James Toohey might have been blind but he had a good vision for the dairy farming land he settled near Casino in 1907.
James couldn’t see the land but his wife Rose-Anne described the undulating country, running creek and Scotch thistles and he knew it would make a good farm.
They selected and named it Padua Park, cleared it for farming and 110 years later their great-grandson Terry Toohey continues to enjoy its benefits.
James was 37 when he purchased the land and the thistles were a deciding factor. “There’s an old-time saying that Scotch thistles only grow in good country, so they selected this area and developed it,” Terry said.
“He was totally blind but managed to keep farming. How they did it with what they had in those days was a mighty feat.”
The farm, 10 kilometres west of Casino has expanded over the years to 160 hectares where Terry and his wife Annabelle and their children Hannah 18, Lily 15 and Jacob 12, milk 300 Holstein cows.
“It’s still good farming land,” Terry said. “We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t.”
Padua Park has some notable history; it was the first farm in the region with a tractor and the farm house was once partially destroyed by a mini tornado, but it continues to provide a profitable base and enjoyable lifestyle for the family.
Fourth generation dairy farmer Terry says he “wouldn’t swap it for the world”.
Terry spent more than a decade as a stock and station agent but was keen to return to the land. “I wanted to work for myself and give my family the same opportunity to experience the rural life that I had,” he said.
Terry became involved in farming representation about 12 years ago. He was on the Australian Dairy Farmers board and its animal health and welfare group. He chaired a cross commodity board for the National Farmers Federation, joined the Cattle Council of Australia, was on ministerial-appointed agriculture boards, and is Dairy Connect’s Farmers’ Group Representative.
“Dairy Connect came about because dairy farmers wanted united representation just for their interests,” he said. “We’re now the only organisation in Australia with a paddock-to-plate board including processor representatives and the grocery/retail sector.”
Now in his late 40s, Terry places a strong emphasis on planning for the future using technology and innovation. “We’ve got to think outside the square and develop policies for the younger generation,” he said.
He wants to maintain a collective bargaining group with his processor Parmalat, and is pushing for the value of milk to be maintained on the domestic market.
Terry sees a bright future for the industry in northern New South Wales, particularly as people move to the region for lifestyle reasons. “More people are here to drink milk,” he said. “New South Wales is one of the most profitable dairy industries in Australia.”
He supports the concept of Legendairy to raise the profile and reputation of the dairy industry and thinks people are responding.
“Consumers voted against $1 milk and instead purchased private label milk because they can see the benefits for the farmers,” he said. “People appreciate farmers and didn’t go for the cheapest product.
“The dairy industry is proud of what we do.”
Terry also hopes to get agriculture back on the school curriculum and is involved with Dairy Australia’s Cows Create Careers program in Casino’s public school.
A new Farm Visit program aims to open farm-gates across the country to connect children, the farm and the kitchen.
Farming friends Karen Sowter and Emily Neilson from Dungog in New South Wales’ Lower Hunter Valley have launched ’Farm Visit’ and they plan to roll it out nationally.
The program will link children, schools and Australian agriculture by opening the farm-gate to create relationships, understanding and connection.
A former grain and corporate marketer now living on a beef farm with her husband Mark and six-year-old son Samuel, Karen wants children to understand more about their food and the importance of supporting Australian agriculture and farmers.
Emily, husband Matt and their three-year-old son Joseph, set up a dairy farm two years ago and are passionate about the industry. They are the first local dairy to open their farm-gates so families and children can feed calves, watch cows being milked, make fresh butter and learn about the day in a life of a dairy farmer.
Farm Visit ultimately aims to encompass all types of agriculture and Karen says it will give children a better understanding of the food chain. The initial launch of Facebook and Instagram sites attracted 36 bookings within the first week.
Karen runs the Primary Schools Program at her local agricultural show and an incident during the 2016 show proved to her that more needs to be done to educate children.
“We were hand milking a cow and even though the children couldn’t drink the milk, I encouraged them to dip their fingers in the bucket to feel it,” Karen said. “One boy said `oh, it’s warm, my milk comes out cold’. He didn’t realise milk comes from an animal and he didn’t understand the connection.
“That’s part of the driving reason to get kids on farm so they can understand more about their food and who produces it.”
Karen also hopes Farm Visit will strengthen brand awareness with consumers.
“By giving visitors samples of branded dairy products, we’ll get them recognising their local milk brands and the awareness not to buy generic products. That will help our dairy farmers,” she said. “We want people to buy a product that’s going to go back into the pocket of Australian farmers.
“If we can build a connection between every non-farming family and farming families, they will stop and think about what they buy.”
Karen believes educating children is the best way to influence future purchases. “Children can take the message to their homes. If they’re pouring milk on their breakfast they can say `we went out on a dairy farm and we want the milk that is best for our country’.
“More and more people want to know how their food is produced or grown, and how many food miles it has travelled, and we want to be proactive in showing them; in all agricultural sectors. This is where the Foodie Farm Visits and Open Days really shine,” Emily said.
Dungog is perfectly located to host farm visits, Karen said. ”It’s less than three hours from Sydney, an hour from Maitland and 90 minutes from Newcastle. There’s are a lot of schools and pre-schools to work with initially.”.
Emily and Karen have launched a GoFundMe appeal to raise funds to cover start-up costs, insurance, facility improvements and to provide materials for children.
Supporting industry groups and the local community is important to the Farm Visit culture. Both Karen and Emily support the Legendairy communications initiative to raise the profile and reputation of the dairy industry and are active members of ALWN; Australia’s Legendairy Women’s Network.
Farm Visit can be found at www.farmvisit.com.au, www.facebook.com/farmvisitau and www.instagram.com/farmvisit/
If Jess Pearce is the future of dairy in the LEGENDAIRY Bega Valley then that future looks bright.
The 22-year-old has just been appointed as Dairy Australia’s Young Dairy Co-coordinator in the district and is taking on the role with energy and enthusiasm.
