Author Archives: Craiglands

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Food glorious food…..NOT

Category : Family

I’ve been quiet on here for the past few weeks and that has been a direct reflection of how busy things have become.  Once I have a great idea for a blog post, 100 other things rear their crazy, ugly heads and I don’t end up getting anywhere near the computer.  Well, except to try and get last year’s tax done anyway.

Rather than try and fill you in on EVERYTHING that has been going on (because, a crapload has been happening in the dairy industry right now that needs it’s own blog post), I thought I would fill your on some health issues that have escalated here.

In a family of 6 people, you would think that a reason percentage of those that have ongoing health issues would be less than 20%.  That allows for 1.something people to have some health crisis going on at any one time.  Well, thanks to some faulty genetic coding, that figure is somewhere around the 85% for us.

Over the past 6 months, with a change of paediatrician, things have become a bit more serious about getting to the bottom of Biddy’s stomach issues.  6+yrs ago, she was admitted to hospital due to severe and unrelenting stomach cramps.  Ironically, it was during this hospital admission that we found out that she has hypothyroidism, although this is not related to the stomach issues.  Nothing we did helped and no medications eased them.  The cramps followed no pattern and the duration of them could last from 20 minutes to 6 hours.

After copious blood tests, stool samples and home remedies, our new paed suggested that it was time to see a GI guy.  So 4 days before Christmas last year, Biddy toodled off to Cabrini for a gastroscopy and colonoscopy (double banger!) to have a decent look at her guts.  Initially, things looked pretty good, although biopsies later on suggested that she was developing coeliac disease (supported by the fact that she has the gene for it) and breath tests done this year have come back that she cannot absorb fructose and sorbitol.

Two weeks ago, we saw the paediatric dietician at the Royal Children’s Hospital and was told that she needs to go on a low FODMAP diet for 8 weeks prior to reintroducing foods back.  I had heard of FODMAP……I had no idea about FODMAP. And now I know why!  Bugger me!!!!  It’s a bloody minefield.

I know that those that have been following a FODMAP diet tell me that it gets easier, that a lot of what we eat is already low FODMAP (let’s face it, if you stay away from packaged crap, you are probably going to be ok), but one area that made me feel like an inadequate mother was that of fruit.

Kids – and mine are no exception – if given the choice, will pick junk foods over wholesome foods.  Just watch Dreamworks “Over the Hedge” if you don’t believe me.    So in the face of them grabbing some pre-packed, chemical laden, artificially sweetened, colour and preservative added but bloody tasty snack, I often direct them to “have a piece of fruit”.  Turns out, that advice is not always the best.  For all kids, but especially for one that is unable to process fructose! (By the way, did you know that for kids aged 9 – 12yrs, they should only be having 2 pieces of fruit per day?  No, either did I until last week!).

I have had 2 weeks to get my head around this FODMAP thing and just like anyone that has ever had an assignment due and has left it until the last possible moment, I am sitting here, pulling my hair out, feeling like I want to cry, because I am trying to work out what I am going to send Biddy to school with in her lunch from tomorrow.  Tomorrow is D-Day.  Or should I say F-Day (I can tell you, I can think of a few things F could stand for).

I know I am going to cock it up.  If we manage to get through the 8 weeks of the elimination phase without her starving to death we might be on a winner.  At this point she is going to be living like a convict….on bread and water.  And by bread I mean corn chips, because she can’t have bread.  Well, not the regular bread anyway.  Of course she can only have the super expensive gluten free varieties that start at about $6/loaf.  I can tell you, none of that stuff will go mouldy in the bottom of the bread bin.  Like Darryl Kerrigan in The Castle who shoved everything of value into his poolroom, all my valuable food groups are “going straight to the freezer”.

And that leads me to another point.  The cost of specialised diets.  And the stuff-arsing about of organising specialised diets.  Biddy’s dietary issues are not going to kill her, although I’m pretty sure that she feels like she might as well die when she has an attack.  But for those that are unaware, her brother H does have LIFE THREATENING food allergies.  That little cherub is anaphylactic to about 5 types of nuts (not just peanuts), eggs and dairy.  Already, we have a modified diet around here just with him.  And we HAVE to stick at this one and I cannot fuck it up, because I will KILL HIM if I do.  Truth.

