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National dairy conference inspires Blyth dairy farmer

As South Australia’s northernmost dairy farmers, Ros and Gary Zweck realise they have to change with the times – and with the climate.

The Zwecks are surrounded by cropping enterprises and have to travel 15km south from their property near Blyth to find another dairy farm, but they’re confident they can survive in an increasingly harsh environment.

New technologies such as Apps to monitor crops, new machinery and plans for a sheltered feeding shed to combat the impact of hotter weather are setting the scene for a strong future.

Attending the recent Australian Dairy Conference has given new impetus to their plans.

Ros received a bursary from the Australian Legendairy Women’s Network (ALWN) to attend the conference and says the information she gleaned will help the farm to navigate a rapidly-changing dairy industry. 

According to Dairy Australia project manager Natasha Busbridge, who coordinates ALWN, helping dairy women attend the Australian Dairy Conference provided an important professional development opportunity, with one bursary offered in each of the eight dairy regions.

“ADC offers a diverse range of industry highlights and technical topics to attract farmers,” she said. “But getting time off-farm, especially for women, can be challenging. All our farmers attending the conference took something away with them to help their business and enjoyed the opportunity to connect with other farmers.”

And Ros agrees.

“The conference was all about the tsunami of change, especially how new technology is being adapted to our industry,” Ros said.

“You have to keep up as much as you can because the industry is changing at such a rapid rate.”

Ros admits her son Justin, 29, is much more tech savvy and he holds the key to the long-term future for the farm.

“Justin’s keen on farming and realises we need to keep milking cows to value add to our property. If we want our future generations to drink fresh milk, somebody has to do it and we have to encourage young people to continue as farmers and embrace technology.”

The Zwecks milk 200 Friesian cows eight kilometres north-west of Blyth where they rely mostly on home-grown feed.

With only about 350mm of rain a year and more hot days during summer, the farm has to change with the climate.

“Our cows cope with the heat; it’s the humidity that they don’t like,” Ros said. “As long as it cools off at night the cows can recover.”

To help the cows cope with their environment, the Zwecks have planted more trees for shelter, installed sprinklers in the dairy and yard to provide relief from the heat and plan to build a new compost barn for the cows.

 “Because our summers are getting hotter and more humid, and I think climate change is making it worse, we need to take the heat stress away from the cows,” Ros said.

The Zwecks aim to be self-sufficient and reserve enough feed to cover drought years.

“By growing our own crops and doing things in a timely manner, we’ve been able to conserve fodder so we’re not paying high prices for feed,” Ros said.

Consulting experts, getting involved in discussion groups and Dairy Australia support programs and attending events like the Australian Dairy Conference help the Zwecks to keep abreast of industry changes.

“The conference was great to network and get good ideas,” Ros said. “You’ve got to see what’s out there; otherwise you’re just sticking your head in the sand.” 

Originally from Adelaide, Ros married Gary 34 years ago and moved to Blyth. When she arrived there were 70 farms in the Barossa Mid North Dairy Cooperative, today there are 14.

“Sometimes it’s a challenge but if you surround yourself with a good team and keep up with change we think it’s still viable.”

Australia’s Legendairy Women’s Network was established to connect and support Australian dairy women. It is an active on-line community and can be joined at:

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