“It’s very exciting. I have a strong passion for being involved in the Young Dairy Network (YDN), as well as discussion groups in the local community,” she said.
“I’ve always loved farming and I was always Dad’s ‘right-hand man’ as a kid, even if I had to stand on a bucket in the dairy to reach everything.”
Jess has seen plenty of Australia in her fledgling agricultural career, but the green valleys of Bega were always going to bring her home to her family’s fourth generation dairy farm.
“I was in TOCAL Agriculture College and then I just wanted to get out and work, so I moved north for a few years where I was a sugar cane contractor, worked on a station and on a passionfruit farm,” she said.
“I was still in agriculture, but I was opening my mind and seeing the bigger world before I came home. Then I came home for a holiday and I never left again.”
The YDN was established to meet the needs of the younger generation of dairy farmers, employees and service providers, offering education and support to people aged between 18 and 40.
Jess is the first YDN co-ordinator appointed in the Bega Valley, which means she has a big job to create the networks and support systems for younger farmers in the district.
“I know there are a lot of younger people out there but, before now, no-one had brought us together,” she said.
“The YDN program can help form that community of young farmers through discussion groups and social gatherings where they can get to know each other.
“It’s really going strong at the moment in the Bega Valley area and hopefully it will keep going strong. It’s a great place to be a dairy farmer.”
For Tom and Gemma Otton, the best thing about dairy farming is watching their two year-old daughter Sophia enjoying every minute of farm life.
The LEGENDAIRY Bega couple milk 150 cows on 400 picturesque acres just north of the famous dairy town and love the lifestyle.
“I always said I wanted my kids to be with me until they are ready for preschool, so it’s good that she can be around with us while we’re working,” Gemma said.
“Being your own boss means that when we go to feed the calves, she can come with us. She’s with us every day.
“It’s a good lifestyle for her. She’ll pick-up sticks in a paddock that we’re about to sow or she’ll go on the tractor with Tom if she wants to.”
The family friendly aspects of dairy farming are a great help to the 24-year-olds, who are building a farm business from scratch.
Neither Tom nor Gemma grew up on dairy farms, but started working in the industry about seven years ago for a herd recording service.
Having got to know farmers in the industry, they decided that dairying would offer them a stable platform on which to build a family business.
“We got to know some really good farmers in the area and one of those farmers offered me a job as a manager and, bravely, we moved onto that farm and stayed for about three years managing a Jersey herd,” Tom said.
Tom said they weren’t put off by the ups and downs of the agriculture sector, with dairy farmers always seeming to be making a dollar, even when times were difficult.
“I saw the dairy farmers were doing it tough, but they were still buying a new tractor or putting in a new vat, so I thought if this is what it’s like when times are tough, it’s probably not a bad option.”
Having leased a farm since last year, the Ottons have had a harsh instruction to running their own business, but have a strategy of how to improve the way they manage the farm.
“I tell my workers to learn from everyone. Whether they’re good farmers or average farmers, just take a bit from them all, which is what we did,” Tom said.
The Ottons have already had a taste of LEGENDAIRY status, with their four year old cross breed cow, Felicity, being named Miss February in in the 2017 LEGENDAIRY calendar.
Young dairy farmers from across the NSW Mid North Coast have been broadening their horizons to improve their farm business skills and spread the Legendairy message to the city.
The 40 farmers, service providers and young farmers came together to participate in a Dairy Discussion Group tour to the South Coast of NSW. The group visited 10 dairy farms, ranging from large scale total mixed ration systems and pasture based systems to a robotic milking system.
The tour originated from the Taree Dairy Discussion Group, which had successfully connected more than 80 farmers for bimonthly meetings to discuss seasonal conditions and topics they choose themselves.
The NSW Young Dairy Network had a strong presence on the tour with Hunter Local Land Services sponsoring seven young farmers; Abbey Smeets, Sophie Burns, Adam Cooke, Kate Forbes, Tim Wilson, David Brown and Brendon Pearce.
“It was a great opportunity to broaden horizons and improve farm business management skills by seeing how differently each farm operates and learning from one another,” NSW Young Dairy Network Coordinator Sam Nicholson said.
“Having local groups where ideas, experience and knowledge is shared is a fantastic way of driving change,” he said.
The group also got to fly the Legendairy banner with the Sydney Harbour Bridge in the backdrop to raise the profile of the industry.
“It was great to see the group fly the Legendairy flag in the city as this is where much of our milk is consumed,” Sam said.
“It’s important that we continue to educate consumers about the amount of dedication and passion that goes into every litre of fresh milk that leaves the farm so Australians will continue to encourage people to buy dairy and support their local dairy farming families.”
There are a wide range of technologies available to dairy farmers and the tour was a great way for farmers to learn about them. Farm employee Kate Forbes from Gloucester said she really enjoyed visiting the different farms.
“Listening to the farmer talk about how he got to where he is today, and the day-to-day farming practices he implements, in particular, calf rearing and staff management was great,” Kate said.
“Robotic milking, automatic teat sprayers and monitors for heat detection; these technologies will only improve over time and are definitely something to consider for the future.”
Sophie Burns, who farms with her partner Adam Cooke at Pampoolah, said: “It’s given me some good ideas to apply to our farm. One of our main goals is to build a calf shed to give our calves the best possible start. We’ll also be focusing more on breeding lines and breeding better cows.
“We’ve already done a succession plan for the next three years and five to 10 years,” she said.
The NSW Young Dairy Network hopes to seek more funding and support for young people to enter the industry as the capital costs can be a significant barrier.
“There are a great number of young people working in the industry or wanting to get into the industry, which inspires me to connect with them and provide them with opportunities like this tour, and other workshops and networks,” Sam Nicholson said.
For more information about up and coming YDN events in the NSW Mid Coast region and how to be involved contact YDN coordinator Sam Nicholson on 0427666709 or go to the Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/nswydn/
Sam Nicholson is on a mission to inspire more young people to join the dairy industry.
