Sixty years of bridging the city-country divide
For 60 years the Geard family of Tasmania has been bridging the city-country divide.
This year the family showed cattle for the 60th time at the Royal Hobart Show. Paul Geard started the tradition as a youngster. His son Ben, 34, did the same and now Ben’s children are following in his footsteps, not only in Hobart but also in northern shows such as Devonport and Burnie.
This year Ben, his wife Natalie and their children, Isobel, 6, and Leila, 5, showed 14 cows at the Royal Hobart Show but their connection goes much deeper than that.
The shows give their Green Glory Holsteins stud added exposure, which is good for business, and they love showcasing the dairy industry to the public.
In fact, the Geards see themselves as ambassadors for the industry – an industry they love and one that has been good to them over the years.
“We’re taking a bit of the country to the city,” Ben said.
He believes knowledge about the dairy industry is improving and that the Legendairy communication initiative to raise the profile and reputation of the industry is helping to bridge the divide.
Whether it’s a teenage girl wanting a selfie with a 900-kilogram bull or an old man talking about how he had to milk six cows by hand before he went to school, Ben and his crew enjoy the interaction, not to mention the lifelong friendships developed with fellow farmers.
“I’ve noticed how the questions have changed,” Ben said. “They used to just ask about how much milk the cow produces and what she eats; now they’re more educated. They want to know things like who do you supply, how much do you get for your milk and how you manage your herd.
“I’m happy to let them know what we do. At the end of the day if we haven’t got a market for our product then we’re in trouble. These are the guys buying the milk.”
For many visiting the dairy pavilion it’s their first time seeing a cow get milked.
“Once upon a time everyone’s uncle or father had a dairy farm and the kids got exposed to it in the school holidays, but that’s just not the case anymore,” Ben said.
For the Geards, show involvement is a real family affair with the girls already enjoying success in the show ring. This year, they both won ribbons in a junior handlers’ competition, sponsored by Legendairy.
“The farm’s a good environment to bring up a young family, especially where we are; close to Hobart,” Ben said.
The Geards’ farm is 30 minutes north of Hobart at Broadmarsh.
Ben’s parents, Paul and Elizabeth, bought the farm 38 years ago, converting it from sheep grazing to dairying and subsequently consolidating with irrigation. Over the years, they acquired more local properties and the total land has been boosted to over 3000 hectares. The family also run merinos, an Angus breeding herd and crossbreed lambs, but the main focus is the milking herd of 300 Holsteins and supplying milk to Lion.
“Holsteins seem to suit our system,” Ben said. “They're a good, large-capacity cow that handles our environment well and they're good feed converters.”
The farm calves year-round and averages about 30 litres of milk per cow each day.
Ben was raised on the farm and always aimed at a life in dairy. After school he worked for a few years before completing an Advanced Diploma in Farm Business Management at Marcus Oldham College in Victoria.
“That’s where I met my wife so it was a good move,” he said.
Natalie studied marketing at Deakin University and now runs her own marketing and PR business while Ben manages the dairy side of the farm, starting with the morning milkings.
He admits the hours are tough but they’re also flexible.
“You get to see the sunrise every day,” he said. “It’s definitely a good lifestyle. I can milk the cows in the morning then be back in at 7 o’clock for breakfast with my family and see the kids off to school.
“And, you always know by the end of the day when you look at the milk vat if you’re doing the right job or not. The results are instant. If you’re doing anything wrong, the cow and the milk vat will show you straight away.”
A member of the board of Australian Dairy Conference, including a term as chairman for the 2012 conference, Ben predicts growth for dairying in southern Tasmania. There are only 10 to 12 dairy farms in the region but fresh interest from processors to collect milk locally could spark expansions and conversions.
“There’s scope for us to expand, as long as the price is right,” he said.
Ben has been in dairy long enough to know its volatility.
The Chinese free trade agreement also should be good “as long as it gets passed down the line to farmers”.
“But it’s a positive industry,” he said. “The dairy cow is an amazing thing. She can graze grass all day and then walk to the dairy in the afternoon with 30 litres of milk on board. That’s pretty impressive.
“As far as sustainable food products go, I don’t think you can top it.”