Far too much crawling on Easter Sunday

As you know I lay claim to living in paradise. Yet there is so much of paradise I am yet to visit. So this weekend I decided it was time to start to tick of that bucket list and enlisted the assistance of my neighbour Jenny who is building up her stamina to do a week’s trekking in Morocco.  

Over 50% of our farm is rainforest and it is very steep. Much of the the region’s ecological communities are endangered and we follow the RRR principles of bush regeneration and work closely with Landcare Illawarra who collect seed from farms all around our region to help increase the genetic diversity of our magnificent rainforest.

So off Jenny and I went where not too many people have ventured over the last 200 years

Jenny Hammond

and how gorgeous was it

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Clover Hill Dairies Rainforest

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and an hour later it was time to come back to 21st century

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thanks to our forefathers and lantana that proved to be quite tricky.

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There was a lot of this

Clover Hill Dairies view to Bass Point

We were pretty happy when we found the paddock

Erin and Megan Wildlife Corridor

and just to show you what RRR principles can achieve in 12 months

Picasso Wildlife Corridor March 2013  (2)

It was pretty rewarding to see these trees grown from locally collected seed flourishing 12 months later

Special shout out to all the women in my life

Today is International Women’s Day and there are too many women for me to mention who inspire me

So I would just like to simply use this quote to say thank you to the doers and the supporters who light my fire and keep it burning

‘Everyone who’s ever taken a shower has an idea. It’s the people who get out of shower, and dry off off and do something about it who make a difference’. Patricia Nolan

I would also like to salute our cows

They inspire me. Every day they produce that affordable nutritious nature’s perfect nutrient cocktail that is milk on our farm for 50,000 Australians

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Thank you cows – the queens of the dairy industry

They are an integral part of our team. They are part of our family. They are like a child you want to give them the best possible life you can afford to give

This is why the $ a lire milk marketing campaign upsets me so much as I feel it completely devalues what our cows do and I believe we all need to reflect on what our definitions of value are when thinking about Australian grown products.

I would also like to say a special thank you to the girls on our team who worked so hard on all those record breaking hot days in January to ensure our cows were comfortable and happy. I was there and I was moved by your super human efforts.

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Sprinklers in the dairy – says cow comfort on hot days

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Chrissy in the dairy shows the Young Eco Champions how to milk and care for cows on hot days

The girls would like to thank John who arrived with the super cold watermelon just at the right time    

Coles Milking the Cash Cow Dry

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For those of you who read this excellent blog from Milk Maid Marian will know she has quite a way with words so when I was sent this classic ‘Explaining Ideology With Moo Cows!’ that does the rounds from time with updates on what is topical at the time I knew Marian was just the person to give it an Australian dairy milk prices wars theme.

What a clever little vegemite she is. Less than a minute it took her to put together the Coles Corporation ditty ( see bottom of post )

Subject: The world economy

SOCIALISM

You have 2  cows.
You give one to your neighbour.

COMMUNISM

You have 2 cows
The State takes both and gives you  some milk.

FASCISM

You have 2 cows.
The State takes both and sells you some milk.

BUREAUCRATISM

You have 2 cows.
The  State takes both, shoots one, milks the other and then throws the milk  away.

TRADITIONAL CAPITALISM

You have two  cows.
You sell one and buy a bull.
Your herd multiplies,  and the economy grows.
You sell them and retire on the income.

VENTURE CAPITALISM

You have two cows.
You sell three of them to your publicly listed company, using  letters of credit opened by your brother-in-law at the bank, then execute  a debt/equity swap with an associated general offer so that you get all  four cows back, with a tax exemption for five cows.
The milk  rights of the six cows are transferred via an intermediary to a Cayman  Island Company secretly owned by the majority shareholder who sells the  rights to all seven cows back to your listed company.
The annual  report says the company owns eight cows, with an option on one more.


A FRENCH CORPORATION

You have two  cows.
You go on strike, organize a riot, and block the roads,  because you want three cows.

AN ITALIAN CORPORATION

You have two cows, but you don’t know where they are.
You decide to have lunch.

A SWISS CORPORATION

You have 5,000 cows. None of them belong to you.
You  charge the owners for storing them.

