Custodians of the land

Clover Hill Dairies in partnership with a number of local stakeholders has been lucky enough to access Federal government Caring for our Country funding to deliver great environmental outcomes on both local dairy farms and hobby farms which are also providing significant benefits for the waterways of the wider catchment

When we started these activities on the farm five years ago we recognised we didn’t have the expertise required to do the job to the level of significance our landscape deserved so we sought expertise from Southern Rivers Catchment Management Authority and Landcare Illawarra to ensure best on farm and wider catchment environmental outcomes. We outsourced cow comfort expertise from our farm consultant Dr Neil Moss and Dairy Australia’s NSW NRM coordinator Jess Jennings

Then we got stuck into it and we were pretty pleased with the outcomes and ourselves. A couple of years down the track we found we had ongoing maintenance problems and we readily admit we were well and truly out of our depth.

Cows grazing along water ways do a great job of keeping the weeds under control but the negative is they pollute the waterways and the negatives definitely out way the positives

So when you fence the cows out of the waterways and riparian zones the challenge is then how do you control the nasty weeds. Again you get the experts in and this time its was the bush regenerators. If you then take the time and have two way conversations with these amazing people you learn so much and we now have a new appreciation for our native landscapes and the plants who inhabit them.

We have worked with a number of bush regenerators over the years but our favourite is Erin Lake who I wrote about here

Erin with the help of director Ann Burbrook and videographer Tay Plain of Clear Cut Productions is creating a series of short videos with which we aim to engage, enthuse, educate and empower both farmers and rural landholders who care about their land but don’t necessarily have the skills sets to ensure the best outcomes for the landscape and the native animals

Here are some pictorial highlights from the last two days of the film shoot on the farm


Director Ann and “talent” Erin co write the scripts


On set Day 1 and Tay checks out the lighting


and action


Ann multi-skills and Erin proves to be a natural. Watch out Richard Attenborough


Day 2. As far as locations go it doesn’t get much better than this


Learning the lines


was never so peaceful


Cant wait to see the outcome of this footage


New life


Its a wrap and now long process of editing and reviewing the footage begins

We hope the take home message from our videos will be

Whether you are a commercial farmer or a hobby farmer or just lucky enough to have your own little piece of rural heaven it is pivotal to remember we are just custodians of the land

The landscape and our waterways are our lifeblood, they feed us, they provide us with natural beauty and so much more, they are not a toy and we must treat them with respect

If you don’t have the skills to manage them to the level they deserve GET THE EXPERTS IN

Oh no not another whingeing farmer story

People say farmers are always complaining about the weather. When it’s supposed to be sunny farmers say it should be raining and when it’s supposed to be raining it’s supposed to be sunny.

So when I got a call from the local radio station wanting to do a story on the weather with the opening line “ Surely all you dairy farmers must be happy this rain will be making the grass grow” you can imagine little Ms #Agvocacy thinks to herself the last thing I want to do is a “whingeing farmer story”

But I thought no this is a good story to tell – there are many very good reasons for farmers’ preoccupation with the weather.

Farmers after all are no different to anyone else in business. Everyone likes to feel they are in control and the weather is one of the key things farmers want on their side but it is the very thing they have no control over. But whilst you can’t control the weather you can certainly control how you are prepared for it.

Rain is topical this year right across the country. In our region we had our so called 1 in 50 year flood in March when 500 mm or 20 inches of rain fell in 48 hours. So what does that look like?

Well here is a typical sunny day at Lemon Grove Research Farm for the cows


This is what it looked like in the same place at 10am on March 21st during our 1 in 50 year flood


The same spot one hour later. The water rose in front of our very eyes. So fast we almost didn’t get cows onto higher ground quick enough and five cows washed away and sadly one drowned.


And what was happening at the home farm?


  This is our neighbour Viv determined to get “that shot”. 

This was almost repeated two weeks ago when we had 8 inches (200mm) in 8 hours

This year we have had at total of 110 inches (2500mm) of rain. This is 65% more rain than our average good year but it is a “drought” compared to 1950 and 1974 when the farm had a whopping 140 inches (3500mm)

So what about all that green grass you ask?

Grass for cows (or should I say pasture) is all about quality not quantity. Cows are discerning diners as my good friend Milk Maid Marian says. They like grass that is short and sweet.


It doesn’t get much better than this

Short. sweet grass is full of sugar. For plants to produce sugar they need plenty of sunshine.

Looking back from Easts to Cows in Yard Paddock 0011

Chocolate for cows 

In fact growing grass is a fine art that all good dairy farmers have perfected to a tee and there is a saying in the industry that the difference between a good farm and the rest in just two weeks.

In fact we are doing pasture trials at the Lemon Grove Farm just to prove the anecdotal evidence.

Michael in Lucerne @ Lemon Grove

Michael is a bit of a pasture guru as you can see

There is a great little story on how we grow grass at Clover Hill Dairies as part of the Jet and Emma Farm Management Series here if you would like to know the nitty gritty.

This is also time of the year when farmers often take advantage of the excess of grass to store some fodder for winter by cutting high quality pasture to make hay and silage.

It isn’t a myth. You do need to make hay while the sun shines but for that you need a 48 hour window of dry weather

tilly in haystacks

Making Hay on Jamberoo Swamp (Photograph courtesy of Linda Faiers copyright)

As I said earlier dairy farmers can’t control the weather but we can prepare for it and often that is just simple things.

For example cows are no difffrent to people when it comes to wet feet. Just like standing in water makes your feet soft and wrinkley so does standing in wet soggy paddocks for cows. So we do things like add extra zinc to the cows feed to help harden their hooves which helps reduce the incidence of sore feet.

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Each cow gets fed a specially formulated ration in the dairy at every milking. This is a perfect way to fine tune the diet when weather conditions and pasture growth aren’t ideal for cows.

We also make sure our laneways are super smooth highways and the team are very mindful of the cows and move them at very gentle pace during the wet especially on the home farm where the hills become very slippery.

Strongs veiw to the sea

The mountainside that looks so pretty can be turn into a cow slippery slide nightmare in a couple of hours

The perfect place to dairy

Jamberoo is the birth place of the Australