Author Archives: Craiglands

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BSC failed us

Category : Uncategorized

An article was written by Peter Hemphill of the Weekly Times this week which was about 2 years too late. However, it came now because of some pretty ordinary behaviour by Bonlac Supply Company who is supposed to represent the very farmers that they seem to have no regard for. Ironic really.

To give this article context, a BSC farmer rep – Simone Ross, located in northern Vic – was essentially sacked by the new chairman John Dalton, after she questioned and criticised the handling of information to farmers about how Fonterra was providing deals to some farmers and not others. I’m sure that John Dalton and others will say that Simone was not sacked, but if you are asked to take 2 months personal leave and the reason given were because of the aforementioned, then really, they want you out.

The thing is, this is not the first time BSC have done this. In fact, it is not the first time John Dalton has been in the midst of doing this. As a relative newcomer to BSC (before he was chair), he told another that they are not welcome at the table anymore. Sure, he didn’t outright SACK anyone, but the conversation did mention that no business would be discussed with the black listed member in the room. Nice.

Good on Leigh Schuuring from Tasmania for taking a stance on this disgraceful behaviour. I applaud his actions. And also Dave Conheady (south west Vic) who is resigning as chairman of the Fonterra Farmers Forum. I’m sure that the reasons are not solely about Simone and her treatment (which, I am also sure, is not an isolated case for her), but no doubt, these people see this as the icing on the cake. After all, if you take an opposing view, then you must be against them. God forbid, there is any robust conversations around the business of how Fonterra deals with its farmer suppliers.

Anyway, the sad thing is, the Weekly Times needed to run this article past its legal team, and in doing so missed the deadline to make the printers for the actual paper. So it was published in their online subscriber site. Not as many people have access to this (we all buy the paper after all!), and as such, this article – which in my opinion is the first one that really names names and actually points out what is happening – will not be seen by the masses. And it should be. Too many of us have suffered greatly at the hands of how Fonterra treated us in May 2016. And again when they were trying to rectify their monumental cockup. And it MIGHT not have been so bad, IF our representatives on BSC had just done what they were supposed to do and represent farmers instead of bending to the will of Fonterra. We will never know now.

Anyway, here’s the article:

Bonlac Supply Company under fire over its relationship with Fonterra
PETER HEMPHILL, The Weekly Times
March 27, 2019 12:00am
Subscriber only
ITS mantra is “Farmers Representing Farmers”.
But Fonterra suppliers and industry figures now argue Bonlac Supply Company has lost its relevance and its slogan should be “Farmers Representing Fonterra”.
A number of dairy farmers are now questioning BSC’s purpose and whether it should be wound up.
Current and past dairy Fonterra suppliers claim the BSC has become a “cheer squad” for Fonterra.
Some said BSC’s Supplier Forum was set up so Fonterra could use it to claim it was consulting with its suppliers.
But as Tasmanian forum member Leigh Schuuring said, when the controversial North Fresh contracts were developed last year, Fonterra told the group not to talk to suppliers about the arrangements.
Poowong dairy farmer Jim Forbes, who unsuccessfully ran for the BSC board in 2016, said the BSC’s Supplier Forum was “where they indoctrinate you into the Fonterra way of thinking”.
Fonterra critics — most of whom wanted to remain anonymous for fear of retribution — point to May 2016 as the turning point against the milk processor and the BSC.
When Fonterra followed Murray Goulburn in slashing its farmgate milk price, suppliers looked to BSC to go into bat for them.
But the milk supply company did the opposite, siding with Fonterra.
As one supplier said: “The independence of BSC went out the window there and then.”
Sources said it prompted two board members — Simon Finger and Tania Luckin — to quit soon after.
Another allegedly resigned from the board a year later as a result of Fonterra offering just 40c a kilogram of milk solids to compensate for its clawback in milk payments, when farmers expected more.
Sources told The Weekly Times the farmgate milk price drop in 2016, the low 40c a kg MS compensation package and the secret North Fresh milk contracts paid to northern Victoria Fonterra suppliers found BSC falling short of suppliers’ expectations.
BSC chairman John Dalton would not comment on the introduction of the clawback as he was not on the board back at the time but he said directors “always have the farmers’ best interests at the forefront of their minds”.
A Fonterra spokeswoman also said the BSC board represented farmer’s interests and acted independently of the milk processor.
One former BSC board member told The Weekly Times, only the independent directors — former Patties Foods managing director Greg Bourke and Wimmera grain grower Leo Delahunty — remain from May, 2016.
A few left in disgust at Fonterra, one quit dairy farming and others left to supply other dairy processors.
Only two Bonlac Supplier Forum members remain from May, 2016 — Western District dairy farmer and Supplier Forum chairman Dave Conheady and northern Victoria regional leader Simone Ross.
But Ms Ross is on personal leave and Mr Conheady is expected to quit by June.
That meant there would be no dairy farmers on either the BSC board or the Supplier Forum group left from the time of the clawback’s introduction.
One Supplier Forum member alleged there was a culture of heavy handedness within the leadership of BSC.
The source said BSC’s leadership did not tolerate criticism or independent questioning of Fonterra from within the board or by Forum members.
As reported in The Weekly Times two weeks ago, northern Victoria dairy farmer Simone Ross was told by Mr Dalton to take personal leave for at least two months, after she questioned the secrecy of the North Fresh milk contracts.
Tasmanian forum member Leigh Schuuring, who quit the supplier group after the handling of Ms Ross’ treatment, told The Weekly Times BSC did not like the questions she asked about the Fonterra contracts.
Ms Ross is believed to be seeking legal advice over her treatment.
Mr Billing said he was asked by Mr Dalton to resign in May, 2017, after publicly questioning the actions of Fonterra in offering a low milk payment.
Mr Dalton would not comment on either case but said he didn’t believe there was any heavy handedness by the BSC.
“As far as people being able to speak their mind, I believe that they can and I believe that they do,” he said.
At a time when Fonterra is negotiating an extension of the service agreement with BSC, some dairy farmers are calling for its axing.

