the dairy awards was positive and people enjoyed the opportunity to celebrate successes.
Previous winners in 2012 of the Employer of the Year award, Tania says the new title is the ultimate. “We were thrilled. We love dairy farming and being part of the industry but it is a business and we try to run it efficiently. When we came here it needed a fair bit of work and it’s lovely to see it come to fruition.”
When a French expert says your cheese is as good as he’s tasted, you know you’re making a Legendairy product.
Berrys Creek Gourmet Cheese is a small business in South Gippsland, Victoria, making big waves in the food world – with Asia the next frontier for Legendairy cheesemakers Barry Charlton and partner Cheryl Hulls.
The Fish Creek business was visited recently by French cheese exporters who have been watching the development of Barry and Cheryl’s cheeses for several years.
From their small factory overlooking Wilson’s Promontory near Fish Creek, Barry and Cheryl produce cheeses that have won more than 100 top awards, including multiple World Cheese Awards and just about every honour in Australian cheese-making competitions. They are also consistent winners at the prestigious Australian Grand Dairy Awards.
For Barry, however, the awards come second to the ultimate reward for any food maker.
“It’s a pleasure to watch people sit down and eat your produce and say: ‘Wow, that’s absolutely beautiful,” he said.
“I love making cheese. It’s a challenge and that’s what I like.”
“I lay awake at night thinking ‘what can I produce?’ It has to be something that people will like, but something that is a bit different.”
What doesn’t keep Barry awake is worrying about the quality of his milk supply.
Living and working among the rolling green hills of South Gippsland means cheesemakers are spoilt for choice when it comes to high quality milk with which to make their products.
Their cow’s milk come from Berrys Creek – from the same farm where Cheryl grew up – while their buffalo milk comes from near Woodside and their goat’s milk from Yarragon.
“The milk is very important to us, so we use hand-picked farms with high quality milk,” Barry said.
“We look at the herd and the mix of cows to see if they are going to produce the milk we need – and then you rely on the farmer to be very good at what they do.”
While Barry and Cheryl source their cow’s milk from just one farm – Hutchinson’s in Berrys Creek - they recognise that they live in a region with a reputation for producing some of the world’s finest milk.
“We are really proud of what we do but also what our milk producers do,” Barry said.
“We have some of the best farming country you’d see here in Gippsland - it’s prime country.
“At the end of the day, our farmers produce great milk and that allows us to turn it into top products.”
It wasn’t until Will Ryan left home that he knew where he wanted to spend the rest of his life.
The LEGENDAIRY farmer from Dumbalk in South Gippsland has returned to the family farm after working overseas, educating himself and trying his luck as a desk jockey.
While he’s pleased to have has the opportunity to see the world beyond the farm gate, he’s more than happy to be back home and managing the family dairy business.
“I worked overseas in the agriculture sector in England and went to university after that, where I studied for a Bachelor of Agriculture majoring in Agribusiness,” he said.
“I worked for a while with the Australian Fodder Industry Association as an industry development officer. The job I had previously involved a lot of computer and desk work.
“There was always a part of me that felt it wasn’t going to be a long term position for me and that I would want to come back to my roots of being a farmer and being hands-on.”
Having grown up on the family property, Will is under no illusions about the hard work and challenges faced by every dairy farmer.
But it’s these very challenges that make the job so stimulating for the 26-year-old, who manages 350 cows on a 370 hectare property.
“I really enjoy the problem solving component of dairy farming,” he said.
“We are thrown a different challenge all the time. For instance, this season we have to work out how to run a sustainable business with limited moisture in the soil.
“We need to think up some sort of strategy to make sure the business is as efficient and viable as possible.”
While the current dry conditions are making it a tough season for farmers across the district, the simple pleasures of life on the land make it all worthwhile for the likeable young man.
Watching Will shifting his herd between paddocks shows an easy and trusting relationship that means time spent with his animals is more than a just a chore.
“I love being amongst the cows,” he said.
“They are obviously the lifeblood of the industry, so I treat them with as much respect as I would treat anyone else in the industry, if not more so.”
Like many people with a passion for what they do, Will is keen to spread the word about the benefits of farm life for young people.
He has been appointed to sit on the Victorian Government’s Young Farmers Ministerial Advisory Council which will advise Agriculture Minister Jaala Pulford on how to keep young people in agriculture.
It’s a role that is both a privilege and a pleasure for Will.
“I’m really excited to be representing Gippsland and the dairy industry,” he said.
“I can bring my experience from the dairy industry and international agriculture, take those experiences I’ve had and provide input to the Minister on issues for young people in the sector.
“Hopefully I can shine a bit more light on some of the challenges and opportunities for young people in dairy and represent the industry which I’m really passionate about.”
Will believes the dairy industry has a strong economic future that can provide a rewarding career for young people.
More than that, however, he said life as a dairy farmer can’t be beaten in terms of job satisfaction.
“I would encourage anyone to do it because of the lifestyle that the dairy industry allows you to have,” he said.
“I’ve had jobs in the past where I’ve dreaded getting out of bed, and that is not this job. I really enjoy getting up every single morning. I enjoy every single moment of my day.”
To read our Legendairy stories, head to legendairy.com.au
LIKE any young man leaving home for the first time, Legendairy farmer Erwin Reesink had his doubts about what he was doing. Leaving his mother and brother behind in Holland to start a new life in Australia was a huge step for an 18 year-old, but one that has paid dividends.
Just four years since making his big move, Erwin is running a South Gippsland dairy farm with his new wife Stacey, who herself arrived in South Gippsland via South Africa and New Zealand.
The couple share-farm on Len McRae’s Wattlebank property near Wonthaggi where they milk 250 cows on 100 hectares.
At just 22 and 20 years-old respectively, Erwin and Stacey have far more responsibility than most young people their age, but say the dairy lifestyle offers them opportunities that few others enjoy.
“Being your own boss is good and I love the animals,” Erwin said.
“It’s a pretty busy life with weekends as well, but if we get our work done we can have a quiet day or head off to the beach.”
For Stacey, having the opportunity to be on-farm with Erwin makes dairy life more appealing than most careers.
“It’s probably what I like about it the most. We get to spend time with each other,” she said.
Erwin wasn’t completely alone before meeting Stacey. His father Johan emigrated at the same time, along with Johan’s partner and their three children.
Johan, who now farms a few kilometres away at Middle Tarwin, always wanted to come to Australia after spending holidays here.
“It was always Dad’s dream to come here. We’d been here twice before on holiday. We really liked it and loved the country,” Erwin said.
The family had a dairy farm in north east Holland, milking 75 cows on 41 hectares. European red-tape and the inability to grow the farm business saw the family make its bold move to the southern hemisphere.
“It’s getting very hard to dairy farm over there, especially if you want to expand. It’s very strict and very complicated,” Erwin said.
“At the time, you weren’t allowed to produce any more milk than your quota and, if you did, you had to pay a penalty.”
“We could have stayed there, but there was a brighter future over here.”
The big move was an experience that he shared with millions of Dutch men and women, who followed the Reesink’s journey on a popular reality TV show called Ik Vertrek (or I’m Leaving).
The Reesink episode broke ratings records, with millions tuning in for the novelty of watching dairy farmers start a new life in a strange country.
“The show was always the same thing with people starting wineries and B&Bs in France or England,” Erwin said.
“So people were interested to see dairy farmers in Australia.”
Dairy Australia’s Legendairy campaign aims to highlight inspirational farmers, like Erwin and Stacey, who form the backbone of Australia’s $4 billion dairy industry.
WENDY Whelan doesn’t believe recovering from a stroke at age 38 is her defining achievement.
It’s becoming a share-farmer on a dairy property that she sees as a more notable accomplishment – and one that wasn’t going to be stolen from her by a rare medical condition.
The Legendairy farmer from Toora in South Gippsland is back in the milking shed just six months after lying in a hospital bed unable to move or speak.
Her recovery was spurred by her desire to resume a career that she had worked long and hard to achieve.
During rehab she lifted weights to rebuild muscles needed for milking duties and practiced walking on uneven ground like that found in cow paddocks.
“We based my physio on milking cows,” she said.
“I needed to build the strength in my arms and they would take me out on undulating grass mounds to practice walking.”
Just two years after achieving her goal of becoming a share-farmer, Wendy was feeling confident in her role as chief decision-maker on the 200 hectare farm where 340 cows are milked at peak times.
In August last year, however, she noticed flu-like symptoms that escalated to the point where she was rushed to Monash Medical Centre in Melbourne’s south east.
“I couldn’t remember the next two weeks. I lost my speech, lost my vision and couldn’t move,” she said.
Within six weeks, Wendy was allowed out of the rehabilitation centre for a weekend – and she headed straight for the farm.
“I came home on weekend leave and went and milked three cows, with a patch on my eye and needing help to get down the steps into the pit. I just needed to know that I could still do it,” she said.
“Four weeks before that I couldn’t even walk, so I thought it was pretty good effort.”
Wendy progressed to half an hour of milking each day and is now able to complete six milkings a week.
While the stroke-inducing Venus Sinus Thrombosis and its aftermath has dominated the past six months, she is keen to ensure the rare-medical condition does not define the rest of her life.
The chances of suffering that type of blood clot were one in 200,000, but Wendy still reckons she defied larger odds to become a single female share-farmer.
“I’m the only female share farmer I know of who doesn’t have a partner,” she said.
The arrangement with Bruce and Jan Best sees Wendy take a 36 per cent share of farm costs and revenues, providing labour and management skills, while the Bests own the farm and herd.
After starting as a relief milker 16 years ago, Wendy developed her skills to the point where the Bests were willing to hand over management of the farm to their long-term employee.
“Being a share-farmer is more satisfying, but it’s also scary. It’s my money I’m spending and there’s no one else to blame for decisions,” Wendy said.
While getting back on her feet and resuming her career is more than enough of a challenge at the moment, Wendy harbours long term ambitions to eventually buy her own farm.
In the meantime, the simple pleasures of being her own boss and working among the dairy cows is satisfying enough.
“I am an animal person, which is part of the reason I like being a dairy farmer,” she said.
“I used to work on Dad’s sheep and beef farm – we’ve always had animals. Even when we lived in Melbourne when I was a kid, we had orphaned lambs in the backyard.”
Wendy has a lot more to achieve in dairy career and wants to one day look back on her stroke as just a small but significant moment in the bigger picture of her life.
“It’s just something that happened. Hopefully it’s just a small glitch in my lifetime.”
Dairy Australia’s Legendairy campaign aims to highlight inspirational farmers like Wendy, who form the backbone of Australia’s $4 billion dairy industry.
WHEN Wildwood Dairies was first carved out of the bush in the 1870s, the pioneer women worked shoulder to shoulder with their men.
Today, it’s the same story on the Lardner dairy farm, where Deborah Parkes works side-by-side with husband Ted Bingham on their 175 hectare property, just south of Drouin.
The Legendairy couple have managed to buy back the original family farm, which now milks 475 Holstein cows.
“Ted’s family settled here in the 1870s, they cleared land which normally will get divided up among family members, but we bought everything back off the family in 2009,” Deborah said.
With her daughter Connie now a full-time farm employee, the strong family links on the property have remained – as has the prominent role played by women.
Deborah runs the Artificial Insemination (AI) breeding program on the farm, while also managing herd health and keeping the accounts in order. She is also Victorian president of Holstein Australia.
This month, Deborah and Connie are both being profiled in Melbourne as part of the Legendairy ‘Personalities of Dairy’ pop up gallery at the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival’s Urban Dairy Hub in Queensbridge Square, bringing a taste of country life to the city.
And as a city girl who swapped life in the suburbs for dairying, Deborah’s an appropriate choice for the Festival to feature.
Deborah’s focus on animal husbandry would be no surprise to anyone who knew the little girl growing up in Glen Waverly in the 1960s.
A Girl Guide exchange program saw Deborah spend a summer on a small dairy farm near the South Australian border – and from that moment she was hooked.
“It was only supposed to be one summer, but I just kept going back. I suppose I’ve always had a passion for animals.”
While raising four children, Deborah managed to complete an Associate Diploma of Farm Management at Glenormiston College, helping her turn her passion into something more concrete.
“I started my own AI company for dairy and beef farmers in the Yarra Valley and Pakenham area, which I ran for 15 years,” she said.
“They told me I wouldn’t last a month.”
Her energy is now directed towards her own 475 cows that provide four million litres of milk each year; every drop destined for local and international dairy consumers.
Even on a relatively large farm, Deborah insists that she knows every animal in the herd, if not by name, then at least by nature.
“People think on an almost 500 cow farm we couldn’t possible know every cow, but we do,” she said.
“Because we know them all, we can tell when a cow is doing something different, which might mean something is wrong with her.
“If a cow is sick, she will get treated. We don’t wait and see what happens, we try to be proactive.”
Even during the hard work and long hours of the calving season, the birth of a calf from a favourite cow can prompt a small celebration at Wildwood Dairies.
“, We still get excited when a good cow has a calf and she’ll probably get a pet name,” Deborah said. .For Connie, life on the farm is all about the challenges and rewards that come with learning something new every day.
“I have no background in mechanics, but now I can confidently change oil and do a lot of things like that,” she said.
“I love tractor work and making sure things are done right.”
Having worked in a city office, the 29-year-old appreciates the opportunity to work outdoors among the magnificent landscapes of West Gippsland.
“We have amazing sunrises here,” she said.
“Sometimes I’m just sitting on the bike and I look over and think ‘what an amazing place to live’.
“Back in the old days the women worked beside the men … they didn’t just turn up with the lunch,” Deborah adds.
“We love working here, so it’s not a chore. It’s just what we do.”
BRENDAN Cunningham walks in the footsteps of his ancestors as he moves about his Nar Nar Goon farm.
The Legendairy farmer still works the same West Gippsland property that his great-grandfather Thomas was eking a living from in the early part of the 20th century.
In the 100-plus years that have passed since the Cunningham clan first moved to Nar Nar Goon, the original farm grew in size before almost being lost to the family.
When Brendan’s father Barry decided to leave the land in favour of politics, Brendan managed to keep hold of a section of the farm, before gradually purchasing and leasing back the rest of the Cunningham land.
It’s an achievement that brings him no small amount of satisfaction as he looks over his 850 acres that supports between 400 and 500 cows.
“I enjoy having that link with the past,” he said.
“They were potato growers and dairy farmers but I gave the potatoes away when I took it over, just because I really like the cows.”
Spend a few minutes watching Brendon interact with the herd and it’s clear the feeling is mutual.
The animals and their owner have an easy connection that is built on year-after-year spent in each other’s company.
For Brendan, life on the farm is a labour of love.
“I’ve always really loved rearing calves and that side of it. I used to get up and help Dad feed the calves and milk the cows before I went to school, so it all started back then.
“We look after them pretty well. When you like the cows, they know it. You look after them and they look after you. That’s the way I like to do it.”
While animal husbandry is a passion, Brendan is also keen to see the industry innovate its way to a stronger future.
On his own farm, the 53-year-old has been running an automatic cow identification and feeding system in the rotary dairy for more than 15 years and has also been a keen participant in Landcare programs that encourage replanting of native vegetation.
While they are all practical initiatives, looking at the bigger picture of both the farm and the industry is something that has been ingrained in Brendan since childhood.