A CHINESE  CORPORATION

You have two cows.
You have 300 people  milking them.
You claim that you have full employment and high  bovine productivity.
You arrest the newsman who reported the real  situation.

AN INDIAN CORPORATION

You have  two cows.
You worship them.

A BRITISH  CORPORATION

You have two cows.
Both are mad.

AN IRAQI CORPORATION

Everyone thinks you  have lots of cows.
You tell them that you have none.
Nobody believes you, so they bomb the crap out of you and invade  your country.
You still have no cows but at least you are now a  Democracy.

AN AUSTRALIAN CORPORATION

You  have two cows.
Business seems pretty good.
You close the  office and go for a few beers to celebrate.

A NEW  ZEALAND CORPORATION

You have two cows.
The one on the  left looks very attractive.

A GREEK CORPORATION

You have two cows borrowed from French and German banks.
You eat both of them.
The banks call to collect their  milk, but you cannot deliver so you call the IMF.
The IMF loans  you two cows.
You eat both of them.
The banks and the IMF  call to collect their cows/milk.
You are out getting a  haircut.

A COLES CORPORATION

You have two cows

You refuse to feed them and complain they make too much noise

You give away their milk while picking the pockets of everyone who passes buy

Eventually, the cows die of starvation, so you get everyone drinking UHT instead

 

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Special Thanks to XQHEQUE for this very accurate cartoon comment

Coles Please remember real people farm

Today I am re-blogging below  this post from Milk Maid Marian which highlights the heartbreaking issues in the Australian dairy industry. Marian makes some very powerful and insightful comments and puts forward some thought provoking and very doable solutions. The question are the right people listening and most importantly will they act?

In my neck of the woods  I spoke to my Parmalat Farm Services Officer yesterday who I know has been feeling the strain of working with dairy farmers for the past six months and struggling to deal with the devastation she is witnessing in the Australian Dairy industry. She asked me how our cows handled the heat. I said surprisingly well but then we had learnt from our past mistakes and put in 48 hours with almost no sleep to assist our dedicated team to hose our cows down (and other mitigation strategies) in the 43 degree heat to ensure they were as comfortable as possible and so far it has worked .

I also want to share this video with you.

It is powerful for a number of reasons, but mostly it highlights something Coles seems to have forgotten and that is real people farm and a lot of them are in pain because of Coles marketing strategies.

michael strong Photo Sylvia Liber

Coles remember real people farm – Photo by Sylvia Liber

Woolworths on the other hand are getting smart and recognising how important their farmers are and doing something about it . See article here. As Marian warns don’t kill the goose that laid the golden egg Coles.

The video also highlights farmer should never underestimate the impact of building direct relationships with their customers which is the very reason why I instigated Art4Agriculture  and the Archibull Prize 

Back to Marian –  this is what Marian had to say this morning ……..

Dairy farmers gathered in their hundreds in south-west Victoria last night for a crisis meeting. What makes it a crisis? Very simply, dairy farmers are working seven days a week for free and petrified of losing our shirts.

Local agribusiness bankers tell me they are busy refinancing and arranging extra debt but land sales are at a standstill around here. Reporting on last night’s dairy crisis meeting, Simone Smith of The Weekly Times, described a “dire picture”:

“Warrnambool-based Coffey Hunt farm accounting specialist Garry Smith said across his client-base, farmers milking mostly between 450-500 cows, average feed costs were up 15 per cent – a $150,000 rise – with the cost of power for the first quarter of the year up 50 per cent.”

“He estimated across his client-base earnings would be 10 per cent down on last year with a combination of cash-flow and income down $260,000.

“Charles Stewart real estate agent Nick Adamson said better quality farms had dropped in value between 8-15 per cent, while others were up to 45 per cent down on peaks of several years ago.”

None of this is pretty and astonishingly, Peter Reith decided to appear on ABC’s The Drum website with a six-point plan that, at first, I thought was a spoof. Take a look and make up your own mind.

It’s not as simple as cutting petrol taxes and municipal rates. It’s tricky because of this conundrum: milk and dairy foods are considered so important that nobody wants to pay what they are worth to produce.