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I blinked, and it is almost the end of the year

After a lengthy post back at the start of the year where I spoke about Christmas, holidays and the start of the school year, I promised myself that I would be more up to date with my blogging.  After all, we do refer people to this website and I knew that it would not do to have outdated information or infrequent blog posts on here.  And yet, this is exactly what I have done this year.


I’m not going to do a recap now (after all, what will I be left with to write about in my recap of the year when it comes Christmas!!), but suffice to say that it has been a busy, lengthy and at times, challenging year.

I thought that having the 4 kids at school would free me up for doing more “working ON the business rather than IN it” but you know, it hasn’t worked out that way.  I increasingly feel pulled and pushed into every direction and sometimes I just don’t seem to get anything achieved.  That being said, I have been able to concentrate more on the calves this year than I have for the past 8 or so.  And I loved it.  Until I didn’t.

And I didn’t because we had a (still) unknown bug hit our calves over a 3 week period and we recorded the highest mortality rate EVER in our calf rearing shed.  No amount of testing, autopsies, drug therapy, TLC or prayers were going to identify and ultimately stop whatever it was affecting our babies.  At the end of the season, we lost in the realm of 23% of our calves*.  Almost a quarter.  A QUARTER.  F*@k.  This left me in a pickle, as I then needed to keep everything that survived.  I had no surplus to play with.  So regardless of the genetics, I am keeping all B&W heifers.

(*I should clarify that number, by saying that this included bull calves as well, but as I had decided to keep about 60 bull calves for meat production and paddock bulls, this figure was kept as it reflected losses of bulls we may have kept as well).

Keeping 60 odd bulls has been a mixed bag of blessings.  We decided somewhere during the first part of the year to retain some bull calves that we could use as an income stream seperate to the milk income we received.  Whilst we are passionate and committed dairy farmers, the world and the economic climate is changing around us – and it is not for the better.  Having all our eggs in one basket and relying on a single commodity to provide our income is rapidly becoming a stupid business management decision.  Sure, we have cull cows and bobby calves to provide some income from, but that has traditionally been around the 10% mark.  We recognise that we need to get at least 25-30% of our income from an enterprise that is not dairy.  Over the years, we have tossed around various ideas of what we might be able to do, from vertical integration (processing our own milk and selling) to horizontal integration (purchasing a property that we can managed for feed).  But both carry huge risks and capital outlay that we just don’t have handy right now.  So the logical move is to utilise what we already have and try to make this better.

So rather than selling all the bobby calves for market price as 4-6 day old calves (which quite frankly is about $1/kg or less), we would grow them out here and sell them when they were coming up 18months -2yrs for the meat market.  There is also the idea that given our background in herd identification, monitoring, genetics and measurements, we could keep some of the better genetic bulls and sell them as working bulls at 2yrs of age.  And possibly, get a small number tested and into the semen market.

So this is what we did.  And then, after committing to keeping around 50-55 bull calves, we got hit with the news that we are entering an El Nino episode and that grain and hay prices are about to go through the roof.  Yay……(not really).

All of a sudden, we were lumbered with excess stock that we cannot really afford to feed at inflated prices, and stock that buyers are not wanting while climatic conditions are so……shit.  So what can we do?  Well, keep them.  Feed them.  Look after them.  And hope and pray that when the El Nino season passes and people are looking to restock numbers and potentially buy in some good paddock bulls, that our patience and persistence will pay off.