The recently-appointed DairyNSW Young Dairy Network (YDN) coordinator wants to attract a new generation of farmers to an industry with a bright future.
“There are so many opportunities for a variety of jobs in this industry – you don’t just have to be a milker putting cups on,” he said.
Sam hopes Australia can follow the lead of New Zealand where he spent the past year studying agriculture at Massey University, after winning a Dairy Australia Farm Business Management scholarship.
“I was inspired by the amount of involvement young people have in the industry in New Zealand,” Sam said. “Young people are our future farmers and the ones with new ideas. We need to do everything we can to get them involved.”
Sam, 23, is one of two YDN coordinators in New South Wales and covers the mid-coast and Hunter regions. The part-time YDN job connects him with the broader farming community and he is still heavily involved in his family’s lease farm with parents, Geoff and Megan, at Lansdowne near Taree.
In his YDN role, Sam promotes the industry’s Legendairy communications initiative via social media networks and organising social and educational events. that develop and build the capacity of young dairy farmers by improving their knowledge, skills, confidence and leadership abilities.
“The main objective is to attract and retain young people in the dairy industry,” he said.
“A lot of people just think a dairy farmer gets up at a ridiculous time and milks cows, but there’s a lot more to it than that. Programs like Legendairy and the Young Dairy Network show how attractive the industry is.”
Sam says the capital costs of getting into dairy can scare some young people but he adds that there are good models, such as share farming and lease farming, which can provide pathways.
“You can start as a relief milker and eventually buy your own cows and build equity. I want to create awareness of these different pathways,” he said.
The YDN job was advertised while Sam was in New Zealand and he was so keen that he flew home for an interview. “It’s a great personal development opportunity and a great learning curve for me,” he said.
Sam grew up on the 300-hectare leased family farm and loved the freedom and connection to the land and cows.
“When you’re a dairy farmer you have a sense of being part of a community,” he said. “You get attached to the land around you and you build a relationship with the cows and nurture them from an early age.
“When I was at school I’d help dad after school and on the holidays - something I kept up when I went to boarding school and when I studied Agricultural Business Management at Charles Sturt University in Orange.
“The study helped me to understand more of the science behind the farming system and then put what I learned in the classroom into practice.”
Sam says there’s a confident vibe about dairy in New South Wales, though farmers still have to cope with environmental challenges and price volatility.
“Overall it’s quite positive,” he said. “The Free Trade Agreements with key export markets, the westernisation of diets and the rising household incomes in many Asian countries will create many opportunities will bring opportunities and there are a lot of resources to help farmers to improve their business and their profitability.”
On the home front, things are looking good for the farm which milks a mixed herd of 220 cows. “We’ve had a good spring and more rain around Christmas has set up a good season. It should progress to an ideal season,” Sam said.
Sam’s ultimate dream is to own a farm, following in his parents’ footsteps but expanding with new ideas and technologies.
“I want to always be open to opportunities,” he said.
Students from Mount Annan Christian College have gone to the top of the heifer-raising class after winning a new regional competition.
Five schools and one home-schooled student took part in the inaugural Legendairy heifer-raising competition at the Camden Show on Friday and Saturday, 11 and 12 March.
The success of the competition could lead to its expansion across New South Wales.
Organiser Luke Micallef said the school-based competition had reinvigorated the Camden show’s dairy exhibit.
“There were just under 100 head of cattle which was a big increase on the past few years,” Mr Micallef said.
“There’s no doubt the school competition helped to boost numbers,” he said. “The milking class was about normal but there was a big increase in the heifer classes and in the first Jersey class.”
The dedication shown by Mount Annan students in raising their heifer was recognised by judge, Jim Strong from Albion Park.
“The judge felt the Mount Annan student parading the heifer had the best knowledge and the school’s students in general had gained most from the experience,” Mr Micallef said.
The winning heifer was an Ayrshire supplied by the Hayter family from Werombi.
The schools had been raising their heifers for the past month and students had gone beyond the call of duty to ensure they were well presented.
“Some schools entered two heifers and some students were at the showgrounds till 11 o’clock at night getting the heifers ready,” Mr Micallef said. “They really put in an amazing effort.”
All schools involved want to return next year and other schools have shown interest.
“Fingers crossed it can grow from here,” Mr Micallef said.
Mount Annan Christian College agriculture teacher Jenny Caines said the competition was a great learning experience for students.
“We raised two heifers for about three weeks,” she said. “They were a bit skittish to start, so we put them on leads and taught them how to walk.”
The students also hand fed the heifers, clipped them, and washed them on hot days.
“They did a really good job making them look good and getting them used to being handled,” Mrs Caines said.
A core group of six students were involved in raising the heifer and others helped at different times.
“Some students were quite comfortable but others weren’t used to being around cows so it helped them to get over any fears,” Mrs Caines said.
The heifer was led by Cassandra Herdman who impressed the judges and her school.
“Cassie’s not from a farming background but she’s a beautifully calm animal handler,” Mrs Caines said.
The school hopes to expand on the program next year.
“We would like to build on it,” Mrs Caines said. “It’s something industry-based and knowing about animals is a great learning experience for students.”
The school competition was designed to give students exposure to the dairy industry and experience in handling animals as well as improve participation in the dairy section of the show.
It was supported by Dairy Australia’s Legendairy communications initiative to raise the profile and reputation of the dairy industry.
To read our Legendairy stories, head to legendairy.com.au
Students from Camden are perfecting their animal handling skills in a new heifer-raising competition that could spread across agricultural shows in New South Wales.
Students from five schools and one home-schooled student are involved in the inaugural competition which will be decided at the annual Camden Show this Friday and Saturday, 11 and 12 March.
Organiser Luke Micallef, hopes the competition will spark interest in the dairy industry among school children and reinvigorate dairy exhibits locally and at agricultural shows across the state.