So this brings me to why I am feeling utterly overwhelmed right now.  For Biddy to have certain foods, things are swapped out and replaced to give the right “mouthfeel” or consistency.  A good example here is of swapping out dates for walnuts when making energy balls.  Because Biddy can’t have dates.  But if I replace with walnuts and H accidentally gets into them, the walnuts can kill him.  And there are things in reverse.  If I swap out eggs for avocado so H can eat it, Biddy can’t because of the fructans in avo.  Sigh.  Do you see my issue?

Already, trying to fit things around H’s allergies is a juggling act.  There are very few recipes that I can just run with for him, because do you know how many dairy, nut and egg free recipes are out there?  That a 5yo boy will WANT to eat?  Not all that many.  A lot end up being pretty bland and ordinary.  Now couple this with cutting out foods that are high in carbs.  Oh God give me strength.  And that is NOT a blasphemy….I really do pray to Him to give me strength in this area.

And the cost!  Don’t get me started on that.  Not only are they limited in what they can enjoy, but of many of the things that they can have (GF, dairy free etc), the cost is disproportional to the product.  I mean, come on…..$6/loaf for GF bread?!  Surely by now we know that there is a market for GF foodstuffs, so why hasn’t the price come down?  There are people out there that aren’t coeliacs and they eat GF bread.  The market is not constrained.

On top of this, live in rural Australia and try to access some of the products.  I have a feeling that internet shopping will be my friend.  Not for my bank balance, but for my children.

So, if I haven’t gone completely gaga and I actually manage to poke some food at Biddy that satisfies all FODMAP criteria and by some bloody miracle she actually enjoys things, I’ll report back.  I admit to not being very hopeful right now, but I don’t have much of a choice.  And as a mum, of course I will do what it takes to improve my kids quality of life.  Even if that means giving up all my spare and personal time to research, shop and prepare meals.


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Who’s business is it anyway?

A week or so ago, I had a surprising – and a little disappointing – discussion with a friend of mine in relation to our farm business and my family’s life in general.  And the discussion got me thinking about all the people that feel they have an opinion on our businesses, our lives and our reputations.  Especially when the offer to comment back is not reciprocal.

I am launching into divulging aspects of my farm business and life that really – and I shouldn’t have to say it, but I will – is of NOBODY’S BUSINESS BUT MINE AND MY FAMILY’S.  But for the sake of this post, to shed light on the conversation and to also give a perspective on my thinking process about all of this, I will let you in on things.

Let me begin at the conversation and work backwards.

The comment was put to me that due to a comment of mine on Facebook over one of the weekends about doing some hand drawn plans for a house extension, and the fact that Mark and I took the kids down to Apollo Bay for 10 days in January, that people have said that we were whinging about not being able to pay bills, but now we can afford to take holidays and build a house.

Wow!  Sounds like we are travelling overseas for extended leave and building a mansion.

Not that any of these people have ever said anything to my face.  EVER.  (Feel free to do so by the way….I would love to hear you tell me about how I am hypocritical about money).

There has long been a firmly held – but incorrect belief – that landholders and primary producers are “rolling in money”.  This belief I should say, is held by extended family members as well, not just by public.  However, for anyone that has been involved in agriculture to a reasonable degree, will know that the reality is not further from the truth.  True, our assets and the things we own are worth quite a bit of money, but assets do not equate high income.  In fact, the opposite is almost true for agriculture.

Think I’m stretching the truth?  Well how about some facts and figures.

It is common knowledge that in April last year, two of the biggest milk processors announced (for different reasons) that they were going to average the milk price to $5/kgMS (milk solids).  Dairy farmers do not get paid in c/litre like the public buys it.  So I imagine that $5/kgMS sounds pretty impressive.  Except for the fact that it is UNDER THE COST OF PRODUCTION for many dairy businesses.  In other words, we were – and still are – being paid less for our milk than what we can make it for.  Many half enlightened do gooders helpfully suggested that farmers just stop milking.  After all, the processors need the milk, so if we turned off the tap so to speak, then they would have to pay us a higher price.  Ummm….no.  That’s not how it works.

Dairy cows, like many agricultural animals, cannot simply “turn off production” like turing off the aforementioned tap.  The timing of the price drop also meant that a large proportion of the southern dairy farmers were caught in their peak milk period (i.e., the time of year that they produce the most amount of milk).  Stopping production was not something we could do.  In addition to this, if enough dairy farmers cease producing milk and the total amounts falls to a certain level, then there actually is legislation that can force dairy farmers to milk cows.  Did you know that?