The upside is that we won’t need to buy in any Holstein paddock bulls in a couple of years.

We have increasing been using genetics as a management tool for breeding and selection.  At the end of last year, I made the decision that we would not use any Holstein semen in the late cows as I did not want to be tempted to keep the resulting calves (because their genetics was in all likelihood, not going to improve my herd).  So instead, I told Mark to use Angus and a relatively new beef breed – Speckle Park.  Our first SP calves hit the ground and they were VERY popular.  Not just with buyers wanting them, but surprisingly, with Mark as well.  I had to fight him off keeping them.  In the end, I think he ended up keeping 2 or 3 heifers and 2 bulls.  The others went to living homes where I get updates on some of them from their owners (Cookie & Cream, Salt and Pepper…).  I have to admit, the SP calves really were a highlight of the calving season and ended everything on a happy note.

Speckle Park x Holstein heifer calf

Breakfast time

Having breaky

2018 babies

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….and we’re back to normal programming

Category : Family

Is it just me?  Is it because I’m getting older?  But I swear those Christmas holidays seemed so much shorter than normal.  They simply flew by!  Mind you, there were times that they seemed to drag, and those were the days that we had absolutely NOTHING on – my version of bliss, but the kid’s version of utter HELL.  And what normally ensued was fighting, arguing, the occasional punch up, a couple of blood noses, screaming, crying……you get the picture.  So of course, it became hell for me too.  Because unlike Mark, I couldn’t escape the little buggers.  I was trapped.

Proof that injuries were sustained…..H knocked out Bella’s tooth.

But on the days that the sun shone, and there were things to do, games to play, places to see, the holidays were fabulous.


Christmas this year had a big scale back from what the kids had enjoyed in previous years.  Present numbers were reduced and there were “themes” around what they were going to receive.  A friend of mine – Kerryn Smith – has been doing these “Four Things” each year;

  1. Something to wear
  2. Something to read
  3. Something you need
  4. Something you want

..or something like that anyway.  Those are the themes we used.  Plus they each got a big present from Mark and I as well.  Plus the Santa sacks (that contained bathers, towels, water pistols….big chunky stuff and some small $2 shop stuff!).  The kids were told that this would happen and that if they came up with a good idea for one of these themes for a sibling, that they could “nab” that one and the others would have to choose from what was left.  Of course, I actually put the money towards buying them, but I have to say, that the ideas were amazingly moderate in price.  It was fantastic!

Christmas 2017 family pic

Biddy celebrating her 10th birthday on Christmas Day! Double digits!!!

(on a side note, we were informed reliably by Tom just before Christmas that he knew that Santa was not real.  And for that measure, he also knew the Tooth Fairy and Easter Bunny were not real either.  Which all came as a relief to me.  I really thought that I would mourn the day when my kids stopped believing, but in fact, I celebrated this milestone.  Now Tom can help.  We had a discussion about how Santa WAS in fact real.  Very real.  But Santa is not the man in the red suit that he’d been led to believe, and to believe in.  He was in fact a great number of people that worked together to keep the magic alive for younger kids.  But moreso, it was about the fact that BEING Santa gives you great pleasure and a sense of community.  It is about what YOU can contribute, and how giving actually feels good, rather than getting presents.  I think he got it.  He helped with the gifts this year (he understands that he has to upkeep the charade of the Santa sack that he gets so that the younger ones can believe), and he is very much looking forward to being part of it all in the future.  We quoted the line, made famous by Willem Dafoe’s character, Norman Osborn in Spiderman, “With great power, comes great responsibility”.  Tom now has the responsibility of keeping it all alive).

Anyway, Christmas went well.  I tried to set the side of the house on fire with the duck in the Webber, but luckily Mark got a water pistol for Christmas off the kids, and being the champion fighter fighter that he is, he managed to put it out with just one refill of his pistol.  Needless to say, we had the duck for dinner.  Luckily the turkey was already cooked!

Mark and I milked that arvo, and it was bloody hot.  And I forgot to take a refreshing bevvy with me to bring up the cows.  Rookie mistake.

placing flowers on Rex’s grave

The week following Christmas is a stupid one.  No-one quite knows what day it is.  Some shops are shut, others are open.  Some staff have leave, others only have the Chrissy day off.  Sleeping routines have gone out the window and the kids are not getting to bed before midnight.  It’s a crazy mish mash I tell you. We also lost our dog Rex on New Years Eve.  He tangles with the tractor and came off badly.  RIP Rex.  We also lost a few chooks, but this was by design.  They are now gracing my freezer and will form the basis of some very yummy meals.