Luke and wife Jess represent Legendairy, the Australian dairy industry’s communications initiative, by presenting dairy education sessions at the Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide Royal Shows. Last weekend they also provided farmer demonstrations for children at the popular Melbourne Food and Wine Festival, literally bringing a slice of country life to the city.
Luke, who works in the dairy industry in feed sales and nutrition, is also a member of the Camden Show Society.
He said the school competition was designed to give students exposure to the dairy industry and experience in handling animals as well as improve participation in the dairy section of the show.
“We looked over the fence at what the beef guys were doing and they get all the schools involved. So, we’re trying to get something similar happening with a dairy schools competition,” Luke said.
Students from Elizabeth Macarthur High School, Elderslie High School, Camden High School, Mt Annan Christian College, Hurlstone Agricultural High School and the home-schooled student have been raising their heifers for about a month.
They will compete in the open class of the show and also in a specific school section which will look at the bigger picture of raising a heifer.
Luke said the students would be judged on how the heifer is presented and prepared and the knowledge they have gained from the program.
“We’re not judging the heifer; we’re judging how the students were involved,” he said.
“What we didn’t want was the heifer with the best confirmation to win; we want the kids who have put in the most effort and learnt the most to be recognised.”
Luke said raising a heifer gives students an appreciation of what makes a good dairy cow and cattle handling techniques.
Agricultural teachers at Penrith and Castle Hill have expressed interest in developing similar programs.
“We’d like to set it up across Sydney and New South Wales,” Luke said. “Ideally, the competition will expand to have regional finals and then culminate in a state final at the Royal Sydney Show,” Luke said.
“That would really showcase dairy in the school environment and improve participation of dairy cattle at our shows.”
Luke wasn’t raised on a dairy farm but has revelled in his move into the industry.
“I didn’t grow up in dairy but I was taken under the wing by a few different dairy farmers and that’s what gave me a start in the industry,” he said.
“This is my way of giving back. By getting kids involved. That’s our future.”
Luke said his and Jess’ dairy education sessions, as representatives of Legendairy, helped to grow the reputation of the industry.
“We show where milk comes from, how to milk a cow and we make skim milk, butter and cheese using an antique milk separator,” he explained. “We get an amazing reaction. The general population is amazed at how simple the dairy products are to make and how little processing goes into it.
“You get bombarded with questions about the industry which is a good thing.”
Footy and dairy farming have always worked well for Travis Thompson.
He’s spent 20 years in the industry and has over 300 games of country footy under his belt – and now, well-settled in his third year as farm manager at Binnowee Dairy, just east of Wagga Wagga, New South Wales, he’s seeing just how important the connection between the two is.
“Dairying is pretty constant; it’s seven days. You can get caught sitting in your own world a bit on the farm. The footy club is a good place to get away with the whole family. You can play a game of footy and then enjoy socialising with some people who are in the same game as you – milking cows – and know what it’s all about.
“That’s the beauty of any sport associated with small communities.”
It’s a connection that will also be celebrated by the AFL on 11 April when Collingwood and Adelaide clash in the Legendairy Farmer Round, which will highlight the enormous contribution Australia’s dairy farmers make to their communities.
Travis grew up in Warragul, in the heart of dairy country in Gippsland, before his dairy farming parents moved the family to Goulburn Valley, in northern Victoria. He joined the Strathmerton Football Club in the competitive Murray Football League and quickly flourished, making the senior team at just 15.
“I was lucky enough to get a senior game then and the footy was pretty strong. I played about 100 senior games there.”
As a teen, Travis wasn’t particularly interested in following in the family’s footsteps.
“When I was 14 or 15, milking cows was probably the last thing I wanted to do when I left school,” he said.
But dairying didn’t leave him for long.
“I worked as a plumber for a couple of years. I was doing a roof job on a dairy farm and was talking to the guy there, and I thought maybe that’s what I’d actually like doing. That snowballed back into dairying.”
He started sharefarming at age 19, working for himself on farms in the Goulburn Valley. At the same time his footy career continued to rise, and he played five seasons with Murray League rival Numurkah before moving to Shepparton in what many considered to be the cream of Victorian country footy, the Goulburn Valley League.
“Footy was my passion for a long time and I couldn’t get enough of it. I tried to play to the highest level I could, and had a go in a few different leagues.”
In Shepparton he met his wife Sherrene, a keen netballer, and started a family. He worked for an AI company and on several corporate farms before word of mouth reached the ownership group at Binnowee.
“They approached me and wondered if I’d come up here and manage their place,” Travis said. “We’ve not looked back. It’s been a really good move for our family.”
That was three years ago, and Travis, Sherrene and their three kids, all aged under 10, have settled into life on the banks of the Murrumbidgee River.
“I came on board as a farm manager with the knowledge that I’m going to be an owner in the business as we go on. That was a major reason we came, along with the size of the place and its potential.”
The business plans to grow the herd of 500 milking cows to 700 or 800 in the next year.
“I think NSW is potentially in the box seat for milk. There’s some opportunity to tap into the export market a bit more and produce some more milk,” he said.
“We want to expand and milk a few more cows, and we think we’ve got the place to do it. It’s taken us a couple years to get set up; we’ve done some major renovations in the dairy and added more irrigation infrastructure to help us along the way.”
The area is also prime sports country, and he’s been able to continue his footy passion.
Travis and Sherrene joined the Osborne Football Club, a club with a century of history and considerable success, including 12 A-grade premierships between 1991 and 2012. Sherrene plays netball there and coaches as well.
“It’s unique. There’s no town, just a footy oval in the middle of nowhere. It’s got an unbelievable community following and it’s a very successful club. It really is the hub of that whole area. They’re limited in what resources they have but jeez they come together well on a Saturday.”
Club members have donated time and supplies to build facilities, and Travis says this kind of spirit makes it worthwhile.
“For the first half of my career I didn’t see that side of the footy club. It’s when you’ve played a fair bit you realise a hell of a lot of people put in a lot of time for nothing. It’s all built on the community. Now I’m in the phase of putting back into the footy club.”