So in May and June, in a bid to even out the year’s price to an average of $5/kgMS, the processors actually dropped the price to $1.80 ish/kgMS.  This effectively gave us a negative cash balance for those 2 months.  This is the TRUE part.  Families COULDN’T AFFORD FEED THEIR FAMILIES MUCH LESS RUN THE FARMS.  But as I mentioned above, we still had to milk.  And feed cows.  And buy fuel.  And purchase chemicals.  And run the farm like nothing had ever happened to the milk price.  Oh, and we still had to feed our kids, pay school fees, daycare and kinder fees and continue on like normal for our kids, like the stress of the world was not on our shoulders.

As an example, for our May milk (paid in June) we received just over $10,000.  The day my milk payment arrived, I opened up 2 bills from Barwon Water.  Each of them was over $5,000.  So the water bills alone used up my monthly money.  And I still had to feed cows, purchase dairy supplies, pay staff (’cause they don’t work for free!), pay fuel and and that point in time, was paying for seed that we needed 2 months earlier because tunnel moth and red legged earth mite destroyed 3/4 of the pastures on our farm.

Sounds exciting and so lucrative doesn’t it?

In order to get through those 2 months, most of the autumn calving farmers were forced to take a loan with their respective milk processors.  These loans were paid to us to bring us back up to a $5/kgMS for May and June milk, BUT the kicker was…..we have to pay that back with INTEREST.  Even though we were backed into a corner to take it in the first place, by the result of mismanagement that had NOTHING to do with us.

This is a simplistic view of the situation, however, comments from outsiders on how we use our money are also simplistic in nature too.  Just keeping it all on an even keel here.

Taking holidays.  Ok.  When Tom (who is 11yo) was a baby, Mark and I went away and stayed in a self contained house for a couple of days for a break from the farm.  It was at that point that we realised that we could not afford to take holidays in motels/hotels/resorts anymore.  We needed at least 2 rooms and that hiked the price up substantially.  So when Biddy (now 9yo) was a baby, we purchased a caravan and that is what we take holidays in.  We go to low cost places, where the kids can entertain themselves and we cook our own meals most of the time.  For a family of 6, our 10 day holiday in Apollo Bay works out to be cheaper than some of my friends who have smaller families but go to Melbourne or Sydney for the weekend. (Oh and I should say that we holiday in Apollo Bay because it is close enough to the farm, that if anything needs doing, we are close enough to nick back).

The tone of the comment – and others before – have been that we must have it pretty good if we can go away for 10 days, 2 weeks or even a month (every 3rd year) at a time.  Just another comment that gets me riled a bit.  Those that are working in paid employment enjoy their time off.  Whether that be on a traditional weekend (Sat/Sun) or whether it is over the school holidays, or whether it be during the week.  There are very few people who as employees get NO time off at all (and if you think you are getting no time off, then your employer is probably pulling a swift one on you, because by law, you are entitled to regular time off).  Not so for us.  Each YEAR, we get one 10 day break and one 2 week break to spend time together as a family away from the farm.  That is it.  We don’t get weekends off, or every school holidays, or even public holidays.  If we want to spend time as a family, then we all trudge up the paddock and help out with the tasks.  Just to spend time together.

In a year, there are roughly 96 weekend days, 12 public holidays and 4 weeks leave.  There is also sick leave for those that take it and use it as holiday (yes, as employers we know people do this).  So for the average worker, there are about 128 days that you are free to spend as you will.  With your family if you wish, or working on your projects, or sprucing up your house, or taking a holiday.  If I added in a few more days over the course of the year on top of our annual holidays, then we spend 30 days away from the farm as a family.  That means the average Joe has about 100 MORE HOLIDAY DAYS than us, and 1/3 of that is PAID LEAVE.  Ironically, when we take leave, we have to not only pay for the holiday or break we are taking, but we also have to PAY FOR STAFF TO BACKFILL our jobs.  So we pay twice.

Again, sounds great hey?

Many studies have been done that show that everyone needs leave.  Everyone needs downtime.  So why shouldn’t dairy farmers?  Why, when we take leave, people look askew at us and assume that we are either rolling in it, or hypocritical about our spending habits?

Finally, the house extension.  This is an easy one.  How many people buy a house with cash?  How many renovate their homes with cash? I’m guessing not very many and of those that do, it would be in the extremely low percentages.  So if “normal” people are taking loans to do this major stuff, why wouldn’t people assume that dairy farmers do the same thing?  The money to renovate doesn’t grow on a money tree out the back.  We will have to borrow it like anyone else.  And pay it back with interest.  Like anyone else.  Should farmers have to live in standards of housing below anyone else in the community?  Why can we not improve our lifestyle and farm assets?

