Category Archives: Dairy industry

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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  After all, we do refer people to this website and I knew that it would not do to have outdated information or infrequent blog posts on here.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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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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Get ready to break out the pitchforks

Fonterra announced it’s end of financial year report yesterday, and front and centre was this figure: $834 million profit.


Quite frankly, I doubt whether many dairy farmers are going to read past this figure because it is just so BIG.  And it flies in the face of Fonterra CEO Theo Spiring’s comment that Australian dairy farmers were being paid too much.  Adding insult to injury, Theo went on further to say that “What we are doing is drive (sic) every cent of money which we can out of Australia back to New Zealand shareholders in this extremely low milk price environment.”


I’m guessing that Theo (and let’s be fair in sharing the blame around here..Gary Helou, former boss of Murray Goulburn) aren’t overly concerned that the milk that they sip in their overpriced lattes in the city actually contains only a poofteeth of the money that dairy farmers are paid for them to enjoy.

But why waste good time and energy on being concerned about the nations dairy farmers?  Because one of them isn’t here anymore and the other resides across the ditch.  But we are here.  Still slogging it out, trying to make ends meet and retain some sense of normality for our kids.  But to open up emails, twitter feeds, Facebook posts this morning to be greeted by $834 million profit.  Well….it almost made me choke on my own morning cuppa and spill the white gold!

I went to an industry forum on Wednesday that was put on by the Young Dairy Network (supported by Dairy Australia) where a number of speakers presented information on the wider industry outlook, Victorian farm results and on farm practical applications.  A sobering dinner speaker Dr Jon Hauser, bought a sense of reality to the day when, in his own words (“these are my opinions only”) suggested that Victorian dairy farmers that were supplying the commodity export markets could in reality not expect to see highs of $7/kgMS or even $6.50.  Sobering yes, devastating information, no.

In amongst all of yesterday morning’s noise dealing with the huge profit announced by Fonterra, there was also a hearty discussion about Wednesday’s forum.  Some criticised, some supported.  What I found interesting about the criticising camp was that it concentrated around the notion of getting rid of Dairy Australia.

I’ll come clean.  In a past life, I worked for the Department of Agriculture (or one of the many names it presented itself as) and I was an extension officer.  This role meant that I was to take R&D results and deliver them to farmers in either workshops, discussion groups, focus groups or one on one in a form that could be implemented on farm.  Back then, the DofAg was the go-to for independent research, development and extension.  But those days are gone.  Completely gone.  Dairy farmers pay a levy which funds Dairy Australia.  Dairy Australia (DA) uses this money to drive R&D, extension (or workshops), promotion and raising the profile of the dairy industry to our city counterparts.  Is it perfect?  No.  And I will be the first one to say I have some criticisms and reservations about some of the activities.  But do I think it is a waste of money?  No.  Do I think that it should be scrapped?  God no.

Getting rid of DA would do no good for the dairy industry.  Without them in the landscape, farmers would be at the mercy of research and development that was done by commercial organisations that have a vested interest in a particular set of results.  And we would pay handsomely for it.  More than the levies paid to DA.

Someone on Facebook made the comment that they could take the money they paid in levies to DA and do their own research.  Good luck with that.  Your $8K (as was quoted in the post) is not going to go very far.  Sure you can travel the globe and check out innovative and interesting farming practices, but implementing them back on your own farm is quite another thing.  A quarter of that amount is going to disappear in travel costs alone.  And then there is the accomodation, meals, drinks….

DA and the United Dairy Farmers of Victoria (UDV) are being caught up in the blame game that is happening right now.  However, what we must understand is, neither of these organisations had any sway on what happened.  Yes, the UDV has been active in the arena of trying to sort out the mess, but they didn’t cause this.  DA didn’t cause this.  The leadership of Theo Spierings and Gary Helou caused this.

If we are going to break out the pitchforks and go on a Salem type witch hunt, let’s make sure that we are hunting the right people.  Let’s make sure that the heads on the spikes are the ones that put us in this predicament.  Because I want this industry to not just survive, I want it to thrive.  I want to have the confidence in the longevity of it.  When hubby and I eventually give up the dairy game, I don’t want to be buying my milk out of Tetrapaks from China.  I want to have the knowledge that the forums such as Wednesday’s are going to keep happening.  Because that will mean that young people are still interested and entering our industry.

Which is a good thing.

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Look after #1

Yesterday I had the opportunity to attend the South West Ladies Lunch which is really another name for a lunch attended by 300 odd female dairy farmers and an excuse to drink champers.  Not enough champers, but it was on offer.  Milkshakes too if you wanted!  This is only the second one I have attended although they have been going for about 5 years or so (probably longer in some different guises).

The presenter at this year’s event was non other than Dr Sally Cockburn (pron. Coh-burn, not Cock-burn), or better known as Dr Sally Feelgood.  Sally was entertaining and funny and insightful and truthful and talked bout things that most dairy women – and dare I say, women in general – don’t want to address.  That they put themselves last.  Nearly always.

She put up a slide of one of those talented Chinese performers that can keep all those plates spinning on chopsticks and not let any of them fall.  She likened a lot of womens lives to that picture.  That we are madly keeping all the plates spinning (or the balls in the air) and feeling like it needs to be US that keeps them going, that we let the really important person in our lives down.  Ourselves.

I really hadn’t thought of it in that way before. It sort of hit me like a ton of bricks really and it is such a stupidly simple concept that inside me, I was a bit upset with myself that I had let me down.

Last week, I suffered some major nerve impingement whilst at my second (or is that third or fourth??) job.  I was in the water teaching kids to swim and it was right at the end of class when I moved a particular way and BAM!  EXCRUCIATING pain in the forms of pins and needles and numbness right down both arms and legs.  A trip to A&E and a rushed CT scan showed a distinct narrowing of some vertebrae in my neck.  A rushed MRI shows that there is something wrong with one of the discs as it is bending my spinal cord into the shape of a banana!  Pain killers, muscle relaxants, anti inflams were all prescribed and taken duly (because I was in so much pain).  But you know what?  For months…and I mean MONTHS….I had been getting around with non painful electric shocks down arms and legs.  But I did nothing about them.  I did trapse off to an osteopathy guy here in our town and some improvement in extremely stiff muscles was noted, but the pins and needles remained.

How long would I have ignored them for had I not been forced to end up in casualty last Thursday night?  And why?

Because I am one of those people that keeps all the plates spinning.  I am the one that organises the household (not very well mind you), makes sure the there are clean clothes, food in the pantry, meals on the table, costumes to wear to book week, appointments to keep, ferrying kids to sports, washing, dishes, housework, doing bookwork, doing swimming teaching, running a card making business……on and on. And looking after EVERYBODY before me.

As I sit here typing this, I have stopped the pain meds.  Because in a household that contains a 4yo that is into everything, being dopey on drugs is not a great choice.  So I put up with the pain.  And life needs to go on.  Kids need to be taught to swim, my own family needs to be fed and bathed and clothed and loved.  And I can’t do it on pain meds all the time.

But if there was one thing that I took away from yesterday, is that it is ok to ask for help and it is ok to admit defeat.  I don’t think enough of us do it until too late.  Much too late for some.

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Dairy industry talks

Well, there has been a lot spoken and many promises made.  Let’s hope that these talks actually ACHIEVE something.  Other than just talk.  And more promises.  Because let’s face it, dairy farmers are fed up with both.

VFF article on Barnaby Joyce’s dairy meeting