But before long, we are starting to think about school starting and with Tom starting secondary school this year, we had book lists to pick up, computer to order, uniforms to be delivered.  It was a bit exciting really.  H started prep as well and hence, it was 4 sets of school shoes and 4 pairs of runners.  $850 later………


Mark and I attended a fire in Terang.  Hot and blustery, but a reasonable outcome all things considered.

And a great night out was enjoyed watching the Renegades thump the Sydney Sixers.  Yeah!

A relaxing 2 weeks in Apollo Bay was called for and we packed up and headed down to the beach for some sun, surf and Dooley’s ice creams (search them on Facebook).  It is always difficult to come back after that sort of break, however, school and work beckons and resistance is futile.

Dooley’s Ice-cream…….quintessential Summer

A walk through the Otways – Mait’s Rest

H was the first cab off the rank, starting prep on Wednesday.  He was so excited and looking forward to it all.  The uniform looks huge on him, but experience lets me know that it won’t be this way for long.  Biddy and Bella joined him on Thursday, with Tom also attending Trinity College for the first time on Thursday too.  Again, a very excited young man heading off to start the next chapter of his life.  I was a bit more emotional about Tom going to secondary than I was about H leaving me!

H’s first day of prep (31/1/18)

All going off to school (1/2/18)

He’s creeping up on me. I’m betting that he’ll be as tall – if not taller – than me at the end of the year.

Tom’s first day at Trinity (1/2/18)

Getting ready to hop on the bus

It’s a big step for a little kid. Four attempts to get on!

Made it! On the bus.

For Mark and I, well we scored new cars.  Well, I scored a new car, he scored my hand-me-down.  But I had it serviced and detailed and it seemed like a new car!!

So all in all, it was a pretty busy Christmas break.  I look forward to enjoying the rest of summer, hopefully catching up with more friends and family that we didn’t see over Christmas.  But for now, I am off to referee some more fighting and arguing because its Friday arvo and what else is there to do but start WWIII with your siblings?!

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Planning for 2018

Category : General Farm

A new calendar year always gives you the opportunity to start afresh.  It is a bit silly that a date on a calendar gives us the “permission” to do this, but nevertheless, we all do.

So today, I started some outlines of things that we will implement this year on farm, starting with breeding objectives and mating goals.  Over the past couple of years, we have been amassing quit a bit of information on the cows via herd tests, taking part in the Improving Herds project, submitting cows for Holstein Australia classifications and through genetically testing our calves for the past few years.  However, this information can become onerous quite quickly and what tends to happen is that it is simply set aside.  Today I worked out a rough plan of how we will start to integrate all this information together.  It’s going to take time and it will be a work in progress, but I hope that we will be able to have some firm records to measure ourselves against.

I was heartened to see that we had moved up 150+ places in Datagenes Genetic Progress Report since August 2017.  We hadn’t done particularly well in our sire selection for our 2014 drop cows, but things have picked up markedly with 2015’s data coming through.  And as I mentioned in the cow section, we joined our cows differently in 2017, so hopefully, we will see even more genetic gains as we go on.

I will also be taking more photos around the farm and uploading them on here throughout the year.  I will also be setting up a new page which will deal with current events on farm.  For those that are viewing our farm from urban areas, this will hopefully give you a better idea of the constant work that goes on within a dairy business.

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The signing off of another year

As I sit here, on the last day on 2017, I have a five minute window to reflect on what this year has been about for us.  There have been some great moments, but there have also been some terribly low ones too.  But I guess that we need them to learn from, to grow from and to show us just how great the good times are.

So what were the highlights and lowlights?

