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Tide turns for Queensland dairy farmers

When he was a lad at school, Chad Parker would spend each morning and night working on the family dairy farm in south-east Queensland.

Later, when he was running his own plumbing business, he would also work up to 30 hours a week on the farm.

For the past seven years, through some of the toughest economic and weather conditions ever experienced by the local dairy industry, Chad and his wife Carita have run the farm at Kenilworth and dedicated themselves to making it a success.

Chad is up at the crack of dawn about 360 mornings of the year to milk his 475-strong mainly Jersey herd and returns most afternoons for the second milking.

And all that hard work is starting to pay off as the tide turns for the young Queensland farmer.

Since taking over management of the farm, Chad has pushed it to new production records to counteract the negative influences impacting on Queensland dairy. He’s overseen significant infrastructure development and grown the herd by about 20 per cent each year.

It’s been tough work but he wouldn’t change a minute of it.

“You have to do ridiculous hours and make ends meet by taking all the workload yourself,” Chad said. “We don’t get away too much and put everything back into the farm to grow the business. Hopefully it’s heading in the right direction.”

It’s no secret that Queensland dairy farmers have had it tough, with low milk prices and a mixture of droughts and floods. Many have left the industry.

Chad and Carita though were determined to stick it out and now look to a positive future with prices, demand and even the weather starting to help their cause.

“We see a good future for the industry,” Chad said. “I can’t see it getting any worse than what it was last year. If we can get through that, we’ll be all right.”

Even the weather gods are starting to help.

“It was quite dry but just in the last month it’s turned into the best spring we’ve ever had,” Chad said. “We’ve only had one good spring in the last six years but we’re looking pretty good and hope things are turning around.”

Improved prices for their milk, up to 18 cents higher per litre, the abolition of 15-cent-a-litre second tier milk, and strong demand to supply the local fresh milk market are adding to their improved confidence.

Chad, 28, is a third generation dairy farmer and despite his foray into plumbing was destined to continue the family farming tradition.

He completed a plumbing and gas fitting apprenticeship after school and had his own plumbing business for five years, but his heart was always on the farm.

“I probably would have left school and come straight back on the farm but I wasn’t allowed,” he said. “I had to go out and get a trade. Even when I was doing the plumbing I was still doing 30 hours a week at home.”

Chad and Carita lease the 100-hectare farm from his parents, who now run florist and post office businesses in Montville and Imbil. The Parkers also lease a second farm to run their heifers, allowing them to milk more cows.

“We’ve been growing by 20 per cent each year over the past six years to try and make some money,” Chad said.

The farm carries 90 per cent Jerseys and 10 per cent Holsteins, with numbers expanding year after year. Production is strong at almost 20 litres per cow each day.

“I like Jerseys for their temperament and productivity,” Chad said. “They suit our system very well and they cope better with Queensland’s heat.”

Along with production growth, the Parkers have a terrific record with showing cows from their Glen Echo Jerseys stud, which was started by Chad’s grandfather 50 years ago.

In 2013, they won supreme intermediate at the EKKA Royal Queensland Show in Brisbane with a Holstein, which they owned in shares with Miss Holsteins’ Kelvin and Ronnie Cochrane. This year the Parkers won supreme intermediate and supreme champion dairy cow with a jersey.

“It was the cows that drew me back to farming,” Chad said. “I love working with them.”

“The cows have definitely improved since I was a kid,” he added.

The Parkers use mainly American and Australian bulls with a dash of Canadian in their breeding program that looks for positive protein deviation and strong udders, feet and legs.

The awards are great but Chad is most proud of what is achieved on the farm.

“I don’t mate my cows to win show champion; I’m just trying to be more profitable. The biggest challenge has been the weather. We’re on the river and all we can do is try to grow as much homegrown feed as we can.”

To achieve that goal the Parkers have installed extra irrigation, turned the dairy from 11-a-side to 25-a-side, increased homegrown grazing, put in an extra vat to cope with the additional production, and installed a new grain milling system.

Chad is a strong supporter of the Legendairy communication initiative to raise the profile and reputation of the dairy industry.

“It’s definitely needed. Sometimes it’s like bashing your head against a brick wall trying to get someone from a big city to understand,” he said.

With two young children, Cooper coming up to his first birthday and Klara turning four next April, the Parkers are always looking to the future.

On February 26 they will host a farm walk on their property in the lead-up to a sale the following day at the Cochrane’s farm at Kandanga. The Parker’s 2014 supreme intermediate champion will be among the cows offered for sale.

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