Ausagventures Steph Coombes First Day at the Dairy

Our guest post today is from Stephanie Coombes who has come to the rescue in our hour of need. Refer previous post

Posted on June 19, 2012

Hello from Clover Hill Dairies!

Yes, i am in Jamberoo (NSW) working on a dairy farm! Does this girl ever sit still i hear you ask? Clearly not!

My friend and industry mentor Lynne Strong gave me a call last week and said they were a bit short staffed, as her son and daughter in law were on their honeymoon, and seeing as i was due to come to the farm for a workshop in a few weeks, how would i like to come early to work? Well that was that, i jumped on an aeroplane the next morning, and caught the train down to the south coast of NSW.

Paradise. Lynne always says that Mandelyn Holsteins (home of Clover Hill Dairies) is her little piece of paradise and she is not wrong. The farm is superb, lush green rolling hills. natural rainforest, and ocean views. Shame it’s a bit on the cool side (oh Bahrain and your hot weather how i miss you!).

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So… my job at the dairy. Lucky girl i am, i get to look after the BABY COWS!1 Yes… BABY COWS! Oh gosh, haven’t i already posted enough videos and blogs about baby cows? Trick question, because the answer is no! You can never post enough about baby animals (I’m planning to go visit some lambs next).

Anyway, so at the farm the babies are looked after from a very young age. Between birth and moving to the grown up (teenagers) paddock, they go in 5 different areas around the farm, which have been designed to cater to their social, health and nutritional needs during the different stages of growth.

First up is the ‘colostrum’ shed, where the iddy biddy little babies go. They are all bottle fed cow milk, including fresh colostrum. Colostrum is the very first milk the cow produces after birth, and it is filled with all sorts of goodies, which give the babies immune system a kick start. It is essential that the babies have the colostrum, as it reduces their chances of getting sick.

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After a couple of days they go into the ‘duck’ shed (i have no idea why it is called that!). They have these adorable individual little stalls with heaps of wood shavings to make it all warm and comfortable. They also have see-through walls, so they can see their mates and talk to each other. It is here in the duck shed that the babies are gradually weaned off of cows milk and onto powdered milk. The process takes around 9 days, and is taken in small steps. This isn’t just to get the babies used to the taste of the powdered milk, but to allow the microorganisms in their stomach to adjust to the new formula.

After the duck shed they go into the ‘hay’ shed, where they are still fed powdered milk, but are also introduced to pellets and hay. There are a couple of pens in the hay shed, all in a row, so as they get older they move up the shed. Sort of like a primary school, you move from kindy to the junior block, to the middle block, and then to the senior block.

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Now i have to write about this awesome piece of technology that allows the dairy to raise these calves efficiently, without having to spend all day every day hand feeding. It’s an automatic milk feeder that works with the electronic tags in the calves ears. So every calf has a tag, and it is put into the software system. When the calf comes up to the feeder, the machine reads its tag, and knows how much it has had to drink that day, how many times it has come up looking for a feed, how much it drank yesterday, and how aggressive it was during feeding.

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Louise show me how to operate the computer and check the data

What is really cool though is that you can go through the computer and see how much every animal has had, so you can pick up if anything is starting to get sick, or needs more help learning how to use the machine etc., because you cant run 24 hour CCTV on the calves!

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Robotic Calf Feeder

After the hay shed, the “pre-teen” heifers go out into a grass paddock, where they are supplemented with hay and pellets. Then once they are big enough to have babies, they go out to another paddock to do that (gosh from the size of these babies, i think a human baby doesn’t look so bad now!).

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So my job is to feed all the babies each day and make sure they are comfortable and healthy. I love feeding the little little ones, as they can get quite curious and eager to play. They suck on anything and everything, so never wear half decent clothes around them! On my first afternoon i was having a lay down in the pen with them, and they were all crowding around me trying to figure out why i was laying on the floor. I thought it would be funny to let them chew my hair…. so i did. I mean, they were chewing all my clothes too, so what more was a pony tail?…. WRONG. That night as i washed my hair, a good chunk of it fell out in matts! Yuck! They actually chewed my hair off! Now I’m already down half a head of hair from the boat trip, so i couldn’t believe i was losing more!!

Playing with baby dairy calves

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Stay tuned for more about life on a dairy farm!

Author: Lynne Strong

I am a 6th generation farmer who loves surrounding myself with optimistic, courageous people who believe in inclusion, diversity and equality and embrace the power of collaboration. I am the founder of Picture You in Agriculture. Our team design and deliver programs that inspire pride in Australian agriculture and support young people to thrive in business and life

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