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NSW dairy farmers care for their 'elite athletes'

Dianna Ferguson’s enthusiasm for dairy farming is obvious when she talks about dairy cows as being like “elite athletes”.

That comparison might seem a bit of a stretch but the Cobargo farmer stands by her description.“When they’re full of milk and happy and healthy it’s an awesome feeling to be milking cows. You have to describe them as the athletes of the cow world, they’re elite,” she said.

Dianna and her partner Steve Shipton milk 180-200 Friesians on their 263ha farm near Cobargo in New South Wales supplying Bega Cheese.

They have been involved in dairying full time since 2000 and remain passionate and committed to the industry.
“Steve loves growing grass, I love seeing the cows kept in good order.” Dianna said, “We’re both nurturing and caring people. We have a smaller herd and can keep control and get to know them all. “When it rains and you’ve got lovely grass and cows in good order, it is very rewarding. That’s what keeps you going.”

Dianna’s great grandparents started milking on the farm about 70 years ago. She and Steve started working on the farm in 2000 and bought into the property in 2004, firstly through purchasing cows, plant and equipment and then buying the property in 2010.

They milk off less than half the dryland farm, the rest is used for dry cows and heifers and some cropping.

Dianna grew up on the coast at Tathra and studied and worked in Canberra for six years before meeting Steve, who was a diesel mechanic and had come off a beef farm.

From age eight most of her school holidays were spent at the Cobargo farm. “Some of my fondest memories are there,” she said.

In 2000, Dianna and Steve were returning to the farm to help out which solidified their passion.

“That became our number one. We both love the cows and the land and work well together,” she said.

“Whether it’s the cows and their genetics or a passion for working with the soils, there is a lot of reward in what we do on the dairy. It gives you a lot of fulfilment.”

Since taking over the farm they have concentrated on increasing production.

The farm today has a strong in-calf rate and a peak of 33 litres per cow in spring and averages of 28-29 litres across the year.

“When you work hard and get cows in calf and produce milk like that, that is one of our proudest moments,” Dianna said.

“We like to maintain their condition and have good feed throughout their lactation,” she said. The farm uses some purchased high quality tested concentrate and fodder feed, but aims to make as much home-grown feed and silage as possible depending on conditions.

Dianna admits the intensity has been challenging but at the same time rewarding. Dairying is the predominant farming practice in the region, with about 80 local farms supplying Bega, and Dianna is confident about the future.

Dianna attended the launch of the dairy industry’s Legendairy communication initiative to build the profile and reputation of the industry and highlight the contribution dairy farmers make to Australia.  She believes it is hitting the mark.

“Dairy is getting some momentum and recognition for what we do. It is exciting to be part of it.”

Dianna represents her area on the Far South Coast Dairy Development Group which likewise has gained momentum in recent years as optimism grows in the industry.

She also supports the industry’s adoption of standards that will enhance its reputation in the broader community.

“We’re proactive, not reactive, and have standards in place. We’re a professional industry and not doing things that will give people a stick to beat us with.

“We want a good name and to do the right thing for our cows and our land, and we have standards in place so animal activists don’t have to force regulations on us.”

Their farm has been involved in succession planning and an environmental program with Bega Cheese that has led to new laneways, biodiversity areas, creek crossings and revegetation works.

“The farmer wins and so does the land,” Dianna said.

“All the farmers I know do care about the land and the future. They have children and hope in the future their kids will be involved in the farm if they’re interested.”

Dianna and Steve have children aged seven and 10 who also enjoy the farm, while town friends and relatives love staying on the land.

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