Some may comment and say that it is hard luck for us, and we chose to be dairy farmers and so, by extension, we should just learn to live with the short vacation times, houses that our families have stretched to beyond capacity and the milk price fluctuations.  Yes, in part, that is true.  But what we shouldn’t have to do is JUSTIFY ourselves and the way we operate our businesses and family lives to people that have no idea about what we have to go through.

What I ask is this; THINK about what you say before you say it.  Perception is not always the reality.  If you are not prepared to have a microscope placed on you, your business and finances, don’t do it to us.  If you want to be educated about the issues facing the dairy industry and how they affect our lives, ask us.  Don’t gossip behind our backs.

So I ask again…..who’s business is it?  Who’s business is it to question what we do in regards to our business.  The answer is, no-one outside the business.


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Fat Unfeeling Farmers Fingers

Category : Dairy industry , Family , Funny

For a good many years now, I have had a bit of a dig at Mark in regards to his hands. A typical dairy farmer, they are large, calloused and very strong.  He works with them every single day and he is always amazed every time we go away how they clean up real nice!

The thing is though, Mark has no idea how hard and how strong his hands actually are.  Yes, they have cradled all our babies with utmost gentleness.  Yes, they have managed to do delicate tasks like doing up some of my jewellery.  But pretty much, on the whole, they are tough and – quite frankly – painful!

When Mark tickles, it hurts.  When he attempts a massage, it hurts.  When he playfully grabs at your knee, it HURTS (I cried once!).  So for many years, I have referred to his extremities as “Fat Unfeeling Farmers Fingers”.  Mark has even been stymied by the size of some smart phones, because his fingers mess up the buttons (he now owns a Samsung Galaxy, not really because of features, but because of size).

So, I was amused when I was forwarded this blog post by my mum, of a fellow local dairy farmer, and her experience of this “Fat Finger Syndrome”.  It appears that I am not alone!


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A week is a long time….

Category : Family , General Farm

They say that a week is a long time in politics.  Well, a week is a long time on our farm as well.

The kids started back at after school activities last week and with a number of changes to the schedule, it really put the pressure on me to be super organised.  It is going to be a very busy year.  Miss Bella has decided that she is going to do tap dancing this year (could she pick a more noisier activity?), so in order to that, she had to drop tennis.  She seems to think that this is a pretty good trade off.  Biddy is continuing on with acrobatics and Tom is still plugging away at the guitar.  Henry has been given a term off swimming lessons, but is allowed to have a play around in the water while the others swim.  With him starting kinder this year, it is hoped that a combination of increased age and the introduction of new rules (about how to behave) will help settle him in order to get back into swim lessons next term.  Little turd.

We have been busy on the farm as well.  Our position that we advertised for a milker has been answered and a new staff member starts tomorrow for induction.  I will do a post about the new person in the coming weeks.  Mark was busy at the Sungold Field days in Warrnambool last week, answering questions and fielding grievances that really head office staff should have been facing (don’t get me started), and tomorrow we are hosting a field day for a new feed out wagon.

One of our staff members, Sophie, is starting her traineeship next week.  We are very excited for her and she is looking forward to gaining more skills to use around the farm.  Next week also, we have a film crew here doing something about something that has nothing to do with us, but they need cows in the background.

Fonterra announced a step up last week, but at $5.20/kgMS no-one is really celebrating.  Generating a lot of trust and increasing good will certainly needs to be the focus for Fonterra over the coming 12 months…..companies such as Midfield milk’s UDC are on the horizon and loyalty being what it is….well, I think they will have no trouble attracting suppliers.

Our work with Thomas Carr College is getting to ramp up again for 2017.  We have decided to change the presentation (largely because I was sick to death of it!!), so a bit of work needs to be put into developing a new presentation in time for the kick off in mid March.

Earlier in the year, Mark and his dad took part in an advertising campaign for 90 years of Western Star Butter.  The ads have started hitting main stream media as well as social media, banners and posters.  For all the time it took to shoot the darn thing, their spot in the ad is tiny!  I think the cows get a bigger bit.  And they were an afterthought!! Hahahaha

90 Years of Western Star

Click HERE to see the advert.

And that sort of quickly wraps up what we have been up to lately!


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Making the punishment fit

Category : Family

Four kids in a house designed really for two, means that we are often in each others way and space.  There simply is not not enough room for all of us especially when we are all confined to the house for extended periods.  I mean, everyone sitting around watching a movie is fine, but when everyone wants to do different activities, well, that’s when the wheels sort of come off things.