He’s enjoyed helping to coach some of the up-and-coming seniors and watch their success.
“The good memories through football are that you meet a lot of lifelong friends. I’d be quite happy to walk back into any of those clubs on a social Saturday. It’s like you’ve never left.”
It’s not just the camaraderie that Travis appreciates.
When there’s a disaster like floods, fires, or an accident or death in the community, you find that the footy club’s the first place that you go to for help. Or the club organises 10 blokes to go and fix something if it’s broken.”
There’s one break, however, they might not be able to fix; a broken ankle sidelined Travis last season and may end his career on the field at age 41. But don’t count him out.
“If I can get my ankle right I’ll probably play a few more games,” he said.
And if not? Well, between coaching youngsters and life on the farm, he’ll be plenty happy.
Dairy farming is far from being a job for the boys on the Sherborne family farm in the southern highlands, south of Sydney.
Grant and Jane Sherborne want to dispel the myth that dairy farming is just a job of last resort for strong lads, and their farm at Burrawang proves that’s no longer the reality.
Eldest child Georgia, 19, now works with her parents and the farm’s roster of casual employees is almost exclusively female.
The Sherbornes never set out to prove a point by hiring female workers; it’s just evolved that way.
“Girls seem to be the only applicants we have at the moment,” Grant said.
The female workers have ranged from international backpackers to university students and they consistently help the Sherbornes to maintain their high standards for quality milk production and environmentally efficient farming.
“Maybe if you go back years ago, farm work was thought of as a basic labouring job,” Grant said. “But one of the reasons I employ girls is that they don’t have to be physically strong to do this today; they just have to be smart and want to do it.”
Grant believes the job market would improve if dairy was seen in the positive light it deserves.
“The perception of dairy needs to be lifted,” he said. “The student we have here loves what she’s doing but she doesn’t know how to tell everyone that she’s gone to uni and is not using that degree. It’s got to have more appeal to their peers. If you say you work in a dairy they might think that you can’t do anything else.”
That’s why Grant and Jane are strong supporters of Dairy Australia’s Cows Create Careers program that introduces school students to the many jobs available in the dairy industry, and the Legendairy initiative that aims to improve the profile and reputation of dairy farming.
“There’s a terrific amount involved in dairy,” he said. “We had a policeman work here for a while and he found it was a bit beyond him with all that’s involved in animal health and working with cattle – he said police work was far easier.”
One of the great things about dairy farming is family involvement.
In addition to Georgia, son William is finishing Year 11 at school and will follow in his sister’s footsteps on the farm. Youngest Samuel, 14, is still at school as well but already has his eyes on entering the farm business through calf rearing.
“Georgia’s been on the farm for the past 12 months,” Grant said. “She could have gone to uni but she wasn’t keen. She said the farm is what she’d like to do and she seems to be more interested in it as time goes on.”
The Sherbornes are doing their part to change negative perceptions. Their involvement in Cows Creates Careers takes them into local and Canberra schools to help students raise calves and learn about the importance of, and opportunities in, the dairy industry.
“We’re trying to get kids out of the idea that ‘if I can’t get into anything else I might be able to get a job on a farm’. We show them how much is involved in dairy farming,” Grant said. “It’s working quite well,” he added.
A career dairy farmer, Grant sees a bright future for the industry.
“If you can get everything right on-farm there’s a good future. There are a lot of farms out there who are spot on and they’ll do well,” he said.
The Sherbornes maintain high standards to ensure they produce top quality milk while caring for their animals and land.
“I do have high standards,” Grant says. “If someone gets a bit slack I say: ‘no, it’s got to be done this way’. We want top quality production and top quality milk.”
This has always been the successful philosophy behind the Sherborne farm.
When Grant was 13 his father, a potato and dairy farmer, was killed in a tractor accident. His mother was able to carry on the dairy until Grant left school to help.
“I could have gone further than Year 10 but I had more interest in coming home and doing stuff on the farm than going to school.
“Teachers used to say I should go on and do engineering or something like that but farming’s an engineering thing as well. If you’re interested in it, it’s amazing how much you can learn.
“When I left school I had more interest in growing pasture and the machinery than the cow side of it. I’d help, but my mother was still running the dairy.”
Grant was particularly interested in irrigation and at 17 he became the first dairy farmer in the district to have a travelling irrigator.
“A lot were saying: ‘he’s a young kid, he’ll go broke spending all this money’, but it worked out all right. Every dairy around here has irrigation now.”
Grant still likes to innovate, especially when it comes to farming to maintain the land for future generations. The farm has introduced a mirror-image feedpad to more efficiently feed the cows after milking, a slurry tanker to pump out sludge and recycle it to paddocks, a new large dam and expanded irrigation system, and more recently a mobile phone app that is used for taking milk cell counts and detecting bacteria.
Grant has converted some of his extensive experience into an Advanced Diploma in Agriculture, and he’s also joined the Board of the Dairy Farmers Milk Co-operative to give something back to the industry.
His innovation and quality work pays off with the mainly Holstein herd producing about five per cent more this year.
“I think it’s looking good into the future. The top farms will continue to do well,” Grant said.
Some professional sportsmen are left floundering and unsure what to do with the rest of their lives when their playing careers are over. But not Ian Hindmarsh.
The former NRL star and seventh-generation dairy farmer had no such dilemma when he retired from professional sport at the end of 2007.
“I was lucky. I always knew what I wanted to do after rugby league. I knew that, even before I started playing,” Ian said.
What Ian wanted to do was dairy farming, a profession he grew up around and continues to enjoy.
“Dairy farming has been a passion all my life,” he said. Ian grew up on a dairy farm at Robertson in NSW and now owns a 160-hectare farm at Cowra with his wife Lisa and two young children.
They bought the former irrigation property 10 years ago and converted it to dairy.
At the time Ian was between clubs, having ended his long association with the Parramatta Eels, which included playing second-row forward in the 2001 NRL grand final.