In the 1970s, his father Barry was involved in the United Dairyfarmers of Victoria (UDV) during a particularly difficult period for the industry.
Later, he would become a Federal MP and party room Whip in the Hawke government.
During that time, Cunningham senior was on the Rural Policy Formulation Committee that oversaw the Kerin plan for deregulation of the dairy industry in the mid-1980s.
“I used to sit around the kitchen table while all the big wigs of industry were discussing what was going on. It gave me a real insight into how things were done,” Brendan said.
“I took the farm over from Dad when he went into Federal Parliament and he was also secretary of the UDV for a while in the 1970s.”
From the tough early times of farming the swamp lands of Nar Nar Goon to the heady heights of decision making in the nation’s capital, the Cunningham name has been linked with dairying for more than a century.
For Brendan, the chance to work the same land as his forefathers is something he appreciates right down to his bones.
Cororooke, a small township 11km northwest of Colac in Victoria, with just under 400 residents, was once a major player in the Australian onion industry. Today, it’s a centre for dairy.
Not many towns the size of Cororooke can boast a modern arts facility that would fit nicely in the swankier parts of central Melbourne, but Cororooke does, thanks to the initiative of local dairy farmers Andrew and Mary Beale and a dedicated volunteer committee.
Originally St David’s Presbyterian Church, The Red Rock Regional Theatre and Gallery (RRRTAG), which is the Beale’s brainchild, has had a big impact on the social fabric of the little community.
Despite the closure last year of the local Fonterra processing plant casting a shadow over the town, Andrew, and his family’s love of music and art, have created a thriving arts space that is bringing locals together for regular public performances, film nights, concerts and exhibitions.
The idea for the arts centre came about after a tragic accident which took the life of Andrew and Mary’s second youngest daughter, Carolyn.
“I wanted to pursue something that would take my mind off what had happened and also instil some positive vibes back into my life,” Andrew said. “So in 2011 we bought the old church and hall, did some renovations and created the Carolyn Theatre.”
The 80-seat theatre caters for live performances, such as the recent production: ‘Shannon…come home”, an original musical by Jill Meehan about the desperate struggles, hopes and dreams of farmers during Australia’s longest drought. The show received sponsorship from Dairy Australia’s Legendairy communications initiative and the United Dairy Farmers of Victoria (UDV), underpinning the importance of dairying to the small town and its residents.
Andrew and Mary farm 1000 cows, mainly Holsteins with a few cross-breeds, on 2000 acres across four dairy sheds.
“I grew up on the farm,” Andrew said. “We moved there when I was about 11 years old. My father was a policeman; my mother a nurse. They weren’t farmers, but they slipped me into a pair of gumboots from a very early age and I just kept on farming. I’ve been farming for most of my life.”
When he first took over his parent’s farm it was 117 acres. Since then, Andrew and Mary have continued to grow the farm which now operates with seven to eight staff and additional family support.
“We had nine children and they’ve all had the gumboots on at some stage,” Andrew said. “Two of my children are full-time on the farm and another two help out from time to time.”
With his trademark beard and pork-pie hat, Andrew’s a familiar figure in town and he’s also been making a contribution at the national level.
In 2015, he completed the ‘Developing Dairy Leaders Program’ in Canberra and has become increasingly involved with the broader Australian dairy industry.
According to Andrew, encouraging young people into dairying is important for the future and programs like Dairy Australia’s Legendairy communications platform help.
“Anything that encourages youth to stick with dairying, introduces them to dairying and shows them that it’s not all just hard slog - some of it is hard work of course - but there is certainly a lot of joy to be had in it.
“With dairy farming you are close to the cattle, you see them every day, it’s a good income stream and it has a great support network and industry,” Andrew said.
“If you look at the positives, for young people their time is much freer on the farm than the likes of working in a factory or a nine to five job. It’s more flexible. Sure you have to be at the dairy in the morning and afternoon, but you have the day, and you can be creative in lots of different ways in your work or in your own pursuits.”
For Andrew, those pursuits include keeping the RRRTAG ticking along.
In addition to its productions, the venue hosts exhibitions of local artists. A recent example is “Miniscule”, an amazing showcase on tiny canvases, which is the work of 350 artists of all ages.
And it’s truly a Cororooke community affair, with RRRTAG run by four separate community committees.
“The volunteers who work on these committees are fantastic people who put 100 per cent in and that’s what makes RRRTAG successful and an important venue for the town,” he said.
JUSTIN Staley has access to more water than most dairy farmers, but that doesn’t mean he wastes a drop.
The Legendairy farmer from Yarram has the right to use bore and river water to irrigate his family’s 430 acre farm, which means he can grow enough grass to sustain a 670 strong dairy herd.
It’s a situation that means, even in a dry season like the current one, Justin, his wife Stacee and parents Neville and Michelle can still produce plenty of the milk for which Gippsland is famous.
“Right now we are about 550,000 litres up on last year,” he said.
“With the irrigation combined with it being hotter and drier, we are able to grow more grass on the farm.”
Justin’s appreciation of the irrigation allocation – and his parents’ foresight in purchasing water-rights and sinking bores – means he strives to maximise the potential of every litre.
Efficient sprinkler systems and water re-use initiatives in the dairy shed mean that there is little wastage on the farm and plenty of grass grown for the Holstein herd.
Six pivot sprinklers combine with lateral irrigators to get water onto grass when it is most needed and to optimise growth.
“It’s just about better utilisation of the water so we can grow more grass with less water instead of wasting it,” Justin said.
Underground water is metered, with the Staleys having to keep within their annual entitlement. This helps ensure there is enough water for other farmers to use, as well as helping to maintain sustainable levels for the environment.
In the dairy shed, which boasts a 50-unit rotary milker, all water usage is monitored to ensure no wastage occurs.
“We are a pretty low water-use dairy,” Jason said.
“We don’t have hoses running for the whole milking, we turn it on more sporadically when we’re washing the platform to keep it more water efficient.”
“We’ve also have a re-use flood wash so that once it has been through the dairy and down to the settling pond we could pump it back up.”
“Our plate cooler also re-uses the water straight back into a tank.”
Justin said a dry 18 month period had focused attention on water use – even on a farm with access to irrigation allocations.
“We are probably more aware of water usage and just how valuable it is, especially in a year like this,” he said.
They say you can take the boy out of the country but you can’t take the country out of the boy, and that’s definitely the case with dairy farmer, Ken Ackerley.
Ken was born and raised on a farm near Colac and has spent all his working life on a dairy farm.
If everything goes to plan, the 65-year-old will spend the rest of his days on the same farm.
The same applies to his wife Jenny who grew up on a beef, sheep and dairy farm near Lavers Hill and likewise has no desire to leave the land.
Just the thought of moving to town, let alone a big city, is enough to raise their hackles.
“I couldn’t live in the town; I just couldn’t,” Ken says.
“I like the freedom here and I still enjoy it.”
Jenny is the same. When asked if she would ever consider moving to town the answer is a resounding ‘no’.
“Neither of us have ever lived in a town,” she said. “We both grew up on farms and lived all our lives on farms. Our girls all grew up on the farm and it’s the same with our grandkids.”
Two of their daughters are involved in the farm partnership and the third lives not far away in Port Campbell.
“We’re very lucky,” Jenny says. “Having family growing up on the farm is one of our great pleasures.”
Ken and Jenny bought their farm between Timboon and Peterborough in 1981 after earlier managing Ken’s parents’ farm at Colac and share farming in the Heytesbury settlement and Timboon areas.
They now milk 500 cows on the home rotary dairy, along with 270 crossbred cows on a second farm run by their daughter and son-in-law.
Ken is the longest standing current member of the Port Campbell Dairy Discussion Group which will celebrate its 50th anniversary with a reunion dinner on January 30, 2016.
According to Ken, learning from fellow farmers – just like he did - is one of the best ways to make headway in the dairy industry.
“If young farmers can get around and see a few farms that aren’t too heavily involved in buying feed, it might help them to get back to basics,” he said.
Growing grass was a key topic in the early days of the discussion group and the Ackerleys say that remains a vital part of farming today.
To combat rising bale feed costs the farm has “upped the ante” this year on home-grown grass.
“Costs are the main issue facing farms,” Ken said. “This year we’ve cut our feed costs by more than half. We were bale feeding six kilos on this farm, seven on the other, now we’re feeding three.
“We’ve always grown a lot of grass and cut a lot of silage, but this year we’ve concentrated on growing more. We’ve upped the ante again.”
The dairy industry has been good to the Ackerleys and they are pleased to support the Legendairy communications initiative so more people understand the appeal of dairying.
Now in their 60s, Ken and Jenny are still active on the farm.
“We don’t milk but we get involved in everything else,” Ken said. “Most of the management decisions get thrown on my shoulders.”
The freedom of their lifestyle is hard to resist.
Thanks to support from family, the Ackerleys to take a three-month break over summer and another two-month holiday later in the year and they allow plenty of time for their children to also take holidays.
As you can imagine, big cities are not on their holiday wish list.
In an ideal world Warren Davies would still be rising with the sun to milk cows on his northern Victorian dairy farm. However, like many farmers in the region in the early 2000s, high interest rates, low commodity prices, flood and drought forced Warren off the land.
But the tough times weren’t enough to dampen his love of dairying.
Today the dairy industry in northern Victoria has turned the corner and is again on an upward curve and Warren has turned to the next best thing to farming… talking about it.
The 47-year-old father of five from Kyabram has launched a new public speaking and consulting business `The Unbreakable Farmer’. He says resilience, persistence, and determination are what make a good `unbreakable’ dairy farmer and he’s had to use all those skills over the years.
Born and raised in Melbourne, Warren’s parents Ron and Sandra were small business owners who ran milk bars, butcher shops and post offices.
However, Ron always dreamed of becoming a dairy farmer and in 1982 fulfilled that dream. “One September holiday we visited friends at north Mooroopna and by Melbourne Cup day we were moving to a farm at Merrigum,” Warren recalls.
Initially they milked about 60 cows but five years later the family moved to a bigger farm at Tongala.
Warren admits he didn’t like school and left as soon as he could find a job. Dairy farming was his first choice and for seven years he worked as a farm hand at Merrigum. In 1989 aged just 22, Warren and his new wife Merrilyn bought the farm next door to his parents.
“We joined together and started a bigger family farm and kept growing the business,” Warren said.
In 1999 Warren and Merrilyn bought the family farm which continued to grow until the impact of the drought hit around 2004.
“That was a very bad time,” he admits. “We decided to get off the farm. We’d gone through a couple years of drought and there was no end in sight.”
The family, with a fifth child on the way, moved to Mt Gambier where Warren took on a farm management job.
However, in the downturn they couldn’t quickly sell the farm and had to meet loan repayments through agistment.
They later returned to northern Victoria to be closer to family and Warren undertook finance and business courses before returning to farm management roles and working in rural real estate.
The idea for The Unbreakable Farmer was born when Warren spoke with local farmers about selling their land. “They were thinking the only option was to sell. It got me thinking that maybe I could help these people.”
A year ago he decided to pursue an idea to remotely manage farms and set up his two-pronged business that covers farm management consulting and public speaking. “I do a bit of coaching and tell my story,” he said. “I think telling my story can help people. It’s not just about dairy farming; it can be related to any business or organisation.”
A supporter of the Legendairy communication initiative to raise the profile and reputation of the industry, Warren is keen to spread the word about how good the industry is, even though he experienced tough times.
“I wouldn’t swap being a dairy farmer or being involved in the dairy industry,” he said. “It’s served our family well; it’s just that circumstances were sometimes stacked against us. I still love being involved with the farms, the cows and the dairy people.”
Warren doesn’t shy away from the impact farming had on his mental health, finances and family. “It took a fairly big toll on our young family, especially at the time we were leaving the farm,” he said. We didn’t just lose our farm, we lost our home, our job and our identity, but we had to walk away. We had no other option. If we had stayed another six months the bank would have been knocking on the door, as it was with other people. We wanted to leave on our terms,” Warren said.
“Because of my experiences I believe I can help farmers, especially with people management. Farms have evolved from family businesses to employing people. That was one of my biggest challenges in going from farm owner to farm manager,” he said. “Most dairy farmers are good at managing cows, managing pastures and their farms, but the people side can be outside their field of expertise.
“In my consulting role I basically manage the managers. Until you step out like I had to, you don’t realise how good it is. That’s what keeps me going back to dairy and trying to help farmers.”
From a four-year-old feeding calves to a 13-year-old starting her own jersey stud on her parents’ Gippsland farm, Beth Scott has always loved being in the dairy industry.
Now she’s on a study adventure that she hopes will lead to benefits for all farmers.
Over the next two years Beth will study a Masters in quantitative genetics at Wageningen University in The Netherlands. The course is recognised for its excellence and Wageningen is ranked as number two in the field of agriculture on world university rankings.
It’s heady stuff for a 23-year-old from Wonthaggi in South Gippsland but she’s up for the challenge.
“The course is going well and I’m really enjoying it, however it’s quite intense,” Beth said. She has already taken bridging courses in animal genetics, and breeding programs and statistics, and in the next period will take genetic improvement of livestock and genomics.
She’s also joined a hockey club and is learning to speak Dutch. “I’ve been put in contact with a dairy farm so I was able to go get my farming fix,” she said.
“I really hope I can use genetics to improve my own small Jersey herd,” she said. “I’ll be doing a research project on Australian Jersey data and hope to learn something that helps our industry. My uni degree only touched on genetics so I’m looking forward to learning a lot more about a very specific aspect of dairying that I’m quite passionate about.”
Beth also has a broader goal in mind. “I hope to develop something that will directly benefit all dairy farmers,” she said. “I’ll have a niche qualification in Australia in quantifying genetics between different bulls and it could lead to further research in a PhD when I get home.”
Her study has been supported by Dairy Futures Cooperative Research Centre, Australian Dairy Herd Improvement Scheme (ADHIS) and Jersey Australia.
Jersey Australia has been active in the area of dairy research for many years and its members have contributed to a fund that they hoped in time would be utilised to support Jersey specific projects.
“Beth Scott, with her background in Jerseys and passion for dairy science, seemed the perfect fit for us to support,” said Jersey Australia President Peter Ness. “It’s important for Australia to develop its own dairy scientists and Beth is a wonderful candidate.”
While Beth needed good marks and went through a rigorous enrolment process, her farming background also helped her to get into the elite course.
“I think it helped that I’m from a dairy farm,” she said. “Virtually all my childhood memories are of being with either mum or dad out on the farm after school. My earliest memory is of helping with the calving.”
Beth’s interest in genetics was sparked when she started her own Jersey herd at age 13.
“As a young person I quite liked showing,” she said. “At that stage it wasn’t necessarily genetics; it was more just a passion for dairy cows and being with like-minded people with the same passion.”
Even though Beth grew up in a rural area, not many of her school friends shared her background or her passion. “I lived and breathed it but not many kids my age came from dairy farms and they didn’t really like it. It’s different now; a lot of people I went to school with work on dairy farms.”
At their peak, the family had 700 cows on one farm and 300 on another. Although most were Holsteins, Beth preferred Jerseys. “I liked their unique personalities and I’ve still got a soft spot for them,” she said.
Her four siblings followed other career paths but Beth always had dairying in mind. Last year she completed a Bachelor of Animal and Veterinary Bioscience at the University of Sydney, looking at preventative health issues with a focus on animal welfare to improve productivity and profitability.
