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From 20 cows to seven million litres of milk a year

When Tasmania’s Garry Carpenter started in the dairy industry in 1988 he had a small farm with around 20 cows.

Today, he still farms in the same area of South Riana but has expanded to include neighbouring properties and he and wife Bev lease another farm at Gunns Plains with a new robotic milking system.

Next year, they’ll be running more than 850 cows and hope to produce seven million litres of milk.

No wonder he says there’s no better way to build assets than the dairy industry.

At the same time his dairying career has allowed him to pursue his love of football (where he has achieved local hall of fame status), cricket and contributing to his local community.

No wonder he says he wouldn’t swap dairying for any other job.

There’s been little time to stand still since Garry and Bev bought his family farm in 1988 with ‘22 or 23 cows and a little seven-unit herringbone’ dairy. Two years later they bought out a neighbour and eight years ago added another property.

Part of the property was sold for a new irrigation dam but they’ve still got 240 hectares and lease a 240-hectare property in Gunns Plains owned by a Singapore investor.

“It’s a good arrangement,” Garry said. “I’m 56 and Bev is 54 and we want some lifestyle time. Next year it will bring our capacity to about 850 cows on the two farms.”

Farming has always been a good arrangement for the couple.

“I love growing grass and Bev’s really keen on the breeding side of things and does all the A.I., breeding really good cows. I love seeing good grass going into good cows making good milk.”

The robots are part of a retirement and lifestyle plan. The Carpenters haven’t personally milked for three years – instead handing those duties to members of their six-strong team – but they still regularly start at 4.30am to do other general farm work.

With their children not likely to work in the family business, the Carpenters will eventually sell their home farm and keep an interest in the robotic operation.

“I still want to be involved in the industry,” Garry said. “I’d be lost if I wasn’t involved in the dairy industry somewhere.”

The Gunns Plains farm was a former hops farm under irrigation and was a perfect site for robots.

“It had a massive hops mixing shed which was ideal to put in robots,” Garry said.

The conversion cost more than $1 million and took a year of planning, but it’s been worth the effort.

“They’ve been operational for four weeks and have been brilliant,” Garry said. “We’ve had no mechanical or technical worries and no issues breaking in the cows to the robots. They adjusted within two days. It’s been a real eye-opener to us in how easily they can adapt.”

Garry describes the amount of data collected through the robotic system as incredible.

“I don’t think I’ll ever get my head around it all,” he said. A visiting research veterinarian hopes to analyse the data to try to find a new mastitis treatment.

It’s that type of research and development that excites Garry and prompts his support for the Legendairy communications initiative to raise the profile and reputation of the industry.

“Dairy’s not all about putting cups on and chasing cows around in the mud in the early hours of the morning. A lot of people don’t realise how much there is to learn.

“Other agriculture guys think you’re just there milking in the cold weather, but it’s not that at all. It’s never boring and the new technology is incredible.”

With the new facilities the Carpenters hope to be producing nearly seven million litres of milk for Lion within a season and a half.

“This year we’ll do close to five,” Garry said.

“We’re fortunate in Tassie in that we’ve had processors invest heavily in getting more milk through. If we don’t grow, the processors won’t stay here. We’ve got to put more milk there and get these processors running at capacity.”

Garry sees a good future for the industry.

“If we can take out some of the bumps with prices I think everything is quite rosy. You’ve got to be bold enough to see past the bad points and be prepared to stick at it. I don’t think you can lose by investing in dairy as long as you’re prepared to hang in there.

“I don’t think there’s any better way to build assets than dairy farming.”

It’s a sentiment echoed by their daughter Jayde, who works in the industry as sales manager with Alta Genetics in Tasmania. Jayde is currently in the United States for work, training with a dairy management computer program. She will also visit farms to see their setup, pick up new information and technology and look at daughters of bulls that may suit Tasmanian farmers.

The Carpenters have an all-Holstein herd and Garry is the treasurer and board director for Holstein Australia.

“We bought our first black and whites 30 years ago,” he said. “I like good cows in any colour but I think Holsteins are the most adaptable and give you the best return in performance and longevity.”

The flexibility of being a dairy farmer has allowed Garry to pursue his passion for sport and the local community. He started with the Penguin Football Club in the 1970s and went on to play in six grand finals, winning a couple, and was named in the club’s team of the century.

“I had 10 years of football and never had a year of not playing finals. I was the smallest ruckman in the competition at 6’2” but I could jump a bit,” he said.

Garry, who was Penguin president for three different stints and coached the Burnie Tigers, has been inducted into the North West Football League Hall of Fame.

“I reckon dairy farmers are prepared to work a bit harder for the footy club,” he said.

He was also president of Riana Cricket Club for nine years and is in his second stint on the Central Coast Council.

“If you don’t work for yourself you’d find it really difficult. I enjoy it. It’s not all about making heaps of money; you try and make it so other people can have the same rewards that we’ve had.

“I’ve basically worked for myself all my life since leaving school. I don’t know how I’d go working for a boss.”