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Local dairy farmer to celebrate 25th Adelaide Show

Over the past 25 years Murray Bridge dairy farmer Warren Doecke has gotten to know the grounds of the Royal Adelaide Show almost as well as his own farm.

He’ll be back in September this year for his 25th Adelaide Show and with typical farmer modesty, he admits to having “reasonable success” over the years.

 In 2013 that “reasonable success” included not only the most successful Illawarra breed exhibit, but also winning the Illawarra intermediate champion and reserve senior cow titles and the best dairy exhibitor title.

“We take what we think are our best cows, then it’s up to the judge,” Warren said.

Warren said the confirmation and structure of the cow, and the strength of the mammary system were the keys to success.

 “You’ve always got to be looking to improve genetics, improve cows and improve production,” he said.

The veteran farmer has used genetics to try to breed a better cow but has never lost his passion for farming and says that breeding and showing cattle has helped him forge friendships across the country.

 “I’ve been blessed to meet so many great people with the same interest in breeding and showing cattle and milking cows,” he said.

“We all have a passion for what we do. All farmers care deeply about our cows and the welfare of our animals, and the welfare and sustainability of our farms.

 “That’s our livelihood. If you neglect your animals or the sustainability of your farm you’re not going to be in business.”

Warren is a staunch supporter of the Legendairy communication initiative to build the profile and reputation of the industry. He hopes it will convince the broader community of the value of dairy farmers.

 “We’ve got to be skilled in animal nutrition, animal husbandry, pasture management, and technology of the milking plant. There’s a huge range of expertise,” he said.

“Consumers need to be prepared to pay and not expect to buy $1 a litre milk and have dairy farmers not getting a realistic return. That’s just not sustainable.

 “We need to get the message to consumers that it is a hard industry with long hours and we deserve to be rewarded for what we do.

Dairy farming has been a way of life for Warren since growing up on his parents’ mixed farm. Warren and his wife Cheryl and son Damien moved to their current farm 18 months ago but have been dairying in Murray Bridge for 22 years.

Despite concerns about the need for better milk prices to ensure farmers make a good living, they are looking to the future and pleased to have another generation involved.

They were farming on 74 hectares milking 170-190 cows. Now they have 160 hectares in the dairy block at Woods Point, just south of Murray Bridge, with scope to milk 350-400 cows and have a further 400 hectares of cropping and grazing land across the road.

 “We have our oldest son Damien home on the farm and this gives him scope to be involved in the future. The previous farm wasn’t big enough,” Warren said.

In the move the farm has adjusted from a 12-a-side double-up herringbone to a 50-unit rotary dairy.

 “If you aren’t milking enough cows you can’t justify having employees and making it work,” Warren said.

They irrigate from the Murray River and have flood and sprinkler systems.

 “We’re on the river flats and rely heavily on the river,” Warren said. “At this stage the levels are all right. It all depends on what rain falls where.”

There are about 25 dairy farms on the lower end of the Murray, a far cry from 140 when the Doeckes first came to the area.

 “Some have left but some farms are bigger. The property we have now was probably four dairy farms 22 years ago,” Warren said.

They are milking 250 cows at the moment but will increase with a new calving season that will continue through to the middle of April next year.

 “The milk company wants milk year round and because of our position with irrigation we’ve got the ability to grow grass virtually all year. Our calving pattern is such that we can keep a consistent milk supply,” Warren said.

The Doeckes have been farming organically and supplying B.-d. Farm Paris Creek for about six years.

 “We bought a cropping and grazing farm about 12 years ago and got involved in biological farming and that led us down the organic path,” he said.

They have since sold that farm to fund their new enterprise.

 “We’re here as God’s caretakers of what he chooses to give us to take care of. We’ve got a responsibility to look after it,” Warren said.

They operate under restricted water use and have introduced a total mixed ration feeding system mixed with pasture grazing.

 Cheryl and Warren started farming in their own right in the Barossa Valley 30 years ago.

“I’d been a butcher’s apprentice and a shearer but always had a desire to be a dairy farmer,” he said.

 “We’ve been so richly blessed along the way. It’s been an extremely rewarding career.”