Every day I read comments on Twitter that go something like this: “My kids drink three litres of milk every two days, so I can only afford to buy $1 milk”. I know first-hand how tough it is to feed a family when you’re on struggle street, so I have a lot of sympathy for people in this predicament and it’s impossible to respond with anything other than compassion.

It’s hardly surprising, then, that there is no political appetite for an increased milk price. But the truth is this: dairy farmers should not and cannot fund an ersatz Australian welfare system by subsidising the cost of food. Welfare is the role of government.

So, while my dander is up, here’s a simple list of five tricky things that would make a big difference to this dairy farmer:

1. Deal with the supermarket duopoly
Down, Down, Down is not about you, dear milk drinker. The real reasons for the supermarket war are expressed in corporate ROIs rather than family budgets. At the end of the day, it will be the little people with the least market power – you, the shopper, and me, the farmer – who will pay.

2. Level the global playing field
Julia Gillard announced that Australia would be Asia’s food bowl but guess what? Unlike the world’s most powerful dairy exporters, the Kiwis, we do not have a free trade agreement with China, putting Australian dairy at an immediate 15% disadvantage. Nor do we receive the government subsidies that support our European and North American competitors.

3. Assist with the impact of the carbon tax
Australian dairy farmers are suffering a double whammy under the carbon tax. First, processors are passing the extra cost onto us in the form of lower farm gate prices (because the consumer won’t pay extra and nor will global commodity markets), reducing our incomes by around $5,000 each per year. At the same time, our costs – especially electricity and refrigerants – are rising in quantum leaps each quarter.

4. Support smart farming
Long exposed to the blow-torch of global export markets without subsidisation, Australia’s dairy farmers are among the most efficient in the world, according to research body, Dairy Australia. We can produce very high quality milk at a very low cost because we have invested in research and development. No longer. We are spending less and less on R&D and the Victorian government has just made massive staff cuts to our brains trust, the Department of Primary Industries.

5. Remember, I am the goose that lays the golden egg
I will not be able to continue to deliver high quality milk at such a low price while enhancing the environment and caring for our cows without sacrificing the basic wellbeing of my family and that, I refuse to do.

One of those days that makes your heart sing

We used to host lots of school visits which was pretty full. These these days we restrict the tours and host extra special children. Sometimes that’s preschool tours for children of our staff and friends and overseas visitors with children. Today we hosted an extra, extra special group of students and they were super excited as Win 4 were coming to and they were all going to be on the news

Well yesterday we got 18 mm of much needed rain and today we all woke up to perfect sunshine.

There were some really special moments

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As you can imagine Peena the lamb didn’t just fascinate the cows

Look at this shot of the cow licking Peena

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The kids had a great time feeding the very well behaved calves

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Peena assisted the camera man whose name was Attila and yes he got teased at school

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I got interviewed

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We visited Picasso Corner and Megan and Renae got interviewed

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and the cows on the hill made a superb backdrop

Well done Emma who does a great job of making all this happen smoothly and here is the WIN 4 footage

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Farm Day Oz comes early in Paradise

Young Farming Champion Heidi Cheney has just landed a new job with Pfizer Animal Health and scored the dairy industry as the key area in which she will work with farmers.

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Heidi’s mum and daughter Pippa get an early Farm Day OZ experience at Clover Hill Dairies

So where better to get hands on dairy farming experiences – well Paradise of course.

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Autumn tones at Paradise

Heidi grew up on her parents beef and sheep farm but her children Hunter and Pippa are like most kids these days they learn where yoghurt comes from through pages of a book or the TV screen .

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Pippa and Hunter just aren’t just yogurt fans, they love cheese and milk

So Heidi took the opportunity to bring Pippa and Hunter and her mum Lynne with her  so they could learn first hand where milk comes from. So whilst Heidi worked alongside Nick and Emma to get an inside look at dairy farm and cow management. Pippa and Hunter got friendly with the chooks

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First Hunter decided he should collect all the eggs and was eyed off by this rooster

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Heidi in the meantime was checking out the dairy

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Where she caught up with Emma and they went through our procedures for drenching and vaccinations

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Emma has just done an evaluation review of all our procedures with the team to ensure all our information is up to date

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She is very pleased that task is almost ticked off

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Then it was time for the whole family to see where their milk comes from

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Farmer Nick has a soft spot for little kids and enjoys showing them how the dairy works

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Then it was off to visit the baby calves and see how the robotic calf feeder works

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Pippa and Hunter soon got the hang of it and made great friends with the baby calves

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The weather forecast says its going to rain in the next couple of days and so Michael is putting out some nitrogen fertiliser to see if we can get this recently sown pasture to get a wriggle on. Hunter was pretty taken with the really big green tractor.

