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Farmers top the pecking order – three times a day

Mount Gambier dairy farmer David Kuhl has a good idea where farmers sit in the pecking order of valued professions.

In a world where feeding a growing population is becoming increasingly demanding, his ranking for farmers might be higher than you’d expect.

“I remember hearing someone say that you might need a good lawyer or a surgeon once in your life but you need a farmer three times a day,” David said. “Everyone has to eat.”

The mining boom might be on the way out but David is sure farming will take its place. “That’s where the future is,” he said. “Don’t worry about mining; agriculture is where the job opportunities are going to be in years to come.” 

This outlook has prompted David to become an active supporter of the Legendairy communications initiative to raise the profile and reputation of the dairy industry.

David hosted the Legendairy trailer in his paddock for a few months and proudly wears a Legendairy shirt. “People are always looking at it and commenting,” he said. 

“A lot of people don’t realise you’re a dairy farmer until they see the shirt,” David said. “The kids play a lot of sport and you turn up now and people ask if I milk cows.”

He’s happy to talk about his profession – whether it’s to novices or those with whom he shares a common love of breeding.

David hopes Legendairy breaks down what he sees as an increasing lack of understanding about farming. “The city-country divide is getting bigger and if Legendairy helps us to promote a good image to everyone then it’s a great thing,” he said. 

David’s life has revolved around farming and with his wife Michelle and three boys he milks 180-200 cows on a dairy-sheep farm 17km north of Mt Gambier.

His grandfather started milking cows and growing potatoes in 1939 and over time the farm evolved to include sheep. It is predominantly an Illawarra herd with a small herd of stud Holsteins and the farm supplies Murray Goulburn.

David left school in 1987 and built up the dairy, growing both numbers and production rates. He installed a centre pivot irrigator and concentrated on bale feeding and pastures improvement. The Kuhls now milk off about 80 hectares, about 10 per cent of the total farm.

Although it was far from a perfect spring, the farm has had good hay and silage production. The farm is planted with mainly irrigation blend ryegrass and clovers with annuals grown on the dryland each autumn.

Improvements in pastures and genetics have led to significant production growth.

“The herd has improved across the board and I think 30 years of experience is worth a fair bit.”

At 45 David still sees his future in dairying, although he doesn’t plan to be milking into his 70s.

“Dairying can be a tough life as far as time goes, but if it was Monday to Friday every bugger would be doing it,” he said.

“It depends what the boys want to do. I’m prepared to keep it going until they’re in a position to make a decision.”

The boys aged 9, 12 and 14 help out on holidays with eldest son Adam showing most interest in a future career in dairying. “He’s really interested in robotic set-up for dairying,” David said. “In another 5-10 years I’m hoping they keep improving the technology and they could fit in for us. I quite like the concept of robotic rotary dairies.”

David’s wife Michelle is a dental nurse by trade but also an important part of the farm, overlooking calf rearing, helping with milking on weekends and whenever she’s needed.

They also find that showing the real thing spreads the word about dairy just as much as talking about it.

The farm has a new employee helping with night milkings. “She’s straight out of school. She’s hasn’t got a farming background but she’s found there’s more to it than just putting cups on,” David said. Now their employee has applied to do a Certificate IV in Agriculture.

If she does take up dairy farming as a career, David has some sage words of advice.

“You need a strong work ethic and a hide like a rhinoceros,” he said. “You’ve got to be able to take the bad seasons from droughts to flood and cop it and keep going.”

Image: Dairy Australia managing director Ian Halliday catches up with dairy farmer David Kuhl at his Braelee Illawarras farm near Mount Gambier. Picture courtesy The Border Watch