Since finishing her degree Beth has been working on the Gippsland farm owned by her father John Scott where she’s been analysing data to improve on-farm health management, such as reducing mastitis. “It’s my first opportunity to use aspects of my degree to directly have an impact on herd health on farm,” she said.
“I love working with animals. They don’t have to be pedigree animals; I just like the individual care you can give to animals.”
Although her father’s primary focus isn’t on genetics, Beth is trying to change his mind.
“We’ve seen an increase in milk production through the use of improved genetics of up to 3000 litres per cow per year. If you can increase milk production and select bulls that have daughters who are more fertile, more likely to get in calf and less likely to get mastitis for the same price as a bull that doesn’t rank as high in these traits, to me it makes sense.”
Beth hopes to improve the community’s knowledge of dairy and is a strong supporter of the Legendairy communications initiative to raise the profile and reputation of the industry.
“It’s a really good campaign and will reduce separation between people on dairy farms and people in the city,” she said.
“We need people to know we’re passionate about our farms and our animals, and see the positive influence dairy has on the wider community.”
For media and Legendairy inquiries please contact:
Suzi O’Dell — Communications and Engagement Manager, Farm Communities, Dairy Australia
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Julie and Bruce Buck might have moved off the land but a memento of their dairy farming life has stayed with them and become something of an accidental tourist attraction. The unique, chainsaw-carved tree-trunk letter box in the shape of a farmer and his cow takes pride of place outside their new home on the Princes Highway in Panmure, south-west Victoria.
It's even become an attraction for passing motorists in one of Australia’s heartland dairy regions.
"We often see a car stop out the front and someone hop out and take a photo, then off they go again," Julie said.
There’s just one drawback – the carving doesn’t get used for its original purpose.
"It was made as a mailbox, but we don’t have mail delivered out here," Julie said.
Still, the Bucks don't mind having their unusual and unused mailbox in the spotlight.
"Being on the highway more people see it now. Not a lot of people saw it on the farm, though the odd person stopped for a photo," Julie said.
The Bucks bought the chainsaw carving about five years ago at the Noorat Show after Julie watched the artist at work from a nearby food van that she was manning for the day.
"I thought; fancy putting a chainsaw artist next to a food van with all the dust and noise," Julie said.
Then she saw his work.
“I loved it,” Julie said. “Being a dairy farmer, I loved the image of the cow. It’s certainly an attraction now. I hope it reminds people about the dairy industry.”
Just like the carving that moved with them, the Bucks have also found it too hard to give up farming completely.
Julie and Bruce leased their Laang farm about 18 months ago and moved to Panmure, but they keep a close interest in the dairy industry and run young stock on a 40 hectare block.
“We wanted a change but Bruce didn’t want to sell the farm so we leased it,” Julie said. “Leasing is like letting go without letting go. It’s always there if we feel the need to go back.”
The oversized letterbox is also always there as a constant reminder of their active farming days.
“It was part of the farm that we couldn’t let go,” Julie said.
Julie was on the farm for 18 years while Bruce grew up on the family property. Both are strong supporters of dairy and the Legendairy communications initiative to raise the profile and reputation of the industry.
“The dairy industry has been good to us and I’m really pleased if our letterbox gets people thinking and talking about the industry,” Julie said.**
A Port Campbell group believed to be Australia’s longest running dairy discussion organisation is set to celebrate its 50th anniversary early next year.
On Saturday January 30, 2016 past and present members of the Port Campbell Dairy Discussion Group will come together for a reunion dinner at the Port Campbell Surf Club.
When the group started in early 1966 televisions were in black and white, The Beatles ruled the airways and computerised dairies were a thing of science-fiction.
A lot has changed since then but the discussion group has remained a constant source of information and inspiration for local farmers.
Group leader Andy Powell, a second generation member who follows in the footsteps of his father Ross, said the major milestone was good reason for celebration.
“The group has helped a lot of farmers over the years,” Andy said. “The greatest learning tool a farmer can have is to learn off other farmers.”
The group was started in 1966 by Department of Agriculture officers Jack Green and John Cruickshank and an enthusiastic collection of local farmers.
The first meeting was held in July 1966 and Gus Ward was elected leader.
Interest was so strong that another group was formed a few weeks later with Ron Follett as leader. Each group had about 14 members and operated separately until the early 1970s when they were reunited.
The group now has 65 members and hopes to make the reunion a milestone event.
“We’d like to see all past and present people come along, and it’s open to non-members and others who are interested in dairy or in discussion groups,” Andy said.
“We hope to have some of the original members here so they can compare things with the modern generation.”
The group has defied the fate of other now dissolved bodies by keeping its focus on issues of relevance to local farmers.
“Port Campbell has always been a success because it is farmer-driven and because of the calibre of the farmers in the group,” Andy said. “The group is very proactive, always keeping on top of the major issues,” he added.
The group has a broad reach, covering to Ecklin, Brucknell, Simpson, Princetown and Mepunga.
It has played a strong part in the region’s economic growth. “Dairying is the backbone of local business,” Andy said. “Towns like Timboon would find it very hard without dairy. If the dairy industry is down, places like Warrnambool also feel it.”
Corangamite Shire Mayor Cr Chris O’Connor said discussion groups were great value
“I used to regularly attend discussion groups when I was farming so know the value they bring, particularly to younger farmers,” Cr O’Connor said.
“All farmers are very generous with sharing information.”
Dairy Australia Communications and Engagement Manager, Farm Communities - Industry Promotion and Product Innovation, Suzi O’Dell, said the anniversary milestone was a credit to the commitment of local farmers.
“It’s a truly `Legendairy’ effort by local farmers to sustain a group for 50 years and it shows just how dedicated farmers are to ensuring they use best practice,” Ms O’Dell said.
The Legendairy communications initiative to raise the profile and reputation of the industry is supporting the group’s 50th anniversary dinner.
If you would like more information about the group and the reunion please contact Rachael Campbell at the Department of Economic Development on (03) 5336 6868 or email@example.com.
When Shirley Harlock married onto a dairy farm, she knew nothing about cows or the industry.
“I was a town girl from Warrnambool,” Shirley admitted. “My father said it would never last; I’d never get up in the morning.
“I had a lot of people to prove wrong.”
And prove them wrong she has.
Forty-five years after that first tentative step onto a dairy farm, Shirley, alongside fellow western Victorian dairy farmer Anne Adams, became one of the first two women inducted onto the Western Victorian Dairy Industry Honour Board.
“I was very humbled by it, but at the same time very proud that two women were nominated,” Shirley said. “I don’t usually play the gender card but dairy usually involves a husband and wife partnership. It’s a secret to success that you work together. This award recognises that women play a big role in dairying, particularly in the Western District.”
Apart from remaining an active dairy farm owner with her husband John, Shirley continues to be a proactive industry representative who advocates for Australian dairy and supports the application of science and innovation into farming practice.
Shirley held local and executive positions on United Dairyfarmers of Victoria and was a Director of the Australian Dairy Farmers Board. She represented farmers on the State Water for Growth Committee and was Chair of Dairy Food Safety Victoria for 10 years from 2003.
She was appointed Chair of the Dairy Australia Future Dairy project in 2005, charged with research, development and adoption of robotic technology onto Australian dairy farms, and in 2012 won the NSW Dairy Science Award. Her involvement continues as Chair of the Sustainable Agricultural Fund.
Shirley was also Chair and a Director of Warrnambool Co-Operative Society for 10 years.
Her extensive industry involvement had a dual purpose: not only did she want to give back to the industry, but she wanted to learn from those around her.
“Dairy offers so much opportunity if people want to learn and to grow,” she said.
“John and I decided the only way to learn was by going out and seeing how other people do things. In 1976 there was a big downturn in price and weather and we had just bought a farm. You think you’re the only one with problems but you find everyone else has got them. Collectively there are ways to address them. Going to discussion groups and getting involved in the UDV taught me a great deal.
“I always believed that if you’re not involved, you’re part of the problem. It’s only by being involved that you can attempt to solve any problem. You don’t wave magic wands but I do get cross when dairy farmers just grizzle.”
Shirley increased her involvement around the time deregulation was starting.
“That was going to be huge and could have had a big impact on our business. John and I thought ‘how are we going to manage this?’ All that information came by being involved on farmer bodies and committees.”
The Harlocks moved to Warrnambool in 1983 and bought Wollaston Farms.
“I milked and I also worked for the police department for many years. It was a dual income,” she said.
Expansion followed and Shirley and John now operate a dairy just outside Warrnambool, beef operations at Tarrone and Macarthur and have a farm in Lucindale, South Australia, running dairy, beef and prime lambs.
They previously had three dairies, at Koroit, Yambuk and Warrnambool.
“We had all of it in one basket. Fortunately when the price crash came in dairy two years ago, prime lambs were good that year. Diversification, if you can do it, really pays off.”
They bought the South Australian farm in response to climate change.
“We were seeking more water. The idea of buying land in South Australia was to ensure that if it’s a dry year we can grow lucerne under pivot and take it back to Warrnambool. If it’s a good year, we run prime lambs and beef.”
Despite the diversification, dairy still has a place in her heart although it is a tough industry.
“Dairy on its own is a risk. The volatility in price and weather has increased dramatically. If you strike the two in one year and you’re just starting off, it’s a tough gig. That’s how we lose the people we can ill afford to lose – the young and up-and-coming farmers.”
Another big challenge is input costs.
“I call them the ‘three big Fs’ – fertiliser, fuel and fodder. They have all increased dramatically and we can’t do anything about them,” Shirley said.
“The other big sleeper for agriculture is energy. Our power costs are a big challenge and there is a 12-year or longer payback on solar.”
Shirley advocates continuing investment in research and development.
“Robotic technology won’t be for everyone, but for those who want to take it up it will be an alternative way of harvesting milk and a way to attract younger ones. We’re not going to get young people coming in at 5am and doing it seven days a week. All that sort of thing has gone.
“We need to attract managers of technology, rather than managers of drudgery.”
Shirley also advocates for sustainable farming and finding ways for young people to progress in the industry, and says there must be a rewarding return at the farm gate for farmers to meet the growing global demand for dairy food.
“I just visited a farm with 3500 cows 24-7 under the roof. There are different ways in which you can dairy.”
Shirley remains proud of their advancement over the past 45 years.
“We came to Warrnambool with 120 cows wondering where the next dollar would come from and built an enterprise that gives us a rewarding lifestyle, satisfactory income and choices by being able to grow scale.”
After 45 years Shirley wants to remain in agriculture.
“We have to manage everything delicately. While we can make it pay and make it work we’ll stay dairying. We’ve really enjoyed the lifestyle and the people and it has been very rewarding.”
Today as a university student animals still rule the roost.
Wendy is in the second year of a Bachelor of Agriculture majoring in production animal health at the University of Melbourne.
On study breaks she’s home on the farm helping tend to the calves and feeding the cows.
“I think I prefer working with animals,” Wendy said. “I’ve always been around animals…sometimes they’re easier to understand than humans.”
Wendy hails from a large farm between Winchelsea and Dean’s Marsh which is home to a 600 Jersey dairy herd, along with a few hundred sheep plus some Angus beef cattle.
The farm, originally her grandparents, is now run by her parents Lyn and David and her uncle Paul.
One of five sisters, Wendy finds the farming lifestyle is exhilarating. “We all enjoy it and help out on the farm where we can,” she said. “It’s a good family environment when you have to work together.”
Following that old cliché about being able to take the girl out of the country, but not the country out of the girl, moving to Melbourne for study hasn’t diluted her love of the land.
“I think I appreciate it more now,” she said. “I have to rent in Melbourne for uni but when I come home the farm has clean, fresh air, and I can go out for a jog. There’s so much going on but it’s peaceful at the same time.”
The farm has “a bit of everything,” although it’s dairy that remains Wendy’s favorite.
“I prefer dairy, but I’m not a milker,” she admits. “I think milking is the downside of having a dairy farm but I like helping in the calf shed. When I’m home from uni I like feeding the calves, rearing them and feeding the heifers out in the paddock,” she said.
If she’s biased against milking, she’s also biased towards Jerseys.
“We’ve always had Jerseys and I’m a bit biased to them,” Wendy said. “They’re peaceful and calm and like to come up for a pat and scratch. They’ll head butt you if you don’t scratch them.”
This love of animals is something Wendy notices throughout the dairy industry and she supports the Legendairy communications initiative to raise the profile and reputation of the industry.
“Most farmers look after their animals before themselves. They go to their animals even before they have breakfast,” Wendy said.
“Animals are the livelihood of farmers; you have to look after them to be producing money and your animals always come first.”
This attitude helped her decision making when it came to further study, although her end point career still remains a mystery,
“I knew I wanted to be in agriculture and I’ve always enjoyed animals and genetics, nutrition and the animal welfare side of things, but I still don’t really know where I want to be within the industry,” she said.
Wendy recently completed a two-week industry placement at the Australian Dairy Herd Improvement Service (ADHIS), but while that was an enjoyable experience it hasn’t made her choice any clearer.
“There are so many more options that I didn’t even know existed before I went there. I might keep studying after my degree and go into research.”
“It’s hard to decide…everything’s so interesting.”
During her placement Wendy went to the Victorian Winter Fair at Bendigo to speak to farmers about the new ADHIS Australian breeding indices.
“They were all Holstein cows up there so I had a few stud breeders try to convince me Jersey cows are no good, but they didn’t change my mind,” she said.
However, farmers were more receptive to new ideas.
“They were happy to talk to me about their experience and how they breed animals,” Wendy said. “The majority were positive and gave great advice and feedback.”
“A lot were looking for more type in their animals, for udder confirmation and their legs. It was good they can now select on that, not just on production.
“It’s good to get research out to farmers. They want to learn new things to improve their system which will improve their income and the welfare of their animals.”
After all, your animals always come first.
During the week Paul Foster herds a team of 450 Friesian cows around his family dairy farm at Bungador, near Simpson in south-west Victoria.
On the weekends he’s in charge of another team as the new joint senior football coach for the Cobden Football Netball Club ‘Bombers’.
Combining both jobs is a dream come true for the long-serving dairy farmer and dedicated footballer.
That’s why he’s supporting the AFL’s upcoming Legendairy Farmer Round between Collingwood and Adelaide on April 11, which will celebrate Australia’s dedicated dairy farmers and the important role that footy and community often play in local dairy towns.
“A lot of city people wouldn’t know how farms are run or what’s involved with farming,” Paul said. “To be a good dairy operation these days you’ve got to have excellent management skills. Gone are the days when all you did was bring the cows in and milk them and let them out again. It’s a seven-day-a-week job and it’s more mentally draining than anything.”
Paul describes dairy farming as the backbone of the Cobden region and the football club.
Cobden’s cattle club fundraises for the Bombers, with plenty of donations from local farmers.
“We have 40 to 50 farmers or more who chip in,” Paul said. “It’s a good fundraiser for the club. They’re a real strength behind our club.”
Paul’s parents have also been involved for years; his father Michael was a Colac football star in the 1970s and a past club vice president, while his mother Jan is a current committee member.
Not only are dairy farmers always willing to support the club – but many have excelled on the playing field as well.