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But then it all got too much and Hunter says its time for a siesta

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The sun goes down in the trees.

I enjoyed sharing paradise with Heidi and her family  as will many other faming families with their Farm Day OZ visitors this weekend

I am also pretty confident cows will get due credit for the dairy products in the fridge at the Cheney household from now on  

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Frontbenders or backbenders – Being flexible in an inflexible market place

Contortionists according to wiki “have unusual natural flexibility, which is then enhanced through acrobatic training, or they put themselves through intense, vigorous and painful training to gain this flexibility”.

Contorsionists

So how does this relate to dairy farming? Quite a bit in fact! Cows and farmers are living things that ideally should be able to operate in a flexible environment to achieve the best outcomes for their health and wellbeing. However more and more they are both finding themselves operating in a totally inflexible market place and quite a bit of intense vigorous and painful training is going on to help them bend and weave and duck to cope

Let me explain

Dairying systems in Australia are probably as diverse as they get and they depend on a combination of factors which include the best options for the cows, the milk market you supply, where your business is located, and your soil and the types of pastures you can grow, the amount of rain, the temperature range, your access to grains and other bought in feed. I could go on forever.

This diversity of production systems also means a diversity of calving patterns. These include batch calving, seasonal calving, split calving and year round calving

The most common is seasonal production where cows calve during the peak period of pasture availability. This system is used by nearly two-thirds of Australian dairy farms and is most prominent in Tasmania, Victoria and South Australia.

Graeme Nicoll who farms in Victoria and writes the excellent blog Montrose Dairy has written a great post about the ins and outs of his seasonal calving pattern here

Milk Production

Most of Australia’s milk production is concentrated in Victoria with the second biggest milk production state being NSW

The second most common production system is year round production. Under this system, calving is spread throughout the year, which means that milk production is stable during the year (or as close as it can be.) This production system is most prominent in areas like ours which supply fresh milk for domestic production.

Clover Hill Dairies pregnant cows

Hello welcome to my world

We supply two different milk processors (Parmalat and Lion via Dairy Farmers Milk Supply Coop) who both process and supply drinking milk for the Australian domestic market. This means they need a consistent supply of high quality fresh milk close to their processing plants which are invariably located either in or as close to the major capital cities as possible

Producing milk consistently all year round is not as easy as it might sound. It fact it’s damned tricky. Milk production is essentially the conversion of pasture to milk.

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The paddock in front of my house was planted with ryegrass and oats 3 weeks ago and its not growing near as fast as it should be

The milking herd

Hopefully we will get a nice drop of rain, a bit of warm weather and it will look like this again shortly

So pasture is the Holy Grail and the best pasture is available in spring and early summer so logically cows produce more milk during this time of the year.

Current Seaon

As you can see milk production goes up significantly in Australia in Sept – December

To encourage farmers who supply the domestic market to balance this and achieve a “flat supply curve” i.e. less milk in spring and more milk in the autumn/winter we are paid a higher price for autumn/winter milk for the milk we supply Parmalat

Lion/Dairy Farmers Milk Supply Coop. on the other hand have a two tier system (as Malcolm Fraser said “life wasn’t meant to be easy”)

Tier 1 milk prices are paid on milk supply volumes representing an allocation of what Lion (formerly National Foods) have estimated is their fresh drinking milk requirements (“anticipated full demand” or AFD). That is you are essentially allocated a milk quota

To discourage you (and believe me it’s very discouraging) farmers who supply milk in excess of these contracted Tier 1 volumes attract Tier 2 prices.( which in the main are half the price you get for Tier 1)

For farmers, the pressures arise because they must make investment decisions about the size and composition of their herds and their infrastructure investments more than nine months in advance. Those decisions necessitate a longer term investment horizon and exposure to ongoing fixed costs. Consequently, farmers look to the processors to provide guaranteed cash flows over the farmers’ investment horizons. However, the processors are not able to commit to supply arrangements with farmers until the processors have finalised their contracts for house/private brand volumes with the supermarkets.