“We bought the farm when I was off contract,” he said. “Then I got a contract at the [Canberra] Raiders, which was only two hours away. I was living in Canberra and came out to the farm on my days off or weekends we weren’t playing.”
Ian played a further three seasons with the Raiders while turning the farm into a dairy operation.
“If I got time off from training I’d be straight to the farm. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do.”
Looking back he sees stresses involved in dual careers.
“I didn’t think it was tiring at the time but it probably was. If I focused more on my rugby league I could have gone a bit better.”
However, having the farm has paid off in the long-term.
While his sisters and brother – former NRL star Nathan – never wanted to go into dairying, Ian is happy with his choice.
“I was always going to get back into it,” he said. “Dairy farming is a massive challenge.”
Ian particularly enjoys breeding cattle.
“We run big Holstein cows. I like stud cows and I like breeding cows. That might not be the commercially smartest thing to do but that’s why I’m in dairying.”
He admits that attempts at showing cows haven’t been successful so far.
“We’re getting some nicer cows. If you tell me I can’t be the best at something, I find that a challenge.
“I want to breed better cows but I want to set up a nice life for my family and be financially sound.”
Dairying remains his priority despite tough conditions.
“I would love to stay in dairy farming as long as there’s a financial benefit out of it. That’s all I really want to do but you have to be smart about it. You can definitely make a living out of it as long as your mortgage isn’t too high.” Consistently better prices would help.
“We need to start getting better rewards for it,” he said. “It would be ideal if we could make a nice living out of milking 150 cows in a robot dairy and have minimal staff and get weekends off to go to sport with the kids.”
As it stands, the farm milks about 350 cows in an 18 double rapid exit dairy that was installed with plans for milking up to 600 cows. They peaked at 400 but found it more economical to draw back on numbers.
Getting the right balance between production levels, profit and family time remains a challenge.
“We were probably better off five years ago milking 280. When we pushed to 400 we went back financially,” Ian said. “It’s about getting the balance right.”
The farm was set up for efficiency and to create good conditions for the cows.
This includes an undercover feedpad, and he’s considering full free stalls.
“Our summers are too hot for cows to go out and graze and in winter if we get too much rain we can’t graze the cows and it turns the paddock to slop,” Ian said.
The farm has experimented with three daily milkings but has reverted to two, partly due to difficulty in finding enough staff.
The Lion supplier targets 30 litres per cow, per day and is currently sitting on a 28-litre average. The farm also calves year-round.
“If feed prices are okay, we’re okay,” Ian said. “We’re trying to use as much homegrown feed as possible. That’s why we cut cow numbers back.
“They’re talking about Asia starting to drink more milk products. That’s awesome for the NSW and Australian dairy industry. It will give us another option,” he added.
As a committed dairy farmer, Ian is pleased to see the positive image being promoted by the Legendairy communication initiative.
New South Wales dairy farmer Luke Micallef says dairy farming is more than just a job.
“You end up living it,” he said, and every year he and wife Jess prove that by giving up their annual holidays to host milking displays at the Sydney Royal Easter and Royal Melbourne shows.
While most people take holidays to relax and get away from their work, Luke and Jess are keen to spend time educating people about the dairy industry and how milk is produced.
“I love being a dairy farmer, but if I wasn’t I’d probably be a school teacher so in a way the shows combine the two. Even though we’re talking work, it’s really rewarding and we, and about 20,000 people at each show, enjoy the experience.”
This year was no exception. During the 2014 Royal Melbourne Show in September, the Micallefs ran their milking demonstrations in the newly named ‘Legendairy Milking Barn’ for five sessions a day over the entire 12 show days. The display followed a day in the life of a dairy farmer.
“We milk by hand but talk about how the machines work now and how technology has helped the industry,” Luke said.
After milking the cows, Luke and Jess separate the cream and skim milk to make butter and cheese.
“People can see where it all comes from and how it evolves into some of the products they are familiar with,” he said.
“The little kids are amazed by it. They think milk just comes out of cartons but end up associating the white stuff on their cereal with the white stuff in the bucket.”
While some parents don’t know how butter is made, many older visitors can relate to the traditional methods being used.
Luke has been showing cows at Sydney Royal since 1998 and was a member of the Royal Agricultural Society youth group before being asked to run the milking demonstration.
The Micallefs, who farm in Camden Park, about 70 kilometres south-west of Sydney, have done four Sydney shows and two in Melbourne and are keen to keep going, even though the set-up and pack-up times and show schedules take up virtually their entire leave period.
Luke is a proud advocate of dairying and supports Dairy Australia’s Legendairy marketing and communications platform, which was launched last year to raise awareness of the Australian dairy industry.
“It’s important people are more aware of the industry and know the story behind the milk on the shelf so they see value in it,” Luke said.
He is also passionate about getting more young people into the industry. At 26, he is one of dairying’s young champions and one of the few young farmers not to come from a dairying background.
Luke’s father ran a chicken farm in Camden near Sydney but he became interested in dairy when his parents bought a house cow and he found work on the ‘Marylands’ dairy in neighbouring Bringelly.
“I’ve always enjoyed working with animals. The Thompson sisters who owned the dairy down the road were really passionate about it and every week they’d spend time with my sister and me, showing us how to work with the cattle,” Luke said.
“They took us under their wing and nurtured us along. It was their support and passion that led me in this direction and there was no drama with my family about going into dairy.”
Luke achieved his Bachelor of Agricultural Science from the University of Sydney.
In less than a decade working in dairy, he has seen massive advancement in production, herd size and business professionalism.
“There’s a lot of excitement and new technology in the industry, like robotic milking, robotic calf feeding and GPS farming.
“Decisions are being made on economics, not just on the way dad did it. It’s a really exciting industry to be in and the whole community needs to know that milking cows is only part of dairy farming. Science and technology are also important,” he said.
Marie Farley gets up every morning at 5 o’clock to milk the cows before settling into the day’s work of tending to the family dairy farm at Kempsey in New South Wales.