The Cobden region has produced many top AFL players. The current list includes Gary Rohan (Sydney Swans) and Ben Cunnington (North Melbourne), who both hail from dairy farms. Essendon’s Merrett brothers are also from the area.
Two Cobden players and dairy farming brothers, Joe and Levi Dare, won the Hampden League’s Maskell Medal in 2012 and many dairy farmers feature in the club’s list of life members, with Brad Couch, Greg Tongs, Stephen Hammond and Grant Smith being recent additions, while Marty and Ben Darcy coach in junior ranks.
“We’ve been lucky enough to have local dairy farmers who are very good footballers and very loyal,” club president David Buckle said.
One of those is Paul, who has played football all his life and never contemplated leaving the Bombers since starting in the under 14s.
For the past five years he has captained Cobden and is well-prepared to take the next step alongside co-coach Wayne Robertson.
“When the club approached me about coaching I thought it was a good opportunity to give it a crack.”
Having lost some senior players, he hopes to fast-track the development of younger players this year.
So what is it that makes so many dairy farmers do well in football?
“I’m not too sure. I guess you’re physically fit. It’s a taxing job. When you’re training as well you’re probably as fit as you could be,” reckons Paul.
Paul spent more than five years as a builder in Cobden but his heart was in dairy farming and the lifestyle that he grew up with.
“Mum and dad wanted me to get out and have a look at something else, but I was always interested in coming back to the farm,” he said.
In hindsight it was good to get experience outside the farm gate.
“You get to develop a work ethic working under someone else. You have to toe the line. It puts you in good stead when you come home – you know you have to knuckle down and work.”
His flexible farming lifestyle has allowed Paul to step up.
“I like the farm lifestyle; you’ve got to work but I’m in a position where I can work around myself a little bit,” he said.
“I can organise jobs to free myself up if I have to. I’m pretty fortunate with the help I’ve got around me; dad’s got his finger on the pulse and helps out and we have two full-timers working here.”
Michael and his brothers John, Bernie and Noel were raised on a dairy farm on the rocky borders of the Stony Rises at South Purrumbete. They all moved to the Bungador area to set up their own farms. Bernie and Noel have since sold their properties but Michael and Paul are continuing the family tradition and John’s sons Glenn and Dean run his farm at Simpson.
Paul, 28, admits he’s fortunate to have stepped into a family-run farm.
“I don’t know how a young bloke would go out and buy a farm but it’s a good industry to get into. There’s a lot of upside to it. We’ve got to remain positive and keep upbeat.”
He hopes more young people will be encouraged into dairy farming.
“There aren’t a lot of young blokes around my age in the industry. There a few younger guys who’ve come back to the farm but in general there’s not enough young guys in farming.”
Some days – particularly around calving – it’s hard to make footy training. But Paul has no hesitation in honing his juggling skills to suit his new coaching role.
“I’ll have to free up a bit more time,” he said. “You’ve got to put time into it; you just can‘t expect things to happen. Coaching evolves each year so you’ve got to keep up with the standards or get left behind.”
So is it easier to control a herd of cows or a team of footballers? Paul says they both have challenges but both have their benefits.
“I don’t know if I can answer that. I enjoy both,” he said.
Cobden’s Kevin Hinkley knows a lot about growing up in a big family on a dairy farm.
Kevin was one of 15 children raised on a farm between Colac and Camperdown. He now has seven children of his own and reckons farm life can’t be beaten when it comes to raising a family.
Kevin’s great grandparents landed in Portland from England and worked locally for many years. His father Arthur and his brothers and sisters later moved to the Colac and Camperdown areas and set up dairy farms, starting a family tradition now into its third generation.
“My father brought up all 15 kids on the dairy,” Kevin said.
Four of those children continued in the dairy industry, including Kevin who married Ellen in 1953. The couple then got their own farm at Tesbury in the Stony Rises, where they brought up five girls and two boys. Both sons, John and Mick, in turn followed the family tradition, becoming local dairy farmers. Today, John is milking 650 cows and Mick about 340.
Now 84 and long retired from farming, Kevin was chosen as one of the ‘Legendairy seven’ local dairy farmers to take part in the Cobden Spring Festival street parade in 2014.
As a supporter for the Legendairy communications initiative to enhance the profile and reputation of the dairy industry, Kevin says that the industry deserves more recognition.
“It’s a big industry,” he said. “It’s become big now; that’s the only difference as far as I can see. It’s still a good lifestyle for families and there’s still money in it if you’ve got your head screwed on the right way.”
As a fitness fanatic who still walks 90 minutes every morning and every afternoon, he’s also pleased to support the upcoming AFL Legendairy Farmer Round between Collingwood and Adelaide on April 11, which will celebrate Australia’s dairy farmers and their communities, and the connection between farming and football.
After selling his farm about 20 years ago, Kevin bought a smaller property at Bostocks Creek where he reared heifers before he and Ellen finally retired into Cobden.
“It’s all right,” he said of living in town. “But I’d sooner be out on the farm.”
He continues to maintain an active interest in the dairy industry through John and Mick’s successful dairying careers, believing there are good prospects ahead.
“If you’re dedicated to it, listen to what’s going on, see what’s going on and don’t have to bring too much extra feed through the gate, you can make a good go of it,” he said.
“I’ve always thought it’s better to grow more feed at home than bring it in, and to calve so your cows are milking when you’ve got grass in the paddocks.
“Dairy farming isn’t going to be easy today but it never was easy. The only trouble now is you need a million dollars to start and that’s a lot of money if you haven’t got it.”
Farming on the Stony Rises wasn’t easy for Kevin, but with typical farmer fortitude he never let a rocky terrain hinder his ambitions.
“There was a lot of flat country with no stones but also a lot of stone barriers,” he said.
While it was “bloody hard for a long time”, the farm and its lifestyle lived up to Kevin and Ellen’s expectations.
“It was a great life. You’ve got a chance to do what you like. It’s also quiet and I like that.”
Along with the dairy farming legacy, Kevin also started a local football and sporting legacy.
Although not a player himself, he and Ellen encouraged all their children into sport, one of the joys of life in the country.
“They all had their opportunities,” Kevin said. “I did the milking and the farm work and Ellen did the running around with the sport for our kids. We worked as a team like that.”
Mick and John both played football locally, and John went on to coach South Purrumbete to a premiership before retiring.
John’s son Matt won the Cobden golf club title when he was just 14 and Mick’s son Paul is something of a local footy VIP.
He was the only Hampden player to make the 2014 Victorian country side and recently moved to Geelong to play for the Newtown and Chilwell Football Club – but he has plans to continue the family tradition and return to dairying after pursuing his promising footy career. In the meantime, sister Natalie Tongs and her husband Greg has come home to run the farm.
This year is the first in memory that the Hinkley family doesn’t have a player in the Cobden team. John’s three children and Mick’s five all played for Cobden at some stage.
When times get tough on the farm, it’s local sporting clubs that often help to pull people through.
So say northern Victorian dairy farmers Jade and Belinda Clymo, who devote much of their free time to their small community’s vital sports culture, and are supporters of the Legendairy communications initiative, which next month will celebrate the Australian dairy industry and the connection between football and dairy farming when the AFL hosts its Legendairy Farmer Round between Collingwood and Adelaide Football Clubs on 11 April.
“When farms hit hard times, that’s when your sports become really, really important, because you’ve got a social and support network where you can get together with other farmers and realise you’re not the only ones that are having to cope with it,” Belinda said.
The couple farms in Calivil, 70 kilometres north of Bendigo, in an area that has seen its share of challenges for local agriculture, including a decade-long drought, floods and devastating winds.
“Our area has no town or shops, but there’s football, tennis, netball, bowls and golf all in the one spot. Sport is our biggest crowd-puller and the strongest string that keeps everyone together,” Jade said.
“The stronger the football club is, the stronger the community is, which also makes our business better off because we’re bringing people into a strong, active community.”
While Jade has now permanently hung up his footy boots, he’s still a fixture in the local scene, teaming up with Belinda to help run the local Auskick program.
“Injuries and old age led to the end of it,” he said. “Every now and then I’m a runner for the seniors, but I’m pretty much the Auskick bloke now. After school we run the clinics for about 30 kids.”
They’re also involved in local tennis – Jade as league president and Belinda heading up the Calivil club.
“We’ve been brought up that way; you’ve got to back your community activities and support them, otherwise they don’t happen,” Belinda said.
“It’s important to keep these grassroots clubs running. The Calivil and East Loddon area is not huge, so if they didn’t have their football and netball right here, a lot of these kids probably wouldn’t play sports at all because of the distance people would have to travel to play elsewhere.”
That holds true for the pair’s own kids, Fynn, 7, and Libby, 9, who are both busy with swimming, tennis, footy and netball.
Sport also provides a well-earned break from the farm.
“For Jade, and many blokes in a similar situation: they could work 24/7 and go for weeks without leaving the farm at all. It’s so important for them to have a reason to get off the farm,” Belinda said.
As the Clymos build up their own business, that work-life balance is an important factor.
The couple run their 1000-cow farm with Jade’s parents, Jan and Trevor, both originally from dairying families in nearby Lockington and Bamawm.
Dairy farming is what Jade has always wanted to do – and he doesn’t see that changing any time soon.
“While I’m old for football, I’m only young for a farmer,” the 38-year-old said.
“I think there’s a lot of opportunities in our area. It’s very positive so we want to keep growing and expanding.”
They’ve consolidated four farms into one and installed fully automated irrigation infrastructure to make the business more efficient and able to navigate what can be variable climatic conditions.
“No year here is the same; we can go from wet to dry to hot all in one year. What makes me get up every day is the challenge to get things right,” Jade said.
“I’m not much different to too many other people. There’s a lot of pride in farming, and most people are out there are trying to learn as much as they can and do as good a job as they can with their business.”
The Clymos now employ five full-time staff, which has meant taking a closer look at business operations.
“Labour availability up here is challenging and we’re trying to get more professional with how we employ and keep people,” Jade said.
Belinda grew up in Bendigo and is a trained Dental Hygienist. After 17 years in the field, she took a break from her dental career 12 months ago to focus on the farm business, managing accounts, payroll and HR.
“We’ve put a lot of safety protocols in place, formalised staff inductions and rosters so people have a better idea of what they’re expected to do every day, and we’re encouraging staff to further their training,” Jade said.
And, just like there are benefits to building a strong sense of community through sports, there’s a lot to be said for maintaining a viable, long-term business.
“We all work on the farm, and one day our kids will have the opportunity too, should they chose that career path,” said Belinda.
In this era of professional football training, Frank Howard’s old-time training techniques seem a little quaint.
“We used to train Wednesday afternoon,” the semi-retired 85-year-old dairy farmer from South Purrumbete, Victoria said.
“We were all local farmers and that was the best time for us.”
However, keeping fit was never a problem.
“My main training was to jog along behind the horse and wagon when we took the milk to the factory. I didn’t take much training. I was always that fit from working the farm,” he said.
The system worked well for Frank, who started playing football for South Purrumbete when he was 15, immediately being elevated to the senior ranks.
“I never played junior footy; I played seniors straight away,” he said. “I played half-forward flank. I ran out on the ground and asked ‘where’s this half-forward flank?’ They said ‘get out here mate’. I was pretty quick and graduated to being a winger.”
He played one game with Cobden but broke his wrist.
“Dad was pretty crook on that…I couldn’t milk,” he said.
Frank had won best and fairest awards and when South Purrumbete won a premiership in the Colac and District League in 1960, he decided to go out on a high.
“There were plenty of blokes waiting for a chance. I don’t believe in hanging in. If you’ve had a fair turn at anything, walk out while you’re still going good.”
His connection to football didn’t end, however. He coached the junior team for many years, a task he enjoyed more than any other, and did just about every job around the club, from goal umpire to time keeper.
“Wherever they were short you did it,” he said. “My wife Alma used to work in the canteen. You’ve got to do that in clubs. I met a lot of nice people there.”
Unfortunately, the club folded about 10 years ago.
“It was disappointing but that’s modern life,” Frank said. “Now so many farms are gone the kids don’t get the social life like they used to.”
Frank also spent 10 years as a councillor for Heytesbury Shire, was captain of the Bostocks Creek Fire Brigade for 20 years and was Cobden National Party president for 20 years.
“If you can’t give a bit back to the community I reckon there’s something wrong,” he said.
Frank’s a proud supporter of the Legendairy communication initiative to raise the profile and reputation of the dairy industry and also thinks the Legendairy Farmer AFL Round between Collingwood and Adelaide Football Clubs on April 11 is a great way to encourage young guys on farms to consider playing football.
“I met a lot of great guys through sport,” he said.
Although about to turn 86, Frank remains active on the farm.
Officially he retired 15 years ago but his love of the lifestyle keeps drawing him back. He now lives on the farm with his son Peter and works three or four hours every day.
“I left school when I was 13 and went home on the farm,” Frank said. “I came out of it ok.”
“When I was five I used to go out in the dairy and help,” Frank said. “Lily was my cow. I’d take my mug over and get a few squirts of milk and then try to sneak her some extra food. I always liked my cows. I’d do it all again.”
He’s also a regular on the dancefloor.
From Colac to Winchelsea and over to Cobden, Frank goes to a dance virtually every Saturday night and usually at least one other day each week.
“Dancing and farming keep me fit,” he said. “I have friends who play drums, piano and saxophone and go around to the old folks’ places.
“There are four or five couples who go with them and dance to the music. The folks just love it.”
When he’s not enjoying his old-time dancing, he keeps active around the farm.
“I feed out the silage every morning and night,” he said. “When we harvest I do the mowing and the hay tedding and raking. I don’t bale but I do all the preparation. I love tractor work. I can’t do physical work but I can still go on the motorbike and spray thistles.
“Sitting in the tractor is no big deal now. They’ve changed a lot. They’ve got all the computers and soft seats and air conditioning these days.”
The Howard family has been on the farm for 70 years, gradually expanding over time by investing in 11 neighbouring properties. All four of Frank’s children went into farming.
When he turned 70 Frank handed over the farm to Peter and retired to Cobden with Alma.
After her death about four years ago, he moved back to the land he loves.
He admits he was a bit bored living in town and it wasn’t long after retiring that he started working on the farm.
“I said to Peter I’m bored to death. Do you have any jobs for me?”
Frank started driving out every morning to wash the dairy and other jobs, putting in up to 10 hours a day at harvest.
“That’s why I keep fit I think.”
At Catani Football Club, Australia’s legendary game is forever linked to Legendairy farmers.
The proud footy club, near Pakenham on the eastern outskirts of Melbourne, has a rich history that belies its small population.
One of the keys to the Blues’ ongoing success has been the contribution of the local dairy industry, which has been the lifeblood of the Catani community for over a century.
Col Hobson, who still milks a small herd at an age when most of his old teammates would be retired from work, said dairy farmers were once the dominant players in the Catani team.
“On my little square which I grew up on, which is basically a square mile, there were eleven footballers,” he said.
“They were a huge part of the team every season.”
Col, who played for the Blues before “doing a knee” in the mid-1960s, can still be found turning a sausage at the barbecue or helping clean up after training.
For many at the club – and at sports clubs around the country – the urge to be involved stays with them long after they pull off the footy boots for the last time.
Dairy farmer Grant Williams is another former Catani player who is still contributing to the club by coaching the Under 18s.