The processors are exposed to the risk of significant loss when their milk supply arrangements with farmers extend beyond the term of their house brand contracts. In  2011, Lion claim changes in the configuration of demand for fresh white milk caused them to lose approximately $20 million on its fresh white milk contracts. On top of this Lion lost the Woolworths house/private label supply contract which was a whopping 20% of its milk intake and they have subsequently written down their business by $1 billion, this is on top of a ½ billion dollars write down in the previous financial year. Scary stuff

Milk producers like us contracted to Lion (through direct supply contracts or milk supply co-operative DFMC) currently suffer from the combined effects of a rationalization of Lion’s processing requirements in dairy products (other than fresh milk) and the loss of private label volumes.

Our business is doing the very best it can to listen to the market place and we are focused on changing with the world. We are not unique in this respect.

We have outsourced expertise to help us manage risk and adopt new technology and farming strategies that improve efficiency.

We have found novel ways to grow the businesses and have built strong natural resource management partnerships and have undertaken extensive Landcare projects to adapt to climate variability and build carbon in the soil

We have innovatively grown our business in a peri urban environment where 90% of the prime agricultural land is now owned by lifestyle farmers without large injections of capital through procuring lease land

We are actively working to secure markets for our products by working with the processing sector and supplying the companies that best fit our farming system. That is DFMC/Lion on the home farm and Parmalat on the lease farm.

We are also thinking of hiring a full time physio/chiropractor because the constant balancing act ain’t getting any easier

Juggling act

A Little Ray of Sunshine

Every new day on the farm brings new life and new hope

I remember being upset a few of years ago when we lost a special cow and a well meaning person in the room making the pragmatic statement “when you have live ones you will have dead ones”. Lets say I didn’t find it very comforting.

As yesterday’s post alluded a bit of good news wouldn’t a stray. Sadly not only did we lose Simola in the flood we lost our beautiful princess the Divine Eileen to what the vet believes was snake bite. That was devastating for everyone on the farm

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Eileen now has a paddock named after her

So you can imagine the excitement yesterday when the world famous Magpie calved and had a little girl

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Watch her first steps here – just adorable

My first steps–how clever am I

Magpie is destined for fame with her mum attracting widespread media attention over the last couple of years

KIama Independent 10th march 2010 Emma Udderly Fantastic

She also stars at the end of this video which won Emma the Heywire Competition

Emma and Magpie

and then her sister with Emma last year

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and then there is her grandmother the most bizarre cow on the planet

Testing day at the dairy

Today was a very busy day at Clover Hill. We hosted 10 Argentinian vets and cattle consultants who are touring the South Coast looking at different dairy systems before heading off to the huge event in Rockhampton next week that is Beef Australia 2012 .

In between this we used the midday milking to herd test and record the Clover Hill cows.

Whilst Clover Hill has a very modern dairy we haven’t got milk metres installed so we have someone come every 4 weeks to measure how much milk each cow produces. I have pictured it below and please note this is a fairly old fashioned way of doing this. The dairy at Lemon Grove is fully computerised with milk metres built in and we daily get milk records. It would cost us almost $40k to upgrade the Clover Hill dairy to do this and with milk selling for the ridiculous price of $1/litre there isn’t enough in the kitty and until Coles get over this marketing stunt I cant see an upgrade coming anytime soon     

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The girls come home for their 4 week herd recording

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Herd recording apparatus

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Nick installs the milk metres and gives his mum a big smile 

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Emma collects each cow’s herd recording number and writes it on each milk metre

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Whilst the other girls wait patiently for their turn

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Nick explains the process to the Argentinians

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The herd recorder measures the amount of milk each cow produces

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and records the details on a spreadsheet

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Then a sample of each cow’s milk is collected in small bottles and this is sent to the herd recording test centre where the following data is measured

  • volume of milk
  • fat and protein percentages
  • individual cow cell counts (SCC) – this helps determine the udder health 

We receive a herd test report after each test day and an annual report which summarises the performance of the herd for the season plus masses of other data which help us make decisions on breeding and management of the herd.