  • Mark was diagnosed with PMR (polymyalgia rheumatic) which answered a number of questions but presented us with a long recovery period on high medications
  • We spent 10 days at Apollo Bay over summer thoroughly enjoying ourselves
  • Kids started back to school with Tom entering his final year of primary school.  H starts kinder and this year marks our final year ever at Wydinia Kindergarten: 10 years all up.
  • Bella picks up tap dancing as an extra dance genre.  It is a LOUD activity.In March, we started preliminary discussions with a local architect to renovate and increase the size of our house.  This has been a long time coming and to be honest, I think there is still a long way in front of us.
  • Trevor celebrate 10 years with us and starts making good on taking long service leave (lucky bugger!)
  • Biddy is diagnosed as being unable to digest and absorb a number of carbohydrates and is on track to develop coeliac disease.  This follows on from some surgery she has just prior to Christmas the previous year.  Lots of tests ensued to work out what is the issue.  Biddy was placed on a full FODMAP elimination diet for 8 – 10 weeks and then had to reintroduce foods, one carbo family at a time.  The process is still not complete and has taken about 10 months.  Exhausting for me to work out what she can and can’t eat.  We are still working on diet.
  • Biddy and Tom go on their respective class school camps
  • Tom has increasing fainting spells and dizzy spells culminating in a seizure where his breathing and heart stopped for a bit.  scary stuff.  Tests for cardio and neuro followed but to date, nothing concrete has appeared as to why.
  • Our first ever backpacker has joined our Craiglands team.  Issy Foster, from England, is spent about 4 months with us.  She fit in amazingly well and everyone was very sorry to see her go.
  • We filmed an online advert for Puffing Billy during the first school holidays.  The filming crew obviously loved Bella as she gets quite a bit of the screen time.  You can see the clips HERE and HERE .
  • I started pilates as part of my surgery recovery (from last year) as I was having significant muscular pain.
  • In May, calving started on the farm and from now on, it is busy all the time as one activity rolls into another.
  • Mark is forced to resign from the Bonlac Supply Company board and the Fonterra Farmers Forum (of which he was chair) due to the fact that he voiced his concerns that the company was not looking out for the farmers.  Amazingly, in the months that followed, many of his PMR symptoms regressed and we now realise just how much stress he was under in the role he held off farm.
  • We nominate St Brendans Primary to take part in the “Cows Create Careers” program and give them 2 calves to rear for a few weeks.
  • Henry turned 5
  • Josh Robertson (aka Robbo) completed his Cert III in dairy and graduated at the SW Dairy Awards.
  • Bella turned 7
  • We dehorned calves for the first time using twilight sedation.  A game changer as far as labour management and animal welfare.
  • Biddy’s pony had to be put down due to old age.
  •  Our annual holiday was for 2 weeks to do the Oodnadatta Track in outback SA.  We all loved it, including Cooper the Kinder Bear who came along with us.  A memorable trip and amazing landscape.  Do it.  Put it on your bucket list.
  • Tom turned 12 at Oodnadatta
  • Biddy has a dermatologist appointment for itchy skin and turns out she has a number of skin issues (typical!).  Creams, lotions and potions are dispensed.
  • Sam becomes a mentor in a PhD program
  • We all got the flu over the third school holidays.
  • Bella undertakes her ballet and tap exams and aces the tap exam with a High Distinction!!
  • We start to get some info back on our participation in the Improving Herds project and initial data is great.
  • We use our genetic testing information to mate our heifers and cows based on BPI for the first time ever.
  • Biddy and Bella participate in their dance school’s dance concert with both of them picking up main roles.
  • Buster the rescue cat had to be put down due to kidney failure.
  • the farm hosts 8 dairy women from across Australia, including Sam, to film a segment to encourage Australian women to eat more cheese.  This advert will be aired in early 2018.
  • We welcome Emily into our Craiglands team.  Emily is undertaking a school based apprenticeship through Colac Secondary College.
  • The storm of the century  – the storm to end all storms, the 1 in 100 year event – cancels plans across Victoria including our family Christmas gathering in Gippsland. Only for the weather to be fine and sunny on SW Victoria.
  • Army worm moved in across SW Victoria and decimates pastures.  We spend $$ on getting rid of the bastards.
  • Tunnel moth moves in after army worms.  More $$ to get rid of these.
  • Silage season is great with good cuts both at home farm and at Gellibrand.
  • Robbo breaks his arm riding a bike (on his own time and off farm!).
  • Season turns off quickly after silage season, so a couple of truckloads of vetch hay is needed to get cows through summer.
  • Sophie finishes her Cert III in dairy.
  • Biddy turns double digits – 10 – on Christmas Day.
  • Rex the farm terrier died after an altercation with one of the tractors while Mark was feeding out.

That’s about it in a nutshell.  It was a busy year and on the whole, it went ok.  Looking forward to 2018, I hope that we can get some final plans drawn up for our house and as a family, get to spend more time off the farm together…even just for an afternoon or a night.  Tom starts secondary school which is exciting for everyone.  H starts primary school which is bittersweet, but the girls are looking forward to having him with them more.  H is looking forward to travelling on the bus!  Of course, we hope that some lifestyle changes for us all will result in better overall health, but I suspect that the reduction of stress on Mark will help a lot.  I also hope that next year we don’t loose as many pets, because poor Biddy suffered a bit with loss this year. Next year, with H starting school, I will be starting back on the farm 2 days a week and devoting chunks of time to updating our farm blog, website, Twitter account and Facebook page.  Keep an eye out for all that!

Have a wonderful New Year.