With dodgy knees and a large farm, Grant could probably find other ways to fill his time, but recognises the vital role the club plays in the community.
“It’s very important, not only for the social side, but for the fitness side,” he said.
“It’s a place where neighbours can get together and share a common goal.”
Caldermeade dairy farmer John Gillan has been around the Blues for a while too, experiencing moments when being at the club meant much more than just watching a game of footy.
“Back when we had the drought on and everyone was depressed, we’d all come here and we’d be able to talk about it,” he said.
“We could have a chat and a couple of beers. It just meant so much.”
The dairy industry’s links to the club may be strengthened even further with a proposed program connecting footy to Asia.
Club vice president Darrell Egan helped to start China’s first Australian Rules school team when he lived in the Chinese region of Macau in 2011.
Now he sees an opportunity to use football to strengthen the bonds between the two countries.
“We’ve signed a free trade agreement with China, so we can use these social links to help make that agreement work,” he said.
To that end, Darrell has already hosted Chinese junior players, who have come to Catani to train with the club.
With exports to China an increasingly important part of the success of the Australian dairy industry, local farmers like Grant Williams can see the benefits of forging stronger cultural links with the economic giant to our north.
“The Chinese market is very important to us. We’re linked together,” Grant said.
“It’s good for us to understand a different culture and a different farming culture as well.”
Footballers and dairy farmers are joining forces to give country Victorian kids a taste of footy.
Stanhope dairy farmer and local Auskick coordinator, Andrew Hipwell, has organised a major Auskick clinic at the Stanhope Recreation Reserve on March 26 that will bring together about 300 students from seven small local schools.
“It’s just something to give the kids an opportunity and promote fitness and sport,” Andrew said. “Our small schools seem to miss out on opportunities because of their size and location so we thought we’d do something about it.”
The clinic is being supported by Legendairy, the dairy industry’s communications initiative to raise the profile and reputation of Australian dairy.
Andrew said having Legendairy involved was fantastic.
“It’s great that Legendairy has an association with football. That’s what people relate to. Sport in the country is what makes towns tick.”
Legendairy is supporting the event by providing mini-footballs, arm bands and a special Legendairy-branded Sherrin football, which will be given away as a prize on the day.
A father of three and milker of 300 cows on his family farm near Stanhope, Andrew said dairy was the lifeblood of the district.
“It’s all about dairying in this area,” he said. “Stanhope and other towns in the area are real dairy farming communities. Probably 50 per cent of our kids in Stanhope Auskick are off dairy farms and most of the others would have parents or grandparents working at Fonterra.”
The Auskick day also has the backing of the Kyabram District and Goulburn Murray Football Netball Leagues and other local sponsors.
Interest is strong with about 300 students from Stanhope, Girgarre, Harston, Rushworth P-12, Rushworth St Mary’s, and Colbinabbin expected to take part in the clinic.
The clinic comes at an opportune time, as some local football clubs struggle to field junior sides. Stanhope, for example, has lost its under-14s team, although it retains an under-12s side.
“If we can encourage these kids to play we might encourage a few to keep going,” Andrew said. “We’re missing a bit of sport and fitness in the area at the moment.”
The tide is starting to turn in Stanhope. A few years ago only about six children regularly participated when Auskick started. That number grew to 40 last year.
Andrew played football for Stanhope and got involved in Auskick when his twin seven-year-old sons were keen to play.
At 48 and still fit thanks to his farming work, Andrew is happy to get out on the field and lead the way.
“I cramp up a little bit some Thursday nights but I absolutely love it,” he said. “We’re a football-mad family so it’s all good. That’s one of the great things about Auskick. Parents are always there, either watching or helping.”
Parents, teachers and local football clubs, including Stanhope, are supporting the March 26 Auskick clinic and children will wear their local club jumpers.
“This is a real community effort and hopefully one the kids will enjoy and remember for a long time,” Andrew said.
As he helps junior football ranks to revive, Andrew is also looking to a positive future for dairying in the region. The third generation dairy farmer continues to love working in the industry.
“I wish the prices were better but it’s going along not too bad,” he said.
Access to water is the biggest challenge for local farmers.
“Temporary water is $130 a megalitre so people are tending to let pastures dry off. They’re watering a bit less and feeding a lot more in the bale,” he said.
“But I think the attitude is that if we can get through the next 12 months then the industry is going to get better and the prices will come back.”
Ken McSween grew up on a family farm but admits that as a young lad he had no ambitions of becoming a dairy farmer and epilepsy kept him off the football field.
But things sure did change for the dairy farmer from Glenormiston, Victoria.
He eventually came to love dairying and forged a long and successful football career. Today he’s giving back to both the industry and the sport he loves as president of the Terang-Mortlake branch of the United Dairyfarmers of Victoria (UDV) and as president of the Warrnambool District Football Netball League (WDFNL).
For nearly 20 years, Ken and his wife Cindy ran a music and video store in nearby Terang but then took over 94 hectares of surplus land from his brother, Peter.
“Peter didn’t need it so we thought we’d try it,” Ken said. “We found there was more money milking cows at the time than being in retail so we got out of the shop.”
Getting back into dairy was a revelation.
“The cows were all mine,” Ken said. “That was the difference. If I was milking someone else’s cows I never really got interested in it. When they’re mine you really look at them and they’re all different with their own personalities.
“It’s my livelihood. I now find milking cows very therapeutic. I do a lot of my best thinking while I’m milking.”
The flexibility of a farm lifestyle is also a boon for Ken, allowing him the time to give something back to both his loves – the dairy industry and football.
“I milk morning and night and there’s always something to do on a farm, but one of the best things is that you’re your own boss and you can be flexible. If it wasn’t for the farming I wouldn’t be able to do half the stuff I do with the WDFNL.”
As a child with epilepsy, Ken’s football opportunities were limited, so he became involved with the Glenormiston juniors as a boundary umpire. However, the urge to play was strong and he decided to give it a go anyway.
Ken played until he was 45 and returned for two games with local team Kolora-Noorat at age 50, after winning a battle against bowel cancer.
“I made a promise to myself that when I felt better I’d go and play a game of footy. It was more of a psychological thing. If I could play a game of footy, I realised I was right again,” he said.
The two-game comeback went better than expected.
“I had a ball. I just went into the middle of the pack like I always did. I kicked more goals (four) in that first game than I’d ever kicked.”
Turning 57 in March, Ken hasn’t ruled out another one-off comeback later this year.
His long playing career started at Glenormiston, to Terang in the Hampden league before returning to Noorat. He also had coaching stints at Glenormiston College, Mortlake reserves and Derrinallum, where he also played a season on the 1996 premiership team.
Of his eight premierships, that remains his favourite.
His most notorious game was for Noorat in an infamous 1987 grand final against the Purnim Bears in the Heytesbury Mount Noorat League.
The Bears won but were later banned from the competition after six players were reported on 18 different striking charges, some of which led to suspensions of more than two years. Ken admits he’s a bit tired of the infamy that has grown around that game.
“That’s the one I want to forget about but it’s the game everyone keeps reminding me about.”
After the premiership at Derrinallum, the father of four returned to Noorat to finish his playing career and help the juniors, joining the club committee and starting his involvement at an administrative level.
He was elected to the Heytesbury Mount Noorat League executive during its final years before merging into the Warrnambool League. After a few years, he became an executive member of WDFNL and president at the end of the 2013 season – a role he’s obviously well suited to, given that he’s also been president of the Terang-Mortlake branch of the UDV for the past two years.
“To me, the UDV is a chance to try to make every farmer’s life a lot better,” Ken explained.
And, to that end, he’s worked hard to introduce a number of forums to get more farmers involved.
Ken sees similarities in the challenges facing the dairy industry and football when it comes to attracting the participation of young people, and he’s focused on recruiting younger farmers into supporting roles, while encouraging an executive approach to dealing with issues.
“Participation is far more important than attendance. I’ve always had the belief that people won’t turn up unless they get something out of a meeting,” he said.
“The biggest drawback to getting young people into the dairy industry is the cost. We don’t want the price of land to drop but there are some models being put into place to help young people transition into farms.”
Ken also supports stronger links between dairying and the broader community and believes the industry’s Legendairy communications initiative to raise the profile and reputation of Australian dairy is bringing the farmer a lot closer to the ‘regular person in the street’.
“There are a lot of misconceptions about what farmers do. To be a dairy farmer there are loads of different skills you need.”
With his footy hat on, Ken is equally committed to boosting the next generation. He’s overseen the establishment of a junior academy and an innovative substitute rule where junior players are chosen as subs for senior games, doubling the number of kids able to play senior footy.
“In footy we’re being threatened by other codes so we’re working hard to get the kids as early as possible though Auskick.
“Junior development is my mantra.”
And it’s also a goal he plans to keep on kicking – on the farm and at the footy ground.
From Ash Wednesday to Black Saturday, dairy farmers Janet and Rob Auchterlonie have always answered the cry for help.
As Country Fire Authority (CFA) volunteers, the Legendairy couple from Dumbalk, Victoria, have travelled across the state and Australia, assisting communities in their most desperate hours of need for more than 30 years.
While they are among thousands of Victorian volunteers who don the yellow overalls on a regular basis, the constant demands of twice-a-day milking make the sacrifice of the South Gippsland couple even more remarkable.
Both Rob and Janet, who is Dumbalk brigade captain, are all too familiar with the work that awaits them when they return exhausted from an emergency call-out.
“There’s been times when I’ve got home late from a call-out and had to go straight into the shed to milk,” Rob said.
“It has had a negative impact at times.”
As CFA Strike Team leaders, both Janet and Rob regularly attend major fire incidents, taking them from the farm for days at a time to protect lives and communities hundreds of kilometres away.
Rob, who is also heavily involved at district level as a deputy group officer and peer support officer, spent weeks mopping up after Black Saturday and was recently flown to Western Australia as part of a Victorian contingent of fire fighters helping to battle huge bushfires in the state’s south.
“Over many years there’s been a lot of major fires that Janet and I have attended, more recently as Strike Team leaders,” Rob said.
“We’re both Strike Team leaders which means when she goes I’ll stay, and when she comes back I’ll go.”
Son, Doug, who is also a CFA volunteer, works on the farm, which allows Janet and Rob to attend more call-outs than would otherwise be possible.
Once on the fire ground, they use their professional knowledge to protect the most important assets of farms that are under threat.
“I don’t think non-farmers appreciate the value of a dairy herd and dairy sheds,” Rob said.
“They tend to look at saving a house as being the most important thing, whereas farmers look at the herd and think: ‘that’s what has to be saved’.”
The only time that Janet won’t leave the farm for an extended period is during calving and joining, when the health of her 240-strong herd is the number one priority.
“Because herd health is really important to me, that’s the one time of the year when the farm comes first,” she said.
“My aim is never to lose a cow in calving, which takes a fair bit of work. We have a moral obligation to do the best we can for our animals.”
It’s a labour of love for the Auchterlonies, both on the farm and on the back of the fire truck.
“You couldn’t be a farmer unless you really like the job; and you couldn’t put the time into the CFA unless you enjoyed not only the work, but the people you’re working with,” Rob said.
“I think the community certainly values us.”
Gippsland CFA District 9 operations manager, Mark Jones, paid tribute to the Legendairy efforts of the many dairy farmers who volunteer with the emergency service.
“We recognise the tremendous sacrifice of our self-employed volunteers, including dairy farmers, who put everything on hold, including their livelihood, to protect their community,” he said.
Australia’s Legendairy farmers and their communities will be celebrated at the Legendairy Farmer AFL Round between Collingwood and Adelaide on 11 April at Etihad Stadium in Melbourne. The game will also be televised nationally via Fox Footy.
It would be an understatement to say that Karen Moroney knows a thing or two about good lineage.
After all, the fourth-generation dairy farmer hails from what some might consider part of Australian dairy royalty: the Thompson family in Eskdale, Victoria, who first bred the now-popular ‘Aussie Red’ dairy cow in the 1980s.
“It was my family, and particularly my father Bill Thompson, who created the Aussie Red. The idea for the Aussie Red was born here in the area,” Karen said.
Tragically, Bill never had the chance to see just how far his vision would reach, passing away suddenly in 1989 at just 53 years of age.
“He was innovative and forward-thinking, and I’m sure he’d be very proud to see how the little idea that he had about combining the genetics of different red dairy cow breeds has, over time, developed a commercially acceptable modern dairy cow, known for her health and fertility, wide climate tolerance and excellent workability traits,” Karen said.
“Today, the Aussie Red is considered the third-major dairy breed in Australia. That, to us, is really exciting.”
And, the Aussie Red’s popularity is justified, according to Karen, who with husband Wayne, milks 200 of the intensely chestnut-coated creatures on 435 rolling hectares in the Mitta Valley, 60 kilometres south of the Victoria-NSW border.
“It’s an excellent cow to use in a crossbreeding program for the attributes that it brings,” Karen said. “In my opinion they have superior management and health traits than Holsteins. That’s why we choose to milk them.”
According to Karen, the Aussie Red has been developed through careful selection from overseas breeding programs, including fertility, calving ease and disease resistance, which, she said, means a more profitable cow for the Australian dairy industry. They are known for producing milk with high protein content and medium milk fat content.
Karen has continued her father’s vision as a committee member of the Australian Red Dairy Breed organisation and executive officer of the International Red Dairy Breed Federation, which includes 20 member organisations from around the world.
Dairying was not always on the cards for Karen, but the pull of family brought her back into the fold.
“Both Wayne and I had administrative roles in Albury,” she said.
“We were given the opportunity to join a family partnership in the 1980s with my parents, brother and sister-in-law. The chance to raise our family on the farm was a huge drawcard.”
In 2002, the couple began farming in their own right and Karen hasn’t slowed since, making a name for herself in local industry leadership. Last year she joined the board of directors of the Murray Dairy regional development program – Dairy Australia’s local arm in the region.
“I feel privileged to work with people who are so passionate about the industry. It’s very much a skills-based board. The majority of directors are dairy farmers.”
Karen is also a keen contributor to her local community of the Mitta Valley, holding leadership roles in significant projects such as ‘Our Valley Our Future’, a project focused on supporting the local economy, building local opportunities and increasing the capacity and skills of the local community.
The project is a collaboration between the Mitta Valley Advancement Forum, Geoffrey Gardiner Dairy Foundation’s Strengthening Small Dairy Communities program, the Alpine Valleys Dairy Pathways Project and Towong Shire.
She is also vice-president of the Mitta Valley Landcare Group, dedicated to the environmental sustainability of the surrounding area.
The fact that women play such an active and substantial role in industry leadership is pleasing to Karen, who believes the traditional image of agriculture as a man’s profession is out-of-date and counterproductive.
“Women are an integral part of successful dairy farming. I’m pleased women are becoming more involved in the industry at a board level. It’s a healthy sign, and I think it brings a balance and perspective to boards and to decisions. I encourage women to contribute to things they’re passionate about. You have a voice, you have opinions, and they count.”
As for the Moroneys’ own business? They have a vision for growth.
“We’re milking 200 cows but want to cap it at about 270 in the next two to three years. We have three grown sons. Two of them in particular are very interested in the farm, so succession is something we have on the drawing board to look at in the next two years. Everything that we’re doing now is about getting ready to have a growing business based on the right innovations it needs to have going into the future.”