Over the years we have had some very high producing cows indeed .

This is Dimples who holds the Australian record for both the most amount of milk and kilograms of protein in 305 days with a whopping 22,734 litres of milk and almost 700kgs of protein .   

Dimples .

This is Tangalla Leduc Fond 2EX who holds the record for the most amount of milk and protein produced by a three year old cow. Fond is also a bit of a looker and is one of our top show cows. Fond produced 17,214 litres of milk and 541kgs of protein when she was just three years old  

Tangalla Leduc Fond 

And the world renowned Tina who has produced the most amount of lifetime milk by any cow in Australia has just calved again  See previous story here http://wp.me/p22l8m-b2 . On top of this Tina has just turned 17 and recently featured in Holstein International 

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Tina just before she had her thirteenth calf. Wow she looks pretty sprightly doesn’t she?

Will there be more money in non-farming than farming

There was lively debate on the panel session of dinner event component at our Field Day. It is well known that Mick Keogh from Australian Farm Institute has a fairly conservative view about the benefits for farmers from the Carbon Farming Initiative. Keen to put forward a balanced  perspective we invited Stephen Wiedemann from FSA who says he sits in the middle and already has some projects for the pig industry in the pipeline that may deliver for farmers. And at the other end of the spectrum to Mick was Louisa Kiely the glass half full girl on the panel and co-founder of Carbon Farmers of Australia who have developed a trading model for soil carbon which gives farmers access to markets before the formal Emissions Trading Scheme begins.

Panel Session

Dr Richard Eckard Mick Keogh Dr Neil Moss Stephen Wiedemann and Louisa Kiely provided a lively debate

I was MC for the event and currently waiting on the photographers in the room to send me pictures so I can share some of the insights from the podium and the floor with you. Not forgetting Department Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry taped the entire event ( not sure how long that will take to be a wrap).

Dinner at Jamberoo School of Arts

Lots of questions from a diverse audience

So I thought in the meantime I would share some of Mick’s humour  on the CFI with you.

This excerpt comes from  If I get paid for not having cows, can I get paid a lot more for not having a lot more cows?

There has been a steady stream of publicity about farmers starting to make money out of carbon farming, but it seems the only way to actually generate real money will be by destocking cattle. This begs the question – if I plan to have a lot of cattle then agree not to, can I get paid more than if I just planned to have a few cattle then decide not to?!!

A rough estimate is that each adult cow generates approximately 2 tonnes CO2-e per annum, so each cow not run on a property presumably could generate $46 in offset credits in the official carbon market from July 2012 – presuming that by then a Methodology involving destocking cattle has been recognised under the Carbon Farming Initiative legislation.

ets-cows

Whether or not such a methodology will be accepted is an interesting question! Destocking cattle on one property will reduce national beef production, resulting in higher prices (all else being equal) which will encourage either Australian or overseas cattle producers to increase their cattle numbers, with the result being no net change in cattle emissions in the atmosphere (a phenomena known as ‘leakage’).

If a destocking methodology is recognised under the Carbon Farming Initiative, it raises some interesting questions for livestock producers. For example, if destocking credits are calculated based on a reduction from current cattle or sheep numbers, the best thing to do would be to absolutely stack on stock fence-to-fence, at very high stocking rates, then undertake to get rid of them all! This would generate a lot more credits in perpetuity than would be available for someone with low stock numbers.

In fact, there would be many opportunities generated by such a development. A business opportunity could quickly emerge for properties where stock from farms involved in generating destocking credits could be sent for ‘holidays’ in case the auditor was due to check that stock numbers had been reduced. Conversely, a good market could develop for rental stock – stock that could be ‘borrowed’ for a short while to prove high stock numbers prior to destocking!

Australian farmers have long been envious of their European friends, who for many years have been able to generate money by not farming. Finally it seems the Australian Government has taken up the idea!!