She rounds out the day by returning to the dairy to again milk the 110 cows.
Thousands of dairy farmers across Australia do the same thing.
The difference with Marie is that she’s 85 years old.
Marie has dedicated her working life to dairy and has moved from hand milking to using modern technology without missing a beat.
Despite some pressure from her family to retire, Marie has continued to enjoy actively working on the farm.
“If you love it, why not keep going?” she says.
While Marie finally plans to slow down later this year, she looks back on a dairy career that has been enjoyable personally and from a family perspective.
When she was young, Marie used to help her father, who tended cattle and also milked dairy cows.
“We were milking by hand when I started. That’s a long, long time ago,” she said.
She later married John Farley, a second generation dairy farmer, and they worked together on the farm for 60 years until John passed away, four years ago.
Marie had already taken on more responsibilities after John was forced to retire due to knee injuries.
“We had nine children in the family and we all helped outside, but when John couldn’t go out because of his knees he stayed inside and became a great cook and I went outside to work,” she said.
“I always liked outside better.” Marie was far from a novice when she was called on to take over more of the farming duties. Apart from raising nine children, she was always keen and active on the farm.
“The whole family helped. The children used to milk before they went to school and when they came home. It’s a good life to bring up a family. Everybody helps one another,” Marie said.
“I used to take the babies to the dairy. We had a cot or a play pen over there. We’d all work together.”
One son, Paul, continues to work on the 80-hectare farm while another son, Pat, works as a teacher but lives on the farm.
Marie has worked through floods, droughts, recessions and major industry change.
“I’m still there. I still get up in the morning and milk and still milk in the afternoon.”
She also calls on her dairy products to help her start and end her day, with a spread of butter on her toast and milk in her tea in the morning and then a plate of yoghurt later in the day.
She does have some time off from the daily routine.
“On the weekend my son has a day off and I have a man come and help me. I might have a morning off now and then. We have a high school student who comes down and helps on a Thursday. He’s been very good.”
Although she still loves the farm, the cows and the work, Marie thinks it might be nearing time to retire.
“I’ve always loved it but I think it’s time at my age to hand over to somebody else. My son will eventually take over.”
At the moment they milk about 110 mostly Friesian cows and have recently introduced some Jerseys to the mix to increase fat levels.
“We’ve had a pretty good year, though it’s a bit dry,” Marie said. “We give them a lot of green feed that we buy in. We make up silage – last year we made 700 of the big round bales to keep us going through winter – and feed that and grain and wet barley to them as well. You’ve always got to keep the cows happy.”
Marie remains active with a variety of jobs across the farm, from planting pastures to maintaining the herd.
The farm produces nearly 2500 litres of milk daily, consistently achieving about 24 litres per cow per day. The farm continues to progress. A new dairy was built about 15 years ago and a new vat was installed about four years back.
“I’ve always had confidence in the future of dairy.”
Marie has been through revolutionary times in the dairy industry with automation, technology and innovation making farming easier and more efficient these days.
“Oh golly, not having to hand milk was a massive help,” she said. “When you’re hand milking it’s a long haul.” While proud of remaining fit and working well into her 80s, Marie looks to her family as her greatest achievement.
“Rearing a family is a great achievement. They’ve all had good education.” Although she is likely to slow down later this year, Marie continues to love dairying and supports the Legendairy communication initiative to raise the profile and reputation of the industry.
“A lot of people don’t realise how hard it is and what it does,” she said. “Some children think milk just comes out of a bottle.”
A lifetime of dedication to dairying won’t fade when she does retire.
“You’ve got to love it, otherwise you wouldn’t do it. You get to be your own boss and enjoy nature,” Marie said.
“You can stand on the verandah and look across the new bridge over the Macleay River and the floodplain. It’s the longest bridge in Australia,” she said.
“It’s a great spot to be.”
“My daughters have been trying to get me out of dairying for a long time but I’ve said no. They say I must love it, which is true. It’s one thing I know how to do. It’s just a way of life.”
Picton dairy farmer and producer John Fairley likes his milk the old-fashioned, natural way and thousands more are following his taste buds.
Each week his Country Valley processing plant produces about 100,000 litres of milk products to supply the local, Sydney and Canberra markets.
When John invested in the plant a decade ago, he was producing just 8000 litres per week from his own farm.
However, Country Valley soon found it was perfectly placed to capitalise on growing consumer interest in natural local food production and has since grown into a profitable venture, sourcing milk from six different farms.
“Milk is a good, healthy and natural product and we’ve got to keep it that way and promote it that way,” John said.
“Everybody now wants to know where their milk and their food come from, what’s in it, and the ethics of how it’s produced.”
Country Valley’s focus on making a natural product in an environmentally friendly way has held it in good stead with consumers.
“People seek us out and notice the difference and rave about it,” John said. “We get a lot of awards at shows and the interest is built up through word of mouth. Our milk tastes like milk once did. I never use permeate and that makes it taste so much better. It works well for making coffees in the shops.”
“Milk products are healthy, for example skimmed milk is much better than energy drinks,” he said.
John farms the way his grandfather and great-grandfather once did and thinks Australians would be better off if they went back to basics with their eating habits.
“We’ve got to go back to basics. It’s going the wrong way at the moment and adding millions to the national health costs.”
After the dairy industry’s deregulation in 2000 and land transfers within the family, John realised he could not survive with 100-120 cows on 130ha of land, which runs alongside a beef operation managed by his brother Peter.
As the sixth generation of the Fairley family on the land, he was not about to be the one responsible for breaking the link that dates back to 1855, when his forefathers arrived from Ireland. His son Tom, 25, is the seventh generation and currently works the dairy.
“It’s been operating as a dairy for so long that we like to keep it going,” he said. ”We’re building those numbers up now.” Moving into on-farm processing was a no-brainer.
“It wasn’t a hard decision to make. With deregulation and changes on our land, we had to do something. I wasn’t going to be the generation that loses the land.”