Drought conditions over the last decade made the Moroneys review efficiencies on their farm, especially around power, feed, soil and most significantly, water use. They introduced a new irrigation system and are doing more cropping now because they feel they can’t rely on regular rainfall. There are also plans to do more with the waste water from the dairy.
All signs that point to their confidence in the industry’s long-term future.
“From a personal perspective and in everything that we’re reading, the industry looks like it’s improving. We’re hoping that it’ll become a more steady industry and we won’t get as many of the peaks and troughs in the future,” Karen said.
Resilience is a defining characteristic of the local dairying community.
“Over the last 10 years in the Murray area we’ve had extended bushfires, drought and floods, along with the economic challenge of operating in a global market. The region has shown great strength and versatility to get on and do what it does well – that’s milk production,” she said.
“We look at the challenges and talk about them a lot, but we also need to talk about the success of our farmers. By any measure our farmers are among the most efficient in the world.”
Karen points to the industry’s Legendairy communications platform as a way to highlight that success.
“Legendairy is an excellent dairy awareness campaign that’s not only informative in its content but is fun. It shows respect and it shows that producing food for other people is a really important and honourable job. I think the campaign humanises us, and people actually see more clearly what we do. We’re stewards of the environment, we’re stewards of our cattle and we’re stewards of our land. We’re not going to do anything to jeopardise that.”
As Stephen Henty walks across his dairy farm at Cohuna in northern Victoria, he can’t help but muse over the family ties that have connected the land for more than a century.
His grandfather, Cecil Henty, was one of the original farmers in the area, purchasing the farm in 1909 in a tendering process shortly after the land was split into irrigation blocks.
Stephen’s mother, Mary, kept the farm going in difficult circumstances after the early loss of her husband and Stephen’s father, Jack.
Today it’s Stephen and his wife Margot who keep the farm thriving.
“It’s nice to know the land you walk on has been walked on for three generations by the same family,” Stephen said.
“That’s insignificant compared to 40,000 years for Aboriginal people but it’s still not bad.”
However, it’s the family who have made the 90-hectare farm special.
“I’m only here because my mother was strong to keep the farm going after dad died and I’m only here now because I have a strong wife,” he said.
Stephen grew up on the farm and despite being only 15 when his father died he never had ambitions to do anything else.
“Fortunately, my father was able to pass on some of his knowledge prior to his passing. I was only a kid,” he said.
Stephen was at boarding school when his father died but he continued his education and went on to Dookie Agricultural College before returning to the farm in 1973 aged 22.
At school Stephen was given a questionnaire to indicate what sort of career would suit him.
“I vividly remember making sure I picked the right answers so I would end up with being a farmer,” he said.
All his holidays were spent on the farm helping his mum.
“I probably didn’t understand the business side of it. To me being a farmer was like being on holiday, because that’s what I did. It wasn’t until I came home and started that I realised there was a bit more to it.”
Over the next 40 years, Stephen and Margot adapted and moved with the times.
He says the farm’s dairy and machinery were fairly rudimentary in 1973 but progression has been constant.
“The only way we can stay in the game is to stay ahead of the cost-price squeeze,” Stephen said.
As irrigation farmers, their biggest challenge is water.
“We have to be more productive with less,” Stephen said. “The pressure wasn’t on us quite as much back when I started.
We’d milk 30 to 35 cows per hour. You need to milk many more than that now to be competitive.”
They now milk 220 to 230 cows, mostly Holstein but with some Jersey crosses, in a 16-double-up herringbone dairy.
Production has been consistently over 600 kilograms of milk solids per cow for the past decade, with only minor falls during the drought.
“Because we’re irrigation farmers we like to measure success not only in milk produced but pasture consumed,” Margot added. “Except for the drought years we have been consistently above 10 dry matter tonnes per hectare.”
New technology has helped them keep ahead of the game, improving land and water resources, plant and animal genetics, and most recently replacing old infrastructure with new equipment to make irrigation easier, more efficient and more productive.
“When I first came home our water orders were put on a bit of paper and stuck into a box on a bridge. You’d give four days’ notice and you may or may not get it when you wanted it. Now it’s all done online with 24 hours’ notice. The whole thing has changed.”
According to Stephen, however, the main reason for success isn’t new-fangled equipment and systems but a productive family partnership.
“The main thing that kept me farming was that I married Margot, who has grown into dairy farming. She was a school teacher and didn’t have a dairy farming background but has become an avid dairy farmer and spokesperson for
“It’s always easier to do a job that your partner likes.”
Margot had grown up on a beef farm and was teaching geography but was quick to fall in love with the dairy lifestyle.
“It’s the most challenging industry both intellectually and physically,” she said.
“There’s so much detail and you have to manage so many systems at once. It’s an amazing juggling act with the pastures, mechanics, irrigation and animals.”
Stephen has played his part in the industry by advocating for dairy research and development and supporting Dairy Australia’s regional development programs. He remains adamant Australia needs to do more research and development across all agricultural industries to ensure the country can meet world demand for more food.
Margot has been heavily involved in water services, including a Goulburn-Murray Water farmer representative group and as a director of Waterpool Co-op.
“My interest in geography led me to have an interest in the management of water as a resource,” she said.
The Henty farm has significantly reduced its loss of salt into the Murray River.
“We farm on a very saline high water table,” Margot said.
While the property has been operating as an irrigation farm for more than 100 years, it is the past decade that has been the most productive and environmentally sustainable in its long history.
Margot is also a strong advocate for women in dairy.
“Women are very much part of the team in dairy,” she said.
“They contribute physically as well as doing the books. One of the strengths of dairy is that it’s a team effort. It’s better to have two heads thinking of things than one.”
Stephen said he’s had the good fortune of coming onto a family farm and staying a long time.
“We’ve been able to live comfortably. You’ve got to work at it but there’s the potential to do well. There are a lot of people who’ve done very well out of dairying.”
Their three children work in research science, health promotion and physiotherapy and are unlikely to come back to the farm.
Stephen said: “We’re still healthy enough to do the work, but the succession planning is a dilemma. Ideally we need to find a 30-year-old couple with kids who want to buy a dairy farm. We could take them on for a couple of years and show them the ropes and then slowly scale down.”
Stephen and Margot have one long-term employee, Stephen Baker, who does the morning and night milking, and a new apprentice, Damian Boyer.
The Hentys are strong supporters of the Legendairy initiative to raise the profile and reputation of the industry.
They describe themselves as “full-time professional dairy farmers”.
“Some people don’t realise that it is such a demanding industry that requires professional people,” Margot said.
“In the census there were 6000 dairy farmers in Australia but there were 60,000 professional sportspeople - and who gets all the publicity? We are a very small part of the nation’s population so it is a privilege only a few people have.”
“Legendairy is important for the industry and the products we produce,” Stephen added. “Anything to talk up the industry is good.”
It doesn’t take much to get Stephen to promote his own produce, which he says gives him a kick-start to the day and helps him to wind down at night.
“I’m a great consumer of the products,” he said. “I like a milkshake, flavoured milk, butter and cheese varieties and yogurts. We have to be mindful, we’re producing something that is beneficial,” he said.
“Despite food fads and junk food trends, dairy is a real food that is good for you, and something to be proud of producing.”
They are also positive about the future of the dairy industry.
“In this area at least we’ve got 12 months to make our income, unlike the croppers who can go from a good crop to nothing,” Stephen said.
“The messages we’re receiving about Asia and China are positive. We’re told if they drink two glasses of milk a day, we won’t have enough to supply them.”
So Stephen and Margot will keep on making that milk.
“It takes over your life,” Margot said. “Once you get involved you either fight it or roll with it. I went with it.”
“If the alarm wakes you up, it’s always a good start to the day,” Stephen added.
South-west Victoria’s Aaron Crole sees himself as one of the lucky young dairy farmers as he lives out his dreams on the land.
And he says his parents Wayne and Vickie are fortunate in the dairy world to have two sons and their families who want to work on the family farm in Simpson, Victoria.
Aaron, 30, has been able to get a foot in the industry door by firstly working on his parents’ farm and more recently entering into a share-farming agreement with them on his grandparents’ adjoining property, milking 185 cows on a 137-hectare property.
He has three young children of his own and hopes they will follow the family tradition to create a fourth generation on the land, though he won’t be pressuring them into it.
“We were never forced as kids to do work on the farm. My brother Andrew and I went off and got a trade but we always knew we could come back onto the farm if we wanted,” he said. “I’d love to see the kids continue in farming but I’d never force them.
“My old man is lucky that his two boys wanted to work on the farm. It’s not very often that you see that.”
Aaron’s wife Cassy also grew up on a dairy farm so moving back to the industry was a natural choice.
“It’s the country life everyone dreams of,” he said. “We know what it’s about and we want to bring our kids up the same way.”
When Aaron and Cassy moved to the share farm, Andrew and his wife April returned home to work on his parents’ farm.
The arrangement is working well. Not only have Aaron and Cassy stepped up to one-third share-farming responsibilities in the past three years, he has taken on the leadership for a local dairy discussion group.
Aaron is keen to make a positive contribution to the industry and encourages others to get involved if they can.
“I’ve been with the group for four or five years and they asked me to take on the leader’s role and I said I could handle that.
“We probably average 14 attending once a month. It’s quite open discussion and self-run by the group. I’ve been to other discussion groups and they’re very formal, more of a lecture and not so much discussion. We talk among ourselves on general all-round topics.
“You see and hear things you can pick up and take back to your own farm.”
Apart from the family and lifestyle benefits of farming, Aaron revels in the challenge and fluctuations of the dairy industry and its economic and climactic influences.
“Every year is different; that’s part of the challenge that keeps it interesting.”
On a broader outlook, Aaron sees making the industry affordable to younger farmers as a major challenge.
“We’re one of the lucky ones to have family behind us and get the foot in the door. I know a lot of friends who are keen but can’t get money to get in. Generation change is a big challenge – there are a lot of older farmers trying to get out but farms aren’t selling.”
He also remains cautious about the influence of overseas markets.
“When you look at America and their financial troubles, who knows, that could come over here again,” he said.
But a return to his building trade is not on the cards as Aaron and his family have no plans to leave the industry and lifestyle that they love.
“We’re definitely staying; we’re pretty well set up with our little family kicking along and building to our own farm.”
They hope to buy cows in the next year to 18 months and move up to a 50:50 share. The ultimate goal is to own a farm.
“You’ve got to crawl before you walk, start at the bottom and work your way up. It won’t happen overnight,” Aaron said.
Aaron’s positive outlook for the industry has prompted his support for Dairy Australia’s Legendairy promotional campaign, which launched in August 2013 and is designed to build the profile and reputation of the Australian dairy industry and highlight the enormous contribution dairy farmers make to the Australian economy.
“I think it’s awesome, a real positive for the industry,” he said. “It helps to tell the townies and those from the city what dairying is really all about.”
Not many kids growing up in the 1950s in Broadmeadows, in Melbourne’s outer northern suburbs, dreamed of becoming a dairy farmer. Julian Benson did.
Not many teenagers who get told on their first farm job that they’ll never be a dairy farmer end up making a lifetime career out of it. Julian Benson did.
Today Julian encourages young people to follow their love of the land and introduces tourists from around the world to the wonders of dairy farming.
As a farmer who still loves to “get my hands dirty” in the dairy shed and as the owner with wife Dianne of cheese manufacturing tourist attraction Apostle Whey Cheese near the Great Ocean Road, Julian is one of the dairy industry’s survivors and innovators.
Julian and Dianne’s adoption of practice change and passion for growing the dairy industry led to their success in the inaugural Improved Farm Performance award at this year’s Great South West Dairy Awards.
The award caps off a 40-year career in dairying that shows no sign of slowing.
“I loved dairying from the word go,” Julian said. “I’ve lived the dream really.”
Julian and Dianne now farm with their son Luke, milking a herd of 250 Jerseys and Friesians and running their shop and cheesemaking enterprise.
Julian was introduced to dairying through his sharefarming uncle in Gippsland.
“I would go there for my holidays and the love of nature and the challenges that dairy presents came from that.
“And my auntie was rapt because she could get a break from milking cows.”
From as young as eight Julian dreamed of owning a farm.
“Mother Nature changes the season on you, the powers that be change the prices…I find it a very challenging and rewarding industry,” he said.
After achieving a Diploma of Agricultural Science at Dookie in 1967-69, Julian worked in New Guinea for nine months and then with his carpenter father.
“He reckons I was the worst person he’d even seen with a hammer in his hand,” Julian joked.
He later sold insurance and worked on oil rigs but wasn’t happy. “What I really loved was milking cows,” he said.
He secured a job on a farm in Gippsland but it wasn’t an auspicious start.
“After a month the lady there told me I’d never make a dairy farmer and all I was good at was washing out milk vats. That was the most incentive I’ve ever had.”
He worked on other farms before being offered a sharefarming position. Julian and his new wife Dianne bought their initial herd of 65 cows in 1975.
Soon after milk and cow prices plunged but instead of cutting their losses the Bensons bought more cheap cows.
“This was something I wanted to do all my life. I wasn’t going to cut and run. There’s always a silver lining. We were able to buy milking heifers for $20 that paid for themselves in a month.”
The Bensons won a farm encouragement award in the late 1970s which helped them to access funds to buy a farm near Port Campbell in 1981.
Julian’s uncle had introduced him to the Heytesbury Settlement when he was a youngster.
“It had a bit of romance to it,” he said. “They were giving young people an opportunity to end up on their own patch of dirt and I felt some sort of affinity with the Heytesbury Settlement.”
Today in their Apostle Whey shop, the Bensons display a history of the Heytesbury Settlement, including a map of the original owners.
At the time, the 73-hectare farm had a major erosion problem, virtually no water or trees, and low fertility.
The Bensons set about working with nature, not against it, to get the farm up to scratch.
Their main priority was to split paddocks to control grazing management. In the first 12 months the erosion problem was fenced off, trees planted, water troughs added and fertility increased.
Shelter belts on fence lines and the north-west boundary were helpful.
“They keep the cows warm in winter and cooler in summer and therefore they don’t use as much energy and put more in the vat. They stop the chill factor across the ground so you grow more grass and they keep native wildlife and birds so they clean up the insects and pests,” he said.
The Bensons later bought an additional 75-hectare farm. The drought of 2002-03 led to grain and hay prices doubling and milk prices being halved. Just 17 km from the 12 Apostles, the Bensons were already attracting tourists to see cows being milked.
“Dianne said we should be doing something about these people. We saw an item on Landline about hobby farmers in Queensland making cheese so we decided to find out if we could do it and if we’d like it,” Julian said.
They did and continue today to share their passion and cheeses with tourists and city visitors.
“We get people from all over the world. I tell them about how we get the milk and what we do with it. It opens their minds to the possibilities of what farming does,” Julian said.
The City Kids Experiencing Country Life program also visits.
“I teach them how to milk cows and talk about how the environment and farming go hand in hand. I start off by showing a photo of what our farm looked like when we first came here and it was completely bare.”
Students can start in the morning with a glass of milk for their breakfast while a group at the end of the day can see the cows being milked.
Julian hopes his passion rubs off and that others are encouraged by the Legendairy communication initiative to reposition dairy in the community.
“There are too many people in the city who don’t have an appreciation of how farms work or know about the science that goes into farming,” he said.