Today was a good example.  We were sort of forced inside because of the heat and the flies (flies will be the subject of another post later on…they are unbelievable), and after a morning spent at the movies, the itchiness to do something was just proving too strong.  Especially for a certain 4yo.

Tom had found some amusement in some nano blocks he had purchased with a Christmas voucher, the girls were content with trying out Biddy’s new water speakers (they spurt water up and down with lights in time to music).  The problem was, they needed my computer to hook up to power.  So we all sat around on the living room floor listening and watching the water speakers (which really are pretty cool).

Henry, on the other hand, was not so content.  He was hell bent on cracking open a packet of “Bunch of Balloons” that the kids had been given for Xmas and getting out in the heat and flies to throw some around.  I told him that he could, but just needed to wait until the searingness of the heat had gone out of the day.  Every minute, he came and asked me about doing it, and every time my answer was the same;  “Yes, but not right now.  It is too hot outside”

Clearly, this wasn’t good enough for him and while my back was turned to help one of the girls do yet another craft project that they pulled out, he helped himself to my computer.

Now this is a known NO NO.  Our computers – mine, Mark’s and the farm one – are out of bounds for the kids unless we are directly sitting next to them watching.  Even at 4yo, H knows that from previous experience and punishment, that he is not allowed to play around with my computer.  So when the music suddenly stopped, I knew he was doing something he shouldn’t be.  And as such, he got a smack on the bum.

Now before I get any bleeding hearts or visits from the authorities about child abuse, let me say, it was not hard and did not even leave a mark.  It was his pride that was affected more than anything, but a stern and solid reminder that he must not touch the computer.  EVER.

Less than 15 minutes later, I go into the lounge to pack up all the stuff (because let’s face it, that’s what mums are for right?) and flick open my computer only to discover that there is a dirty big crack running from top left to bottom right of screen.  Right away I knew who had done this, but I gave them all the benefit of the doubt and screamed at all of them accordingly.  At this point, they were all guilty until proven innocent.  It really came down to between Bella (aka clumsyclots) and Henry (aka the devil).  Both were adamant and full of tears and wringing of hands that they were not to blame and it was not either of them.

I knew it really had to be H, so like the great mother I am, I played them off against one another.  I told Bella that there would be no water balloons until the person that did the breakage came forward.  All would suffer for the actions of one.  It wasn’t very long until H came out and owned up.  He had stood on the computer.  Although it is unclear if it was from spite at being punished, or just a thing that kids do when they are walking around and fail to notice things under their feet.

Now, my inner turmoil begins.  H is 4yo.  He knows basic right from wrong.  He knows that it is bad to lie.  He knows about the computer ban.  He knows that actions have some consequences.  But at the end of the day he is 4yo.  And this time, he owned up to the crime (alright….after some prodding by the others…..but he owned up).  So given that he has no money of his own, has no capacity of working it off, will have forgotten about this whole episode most likely before the day has ended, what is the most appropriate punishment?

A quick call to the computer shop eased my heart (and bank balance) somewhat as there is a single crack not a smash, and this is covered potentially under warranty.  Otherwise, it was a $1000 repair.

So returning to the punishment…..what should I do?  Well, I can tell you, that after 11+ years of being a mum, one thing I have learnt is that whenever something like this occurs, it is always a smart move to either remove them from your line of sight, or you from theirs.  Give yourself a minute to regroup and truly assess how bad it all is.

When I was a younger mum, Tom bore the brunt of my very explosive anger.  Now, really only Mark cops it.  But he’s big and ugly enough to take it on the chin.  I have learnt since that my kids don’t respond to that kind of anger.  In fact, the opposite is probably more effective.  We are a loud family.  We yell, shout, make lots of noise.  I’m grateful that we don’t live in the suburbs.  So when I go quiet….really quiet, that’s when the kids freak out.  So that is what I did.  I just told H to get away from me, that I was angry that he broke something of mine that I was sad and that it was going to cost a lot of money to fix.  And he also got another smack.

But the biggest punishment of all……..I let the other 3 kids go outside and play with those bloody water balloons, and yell and scream and laugh and run about in their togs.  And I made H sit inside and watch.  And it KILLED HIM.  The screen can be replaced with little effort.  But H learnt a valuable lesson today, and inside I knew that I wouldn’t have to deal with this particular issue ever again, all because of missing out on playing with some latex and water.

Because after all, what more does a 4yo want to do on a hot day?