Production went through the roof when $1 per litre milk was introduced and people started thinking more about supporting their local dairy farmers.
“We’ve had 55 per cent growth since the $1 milk came in and people turned to us. We’ve had to replace four major items in the plant to keep up with the extra demand.”
The plant was built to process up to 120,000 litres a week and John has no plans to expand.
“I’ve got a no-growth policy. I think 110,000 a week will do; anything above that I would be too stretched. If I got bigger I would lose my niche in the market.
“The accountants go purple when I say I’m not going to grow any more but we want to get our efficiencies up and our costs down.”
John completed a systems agriculture course at the University of Western Sydney and puts its philosophies of systems thinking, communication and continual learning into practice. He admits the tough years experienced building up the business had an unexpected positive impact.
“Between 2004 and 2008 I couldn’t afford to put fertiliser, sprays or anything on the paddocks. We used as much recycled and diluted cow manure and water as we could. I thought the whole farm would collapse but all of a sudden it took off. I did a soil test and found that over the four years I’ve increased the carbon levels by 25 per cent.”
The farm has not used chemical fertiliser for three years and instead relies on on-farm recycling, composted chook manure and recycled food waste out of Sydney.
“I get a heap of food waste out of cafes I supply in Sydney and mix it with horse manure, straw and sawdust for a fantastic compost. I closed the loop; I send so many nutrients to Sydney in the form of yogurt and milk and cream and now I’m bringing nutrients back.”
The environmentally friendly practices are not only good for the farm but also for Country Valley’s reputation and bottom line.
“Every time I go green I save money and the community appreciates it,” he said.
“I will never stop carbon farming. I’ve had clover come back, and the worms have come back. There are just too many benefits.”
While John supplies and has a good relationship with major retail chains, he remains concerned about the impact of $1 per litre milk.
“Everyone is racing to the bottom and no-one expects to pay what they should for healthy food, but you have to remember the poor old manufacturer. They have to do things cheaper and cheaper which eventuates in too many Australian food manufacturers going out of business.”
However, John, who attended the local launch of the Legendairy communication initiative in Camden to build the profile and reputation of the industry, looks forward to the challenges ahead.
“Farming has been good to us. It’s a way of life and we want to see our heritage continue and our valley stay as farming land.”
Dianna Ferguson’s enthusiasm for dairy farming is obvious when she talks about dairy cows as being like “elite athletes”.
That comparison might seem a bit of a stretch but the Cobargo farmer stands by her description.“When they’re full of milk and happy and healthy it’s an awesome feeling to be milking cows. You have to describe them as the athletes of the cow world, they’re elite,” she said.
Dianna and her partner Steve Shipton milk 180-200 Friesians on their 263ha farm near Cobargo in New South Wales supplying Bega Cheese.
They have been involved in dairying full time since 2000 and remain passionate and committed to the industry.
“Steve loves growing grass, I love seeing the cows kept in good order.” Dianna said, “We’re both nurturing and caring people. We have a smaller herd and can keep control and get to know them all. “When it rains and you’ve got lovely grass and cows in good order, it is very rewarding. That’s what keeps you going.”
Dianna’s great grandparents started milking on the farm about 70 years ago. She and Steve started working on the farm in 2000 and bought into the property in 2004, firstly through purchasing cows, plant and equipment and then buying the property in 2010.
They milk off less than half the dryland farm, the rest is used for dry cows and heifers and some cropping.
Dianna grew up on the coast at Tathra and studied and worked in Canberra for six years before meeting Steve, who was a diesel mechanic and had come off a beef farm.
From age eight most of her school holidays were spent at the Cobargo farm. “Some of my fondest memories are there,” she said.
In 2000, Dianna and Steve were returning to the farm to help out which solidified their passion.
“That became our number one. We both love the cows and the land and work well together,” she said.
“Whether it’s the cows and their genetics or a passion for working with the soils, there is a lot of reward in what we do on the dairy. It gives you a lot of fulfilment.”
Since taking over the farm they have concentrated on increasing production.
The farm today has a strong in-calf rate and a peak of 33 litres per cow in spring and averages of 28-29 litres across the year.
“When you work hard and get cows in calf and produce milk like that, that is one of our proudest moments,” Dianna said.
“We like to maintain their condition and have good feed throughout their lactation,” she said. The farm uses some purchased high quality tested concentrate and fodder feed, but aims to make as much home-grown feed and silage as possible depending on conditions.
Dianna admits the intensity has been challenging but at the same time rewarding. Dairying is the predominant farming practice in the region, with about 80 local farms supplying Bega, and Dianna is confident about the future.
Dianna attended the launch of the dairy industry’s Legendairy communication initiative to build the profile and reputation of the industry and highlight the contribution dairy farmers make to Australia. She believes it is hitting the mark.
“Dairy is getting some momentum and recognition for what we do. It is exciting to be part of it.”
Dianna represents her area on the Far South Coast Dairy Development Group which likewise has gained momentum in recent years as optimism grows in the industry.
She also supports the industry’s adoption of standards that will enhance its reputation in the broader community.
“We’re proactive, not reactive, and have standards in place. We’re a professional industry and not doing things that will give people a stick to beat us with.
“We want a good name and to do the right thing for our cows and our land, and we have standards in place so animal activists don’t have to force regulations on us.”
Their farm has been involved in succession planning and an environmental program with Bega Cheese that has led to new laneways, biodiversity areas, creek crossings and revegetation works.
“The farmer wins and so does the land,” Dianna said.
“All the farmers I know do care about the land and the future. They have children and hope in the future their kids will be involved in the farm if they’re interested.”
Dianna and Steve have children aged seven and 10 who also enjoy the farm, while town friends and relatives love staying on the land.
“It’s a really positive sentiment and it’s critical for the community to know that if they want a strong agricultural sector in Australia that milk doesn’t just turn up at the shop.”
New South Wales
© 2015 Dairy Australia