“It’s a very high-tech industry. It’s not an industry for drop outs. We’re looking for people who are educated and prepared for a challenge and enjoy the lifestyle.”
Julian’s niece from Melbourne has been coming to the farm since she was a toddler, just as Julian did to his uncle. She is now studying veterinary science.
“I’d like to think some of that is from her holidays here and that she was around animals,” he said.
In the meantime, Julian, 65, continues to milk when Luke is on weekends off or on holidays.
“That’s still my main passion, I love the farming,” he said.
Farmers find different ways to feel proud about their work. Some look at a well-fed cow or a fast-growing pasture and reflect on the good job they have done. Anne Adams’ proudest moment came after talking to a church women’s group in Warrnambool.
“I was invited to speak about the dairy industry,” Anne said. “Afterwards two dairy farming women came up and said I made them proud to be dairy farmers. I thought that was a good day’s work.”
Anne has put in many a ‘good day’s work’ for the dairy industry, which led to her induction this year onto the Western Victorian Dairy Industry Honour Board.
Anne joined the dairy industry in 1966 when she married Graham Adams and moved to his family farm at Wangoom.
Having grown up on a dairy farm it was not foreign to her, although it was still a big change from her previous three years as a maths and science teacher at Warrnambool Technical College.
They started with 191 acres and after expansion were at one stage milking 700 cows.
Now retired, Anne remains an interested industry onlooker. Their son Alistair and his wife Andrea now own the farm while Anne continues to live at Wangoom.
In the early 1980s Anne suggested Graham become involved in United Dairyfarmers of Victoria (UDV) as the industry was facing significant changes and was experiencing a downturn.
“He said he was too busy and I should do it. That was the start of it.”
Anne became the Warrnambool branch president and secretary and delegate to No2 District Council, the first female member of the UDV Central Council and the UDV vice-president in 1993-95.
Her background in education influenced her ongoing involvement as a member of the UDV Education Committee and chairperson of the Victorian Farmers Federation (VFF) Education Committee, and member of Victorian Primary Industries Training Board, Victorian College of Agriculture and Horticulture, the University of Melbourne Institute of Land and Food Resources and South West Institute of TAFE.
Anne also became a board member of Australian Dairy Farmers and represented UDV members on the VFF General Council and the VFF executive.
Other notable appointments include the Victorian Dairy Industry Authority, Dairy Food Safety Victoria, Australian Dairy Corporation and chairperson of DemoDAIRY. Anne was an inaugural member of the Western Victorian Dairy Industry Committee, the precursor to WestVic Dairy, and was a board member of the Warrnambool Co-operative, Western Herd Improvement, Genetics Australia, South West Water Authority and Glenelg Hopkins Catchment Authority.
Her inclusion on the Western Victorian Dairy Industry Honour Board is just the latest of many accolades.
Anne says her most cherished award is a Centenary Medal for services to agriculture and agricultural education by the University of Melbourne Institute of Land and Food Resources.
In 1996 she received the Warrnambool City Council’s Rural Achiever Award and was a 2002 Churchill Fellow.
She says becoming active in the industry was worthwhile personally and professionally.
“It’s hard to manage a farm properly if you don’t understand the issues of the industry. “I know it’s hard for self-employed people to leave their business, but it pays off.”
Anne was particularly interested in farmer education and training and the uptake of new technology, and was chairperson during the establishment of DemoDAIRY.
“There was no focus in this region for dairy research and education,” she said.
“I knew that farming wasn’t necessarily something you had to learn from your father. The farming environment and industry and business environment was all changing.”
While technical and farming practice changes are obvious to Anne, she laments another industry trend.
“For me an important change, and it’s not a good change, is that cooperation seems to have gone. Farmers are not as collaborative as they used to be, which is reflective of wider society.”
Instead she sees farmers competing at the farm gate.
“Farmers concentrate on farming well but if it’s not going to be a regulated market place, the only control farmers have is through owning the manufacturing and taking control of where the milk goes. Farmers need the ability to negotiate on pricing. Individual farmers can’t do it on their own. That’s why I support the concept of Murray Goulburn.
“People ask why New Zealand has grown and we’ve struggled to maintain production. I think you need to look at the payment system and farmers taking some control in their marketplace.
“If I was starting now I would not dream of supplying anyone other than a cooperative. That’s the only way farmers can control their price.”
Anne says payment incentives have attempted to shift factory throughput risk back onto the farmer.
“Some people can do out-of-season production and it suits their farm, but it should not be driving the pricing.”
She also advocates the need for collaboration and the power of farmers working cooperatively.
Anne says industry organisations such as the UDV and VFF are important not only as a voice for farmers but to encourage more people into decision-making positions.
“Bill Shorten is Opposition Leader and came from the Australian Workers Union. Wouldn’t it be good if the leader of the conservative side came out of the farm network?”
Anne also says farmers need to face a changing world.
“I see a positive future but we have to be open minded about things like climate change and how it might affect our ability to trade.”
Her son went into dairying and Anne would encourage her grandchildren to follow the same route if they chose.
“Of course you would. It doesn’t matter how clever humanity becomes, we’re always going to need to eat.”
When Craig ‘Reggie’ Davis sees an advertisement on TV extolling the virtues of a soft drink, he thinks ‘why can’t that be about milk?’
When he sees an energy drink sponsoring a sporting event, Reggie thinks `why can’t that be dairy?’
With this in mind, the fourth-generation dairy farmer from Tandarook near Camperdown labels Dairy Australia’s new `Legendairy’ campaign as the best thing since the invention of milk cartons.
“Anything that promotes milk has got to be a winner,” he said.
“It annoys me to see soft drinks and energy drinks all over the place. Milk is a better and healthier product – why not have a Big M float across the MCG instead of a Coke?”
While welcoming the new promotion which tells the story of dairy farmers and the nutritional product they produce, Reggie would like to see the campaign expand.
“I don’t think we’ve been advertising milk as much as we should be. We used to have the Big M girls but we’ve had nothing like that for years,” he said.
“Legendairy is unbelievable, the best thing that has happened for many years. People love to see kids out on the farm and people producing milk. I think if the whole industry united, if all the factories and industry groups would band together, we could do a lot more. We should use sports people to show how good milk is for recovery.”
The new emphasis on promotion comes at a good time for an industry facing challenging conditions.
Like most dairy businesses, the Davis farm has endured a tough season.
“It has been very challenging over the past year and I think it will be pretty tough for the next few years,” Reggie said. “It has been a bit more positive over the past month with the price going up and some rain, but it couldn’t have got any worse and the price is just playing catch up with the increasing costs,” he admitted.
Confronting those challenges is part of what makes dairy farming so appealing to Reggie, his wife Tanya and their children Haylee, Lachie, Ebony and Chloe.
Over the past five years the farm has developed innovative practices that have improved its efficiency and profitability.
“One of the great things we’ve put in place is becoming mostly self-sufficient in making compost with our farm waste,” Reggie said.
“We’ve all got to become more efficient. If you just sit back and wait for the price to go up you’re not going to survive,” he said.
The Davis farm has upheld that philosophy over the past five years. “We’ve got better at things,” Reggie said. “We’ve got a better herd, lower cell count, and we’ve been composting and introducing biological farming for five years.”
“We were one of the first to feed grain, one of the first to make compost and we’ve got more in the pipeline,” he said.
When he came home to the farm 30 years ago at age 15 his parents Geoff and Laurel were milking just 160 cows. When his brother Grant joined the farm they built a new rotary dairy and increased numbers up to 300 and introduced three-times-a-day milking. They reverted to two daily milks when Grant left about seven years ago.
“We’ve grown over the years; we’ve probably taken on five or six settlement blocks,” Reggie said.
The farm now stands at 545 hectares with a milking area of about 265 hectares for a herd of around 630 cows.
Reggie cites his proudest achievements as developing a good quality herd, Alandale Holstein and always trying to stay progressive in the industry.
“Probably the one thing that stands out was receiving my Advanced Diploma in Agriculture this year. I’d left school at 15, which I don’t encourage anyone to do, so it was pretty good to get an advanced diploma after all these years. It recognises the skills I’ve learned over the years and I’m pretty proud of that”.
The dairy lifestyle has been in Reggie’s blood since childhood and it shows no sign of abating.
“We need to hang in there and be united in promoting the industry,” he said.
“I don’t like to look too far ahead but if we can get the milk price up and get some help beyond the farm gate with the international market then things will look up.”
Reggie hopes the new Legendairy campaign will not only lead to more milk sales but to greater understanding of the role of dairy farmers.
“It’s a great lifestyle for raising a family but farming is not that simple now. There’s a lot to it.”
When it comes to dairy farming, Peter believes you’re either born one or not, even if you grew up in the city as he did.
“You either are or aren’t a farmer, it doesn’t matter where you come from. I don’t think you can be made into a farmer,” he said.
Dairy farmers can grow good pastures and nurture healthy cows to make good milk, but according to Peter there’s no way to grow a dairy farmer if someone doesn’t want to do it.
Luckily he did and he’s never regretted his fulfilling career choice.
A city boy raised in the suburbs of Auckland in New Zealand, Peter always had his mind on a dairy career and has defied his metropolitan roots to become a successful farm owner in northern Victoria.
There was never any question about his career choice and today, in his 53rd year, Peter’s still enjoying and growing in the industry.
Although his parents lived in the city, Peter had rural connections and from an early age would visit his grandparents’ dairy farm in New Zealand.
He admits it’s tough and challenging but he still enjoys the lifestyle, the animals, the work and the financial incentives of being a dairy farmer.
The excellent farming conditions and moderate land prices of northern Victoria have helped Peter and his wife Diane to achieve their dreams of owning a farm, not once but twice.
“We were sharefarming in New Zealand and moved to Australia in 1995 because we couldn’t afford to buy in New Zealand,” Peter said.
They tried Tasmania for five years before moving to northern Victoria where they found the Murray Dairy region to be the perfect environment for buying and expanding.
After sharefarming in Tongala, they bought an 80-hectare farm at Numurkah in 2002. They have since added a second 150-hectare farm at Strathmerton and now milk 180 to 200 autumn-calving crossbreed cows.
Peter’s not alone in migrating from New Zealand to the rich farming area.
“There are quite a few guys from Auckland who have dairy farms in northern Victoria. I know three or four,” he said.
There’s good reason for the area’s popularity. Milk production in the region grew by 1.4 per cent in the 12 months leading to the end of June on the back of improved seasonal conditions, higher farmgate prices, local investment and farmer confidence, and it is widely recognised as one of Australia’s premier dairying regions.
“It’s a fantastic place to farm due to the low cost of land and reliability of water. In the last 10 years of drought you’d probably question that, but generally the reliability of water is brilliant,” Peter said.
The Letcher farms are 100 per cent irrigated which gives them year-round surety.
“We can guarantee what we’re going to grow and we’re growing plenty of good ryegrass,” he said.
The reliable water supply has also allowed them to change from spring to autumn calving, which has helped boost production.
“We’ve got no complaints. Northern Victoria has always been good to us and allowed us to grow. Even during the drought we were able to grow.”
So confident are the Letchers that when the home farm’s production reached a peak they bought a second farm 25 kilometres away.
Now they are considering selling their home farm and buying a bigger one and hope onsite managers continue to develop and eventually enable them to retire.
“As an industry the main thing we have to deal with is volatility and I think the whole dairy industry needs to be rationalised,” Peter said.
“Milk price is something we can’t change. We look after things we can control and don‘t worry too much about things that are out of our control, such as milk prices.”
Peter is rightly proud of the farm’s growth, which has been achieved while watching costs and growing healthy pastures and cows. “We want to grow 60 to 70 per cent of our feed on-farm,” he said.
The Letchers call on expert consultants to make sure they are heading in the right direction.
“They look from the outside in where we look from the inside out. They see some important things that we might miss,” Peter said.
He also advocates industry involvement to help find the best pathway to success.
Peter started the Numurkah dairy discussion group at the tail end of the drought and although he has stepped back from a leading role he continues to enjoy the benefits of working with other farmers to discuss issues of relevance.
He is on the local Focus Farm committee where best practice farms are used to showcase dairy success stories and was a forum delegate for his supply company, Fonterra. “You can only get out of it what you put back in,” he said.
Peter is also supporting the Legendairy communication initiative to raise the profile and reputation of the industry.
“We’ve tended to sit back and do nothing when we should be out there trying to build a profile. A lot think we’re just dumb people with overalls on; we’ve got to get out there and show them what’s really involved.”
Peter still starts his day with dairy, milking every morning and enjoying the fruits of his labour.
“I have a tub of yogurt every morning ‘cause I’m getting older. It is a proven good food.”
The old saying ‘you can talk about it ’til the cows come home’ isn’t far from the truth for Gippsland dairy farmers Belinda and Stuart Griffin.
What began as a quick chat after a local footy game in 2010 quickly turned into something more – under slightly unusual circumstances.
“As the story goes, we can both talk the air out of a paper bag and stayed up all night talking until 4.30am, at which point we rode off on the motorbike to get the cows in,” recalled Belinda of the couple’s first meeting.
The impromptu first date was far from over. Smack-bang in the middle of a busy calving season on the Griffin family farm, Belinda was put right to work that early morning in borrowed tracksuit pants and beanie, helping with the morning milking.
It was the start of one love affair and the revival of another for Belinda, who grew up in suburban Melbourne but found her passion for dairy farming at age 14 through a work experience stint on a dairy near Echuca.
“It was just like riding a bike – very familiar!” she said of her first morning on the Griffin farm. “I met Stu’s parents and extended family that day and I think I was considered part of the future plans right from the word ‘go’.”
Stuart and Belinda married earlier this year, adding to nearly 100 proud years of history for the Griffins on their ‘Springdale’ property in Westbury, Victoria, which the family settled in 1920.
“The Griffin family is extremely proud that Springdale has had nearly a century in the hands of one family. Considering the recent droughts that have passed though, this is a considerable effort,” she said. “I feel we have very big shoes to fill, but hopefully with the information and technology available, we can continue to grow stronger every year.”
Stuart is the fourth generation to farm on Springdale. A vet by training, he left the farm after university, but returned to help manage the farm when his father Chris took on various industry leadership roles, including time as President of Australian Dairy Farmers and Chair of the Australian Dairy Industry Council.
Stuart and Belinda are building equity in the business as Chris and wife Jan gradually hand over the reins.
“Every year we take a bigger stake in the business, including buying a percentage of the herd, so we’re quite lucky to have a supportive entry to the industry,” Belinda said. “It’s great to have the whole family committed to the farm and the dairy industry and we feel that this gives the business strength and an ability to adapt to challenges and opportunities as they arise.”
One of those challenges is access to affordable and productive land, given growing tourism to the area and encroaching urban development. The Griffins are partly addressing this by investing strategically in infrastructure improvements to handle possible expansion of their current herd of 370 cows.
“There’s been consistent investment by each generation to improve how things are done,” Stuart said. “Over the past five years we’ve added automatic drafting, extended the dairy, improved our yard wash and effluent system and upgraded cattle handling facilities – all of which have allowed us to milk more cows with a similar labour input, and made things less stressful for both the cattle and the operator.”
Having a resident vet on the farm doesn’t hurt either.
“It’s certainly a great skill set to have on the farm! We’re always looking for better ways to do things and animal health is no different. Stu’s vet background means he’s often running small trials on things like reproduction or calf management to see what works for our system,” Belinda said.
“Our cattle are our livelihood, so their wellbeing is at the centre of how we operate our farm,” Stuart added. “It’s about maintaining healthy and productive animals, whilst adhering to, and as much as possible exceeding, the appropriate codes of practice. We run by the principle that if you look after them, they’ll look after you. Our cows and calves are treated with respect and patience.”
And just in case the day-to-day running of the farm isn’t enough, Belinda works full-time for the Victorian Department of Human Services, fitting her office schedule around morning milkings. The local footy and volleyball clubs, community volunteering and industry groups also pack the calendar.
“Evenings are often filled with any number of activities and weekends can be really busy on farm. Sometimes we feel like we don’t get a rest!” she said.
But it’s not a lifestyle they’re about to give up. Their passion for dairying was never more evident than at their wedding earlier this year, which was resplendent with not just the more traditional decorations, but an enormous Legendairy banner in support of the dairy industry’s promotional initiative.
“We see dairy as a fantastic industry with a positive future. We’re excited to be part of such a progressive industry that produces world class products. We’re always striving to better ourselves as people and as farmers, so looking at the bigger picture helps to keep us focused in the future, not just the jobs that need to be done tomorrow,” Belinda said.
“What really makes this job Legendairy is sitting back at the end of the day and reflecting on the quality milk we are producing, the sustainable way we produce it, and the fact that we are continuing an almost 100-year-old family tradition.”
Peter Dowel is a walking – make that running – embodiment of the healthy dairy lifestyle.
The 59-year-old Legendairy farmer is a fitness fanatic whose training regimen sees him jogging around his picturesque property doing everyday farm chores.
But the happy, healthy lifestyle isn’t only about Peter. He has a herd of contented Jersey cows that produce high-quality milk and plenty of it.
The secret to the good life at the Crossover dairy farm, just north of Warragul, is having a good diet and enough fodder to meet the needs of both man and beast.
Peter himself starts the day with bananas, kiwi fruit and seven Weet-Bix (with milk of course) and ensures his 135 cows get that little bit extra in their diet to keep them in top condition.
“One thing I feed them is brewers’ grain. It seems to prevent so many things,” he said.
“I’m far better off spending money on healthy food for the cows than having the vet coming down the driveway every second day.”
His cows not only have healthy bodies, they seem to have healthy minds to match. If Peter stands still for long enough (it doesn’t happen often!) his herd crowds around for a scratch and a pat like a bunch of old house cats.
It’s a relationship built on trust and fair treatment in the paddock and in the dairy shed.
“If you walk past the cows, you give every one of them a pat as you go by. Keeping contact with them builds a confidence,” he said.
“You only get out of a cow what you put into them and my cows are my family.”
While he treats his animals like family, Peter’s life doesn’t stop at the dairy farm-gate.
An avid ballroom dancer, squash champion and football umpire, who will officiate his 300th game next year, he knows that work/life balance is a key to staying healthy.
The foundation for his lifestyle, however, is his constant running.
Peter is quite the ‘Legendairy’ local figure. He can be seen on the hills around Crossover with his distinctive jogging style, which is significantly quicker than the famous shuffle of another Victorian farmer-athlete – ultra-marathon legend Cliff Young.
Unlike Cliffy, however, there’s no chasing cows in gumboots, but he does take every opportunity to break into a trot.
“Even just going to get the calf feeder off the last set of calves, even if it’s only 100 metres, it helps to save time for the next job,” he said.
Having been born and raised on a dairy farm, apart from a couple of years in the city as a young man, Peter can imagine no better way to live than among his beloved Jerseys.
Milking his own cows and growing all his own feed is hard work, but he never has any trouble getting out of bed to start his day’s work.
“We have the way of life, none of that hustle and bustle,” he said.
“They talk about keeping up with the Joneses … well we dairy farmers are the Joneses.”
Seeing their farm transform from a run-down property into an award-winning operation that has improved the soil and the environment has been reward enough for Simpson dairy farmers Andrew and Linda Whiting.
Being named best natural resource managers for 2014 Great South West Dairy Awards was just the cream on the cake.
Andrew and Linda bought their 120ha disused farm at Simpson 11 years ago. The land had been largely discarded and had problems with soil and pasture persistency and pests.
The Whitings have totally transformed the farm; renovating all the pastures, growing new crops, introducing home-made compost and a new feed pad to improve efficiencies and protect pastures.
The turnaround has been capped with the Whitings’ involvement in the aptly named Green Pastures milk label and topped off with their award recognition.
More importantly it has given them the lifestyle they enjoy. “We both enjoy what we do and where we live. That’s a big driver,” Andrew said.
Last year, the Whitings were one of five south-west Victorian farming families to launch their own milk company, Green Pastures, with milk processed by Warrnambool Cheese and Butter.
It is no coincidence that one of the other founding families behind Green Pastures, Reggie and Tania Davis, won the dairy natural resource management award in 2013 and another founder Tim and Sally McGlade were runners-up this year.
“It’s lovely to be nominated and to show people the benefits of education, but the real winner is the environment,” Andrew said.
Never motivated by personal awards, Andrew admits “we were more than happy just to do our own thing.
“We don’t want to preach and understand that every farm has its own way of doing things. For us it has been enough reward in the past to see our farm improving, but it is a wonderful thing for Green Pastures for people to know we’ve got three award winning farms in the business.”
“Our land is our biggest asset,” Andrew said. “For a long time we were treating it as the stuff that holds the grass up. The big change for us has been feeding the soil. Sustainability doesn’t go far enough for us. Sustainability means staying the same or not letting it get any worse. We didn’t want to do that; we felt we had to have our soils regenerative – we needed to be building soils.”
The farm has always achieved high production levels per cow and has been able to continue that with a higher stocking rate, now milking up to 360 Holstein Friesian cows.
Andrew says that what was traditionally seen as best practice in dairy farming isn’t necessarily still the case for all farms.
“We have four kids and we’re keen to teach them there is another way to farm. Just because generations before us have done it a certain way and it has become accepted best practice, doesn’t mean it’s right for every situation,” he said.
“We need to listen to our customers if they want a product that’s more sustainable.”
The Whitings are also supporters of the Legendairy communications initiative to build the profile and reputation of the industry.
“There’s always the unknown but we refuse to be negative people. It’s been an exceptional autumn break for us. We have a pretty positive outlook,” Andrew said.
“We’re more than happy to keep doing what we’re doing. Legendairy is a ripper line and it’s good to have focus showing that what farmers are doing is good for the environment too.”
When Kylee and Ben Bennett heard that no children in a Camperdown school classroom wanted to become dairy farmers, they knew something had to change.
The Bennetts hope Dairy Australia’s new Legendairy campaign will be the impetus for that change.
The Bennetts purchased their 300ha farm in the Stony Rises near Pomborneit in 2005, a year after migrating from New Zealand to pursue better opportunities to buy land.
The past eight years have been rocky in more ways than one, but the Bennetts have no doubt that dairying has a positive future if industry factors align.
They are confident Legendairy will give the industry the image boost that it needs.
“We were surprised when we moved here that dairy farming was not seen as an attractive career,” Kylee said.
“Even our kids at school did a session on what they want to be when they leave school – none of the kids wanted to be farmers.
“That was quite sad really when Camperdown relies so much on dairy,” Kylie added. “And that’s why I see Legendairy as such an important initiative.”
Ben agrees. “It will lead to greater appreciation that dairy is the cornerstone of the whole south-west, or all of Victoria for that matter,” he said.
“Other industries have gone, but we’ve still got the land. Dairy has huge potential but it’s got to be based on solid foundation stones.”
The Bennett farm itself is based on stones.
After inspecting 24 different properties in their first year in Australia, they settled on the 300ha farm in the aptly named Stony Rises.
“Someone gave us really good advice – don’t buy a small farm, buy as big as you can,” Kylee said.
However, the larger piece of land at a lower than average price came at a cost.
It was already the consolidation of three other farms but much of the land couldn’t be farmed because of the rocks.
“We’ve spent nearly two times what we bought the farm for to get it into the shape that we feel with give us a low cost of production and reduce risk exposure to climatic conditions and essentially make money,” Ben said.
“We knew that before we bought the place. We had an overall plan and we’re probably 80-85 per cent along the journey.”
“We survived eight years when some would have thought we wouldn’t,” Ben said. “Most people thought we were mad, absolutely troppo (to buy the place).”
A rock crusher was used to clear the land.
“We sit on the third biggest volcanic plain in the world. We’re sitting on top of a lava flow.
“You couldn’t drive a motor vehicle on our farm, only a four-wheel-drive tractor over parts of it. We had fern almost six foot high, couldn’t put fertiliser on unless using an aeroplane, couldn’t grow ryegrass and we had an extremely low pH level.
“The rock crushing with a 100-tonne roller has been magnificent. It’s now arable land. It has increased productivity and the value of the property.”
“Now we grow a lot of ryegrass in winter with minimal to no pugging. We can grow dry matter pretty much all year round. If you look at the average rainfall over the past 50 years, we should be growing feed every month of the year.”
Though they admit it has been tough over the past eight years, that challenge of making the property viable is part of the appeal of dairy farming for the Bennetts, who now milk 400 cows on the property.
“What we like is the challenge of turning something that seemed pretty marginal into an arable, high-performance, intensive pasture operation,” Ben said.
“With dairy farming you can grow anything…you can grow wealth, you can grow equity.”
However, the Bennetts believe changes need to be made before dairy farmers can reap proper reward for their efforts.
Before moving to Australia, Ben studied a Bachelor of Technology and Process Engineering in New Zealand and worked in the meat industry. He has seen the industry “from the top and bottom” and believes that over the past three years the Australian dairy industry has grown more focused but says changes are needed for it to match and surpass its New Zealand counterpart.
“Producers and processors must operate under a more holistic financial environment, which is not happening at present, reflecting the decline in the Australian milk pool,” he said.
“Both parties need to have the opportunity to maximise their profit margins. This will kick start growth and a sea of opportunities to produce a safe and wholesome product, as we do.”
Ben would like to see changes to milk payment systems.
“Milk processors have an annual amount to pay for the milk. At the moment they are skewing how that is paid to procure milk, which is not the same as maximising the farmer’s profitability. The farmer’s profitability could be significantly enhanced by how their milk price is distributed. Presently it is doing everything to destroy their market. At the moment the farmer has no control over their financial destiny.”
“Our wealth and land value should be better than New Zealand,” he said.
“We have the opportunity; we have the climate particularly between July and December. That’s where you make your money.
“It doesn’t matter how hard we work on our respective farms, we need to have greater industry appreciation of where it’s driving us. Farmers need to take ownership – we are the biggest entity in the whole equation.
“If the pricing structure can get sorted out, there is a path to success.”
The Bennetts and their five children aged two to13 enjoy their lifestyle, with good access to schools and sporting facilities just 15 kilometres away in Camperdown.
“Our family is healthy, we’re keeping our heads above water…we’re very fortunate,” Kylee said.
The family’s ultimate goal is to have independent control of their financial future.
“Both our families are entrepreneurial types – we could see the opportunities in dairy,” Ben said. “You can work for someone all your life, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to get further ahead.”
Now they hope Legendairy gives the industry they love the boost it deserves.
“We had to move the entire herd. There was so much water, you couldn’t tell where the road stopped and the paddock started. With a team of people we walked our milkers four or five hours through two feet of water. A few calves tried to sneak back home, but that’s pretty common: it’s the maternal instinct,” said Monique.
Managing challenges has become second nature for the young farmers, who bought their 700-acre property five and a half years ago from Mark’s parents.
“Just after we took ownership, milk prices dropped to an all-time low. We managed through that. Then we had the drought, then the flood. We managed through all of it and now we’re still making money, our assets continue to grow and there’s nothing we’d rather be doing,” said Monique.
The Bryant’s response to surviving the hard times was to innovate; adopting a fast watering irrigation technique to help them save water and increase the amount of feed they were able to produce.
“When the opportunity came to upgrade our irrigation system, we said, ‘let’s go for it’. You’ve got to innovate as farmers. Every farmer does it well, whether it’s managing their cow records, how they house their calves or maintain their farms,” said Mark.
Like many dairy farmers, Mark and Monique attribute the farming lifestyle as the key to keeping them in the industry.
“You are your own boss; working outdoors, being active and having the incredible opportunity to run a multi-million dollar business is fantastic. Most importantly, you get to spend so much time with your family,” said Monique.
“Outside the farming industry, people read the stories and so much coverage is negative, focusing on tough times and doom and gloom. You’d obviously ask the question – if farming’s so hard, why are you still doing it?” said Mark.
“Our answer is we enjoy it and we’re making money.”
The pair hopes the new Legendairy campaign will give light to the real dairy industry, mud and all.
“We went to an industry meeting recently and saw one of the early Legendairy concepts and some people questioned mud on the road and the crooked gates,” said Monique.
“That’s life. I think people need to see that and to see real farmers. Not all our gates are perfect, we have mud. It’s not always pristine, but that doesn’t mean our products and processes aren’t fantastic.”
All my life I, Talei Holm, have lived on a dairy farm just outside the town of Finley near the Victorian border. The farm is milking about 650 Holstein and Jersey dairy cattle on a 54-stand rotary dairy.
In 2000, my dad built the rotary dairy, upgrading from the 12-stand double-up herringbone. The new dairy included a special room for my older sister, Ellena, and I to stay in while our parents milked.
A farm is the best place to grow up, it gives you the opportunity to have space and freedom. For pocket money I would help mum feed the calves. When I started year 7, my friend and I started our annual camp.
We would steal one of the ‘paddock basher’ utes and go to one of our back paddocks on a camping trip.
Although there is little or no access to shopping or public transport, there is still always something to do. I have been promoted to tractor work and milking, while still helping out with the calves. People in the country like playing in the local football or netball league, helping out on the farm or going out to the Chinese restaurant with friends.
When I was growing up I didn’t really know there was a drought on, it was all I could really remember. Money was tight and there wasn’t a lot of feed for the cows, which was hard for dad because before the drought we were growing 80% of the feed and during the drought we were buying almost all the feed.
We had to send cows away on agistment and we spent many afternoons along the roadsides eating watermelon while the heifers grazed. So really it was quite fun, going to different places with the cows. However, as the drought went on, we saw dad less and less.
I believe that farming does have a very bright future ahead of it. There are many new technologies that we could use to make farming so much easier. Rotary dairies speed up the milking process, ID in the sheds so you know each cow that walks onto the platform and websites to help control water outlets. Things such as these make farming a much better and time-efficient career than previously.
There have been so many changes to farming over the years, such as my great-great grandfather moving away from milking in buckets to buying their first milking machine.
I think the changes of farming practice in my lifetime include putting the rotary dairy in, buying the JCB telehandler and adjusting the way the farm runs to suit the drought conditions.
I would definitely consider the agriculture industry as a career because there are so many different departments and jobs, it’s not just walking around a paddock all day. Jobs like being a farm manager, part-time milker, contract tractor driver, cattle agent or an agricultural scientist.
I personally would love to become involved in the dairy goat side of farming and combine that with my hobby of showing animals.
As a high school student, I believe that there are many things schools can do to encourage farming, such as telling students that a career in agriculture isn’t just about being a farmer.
© 2015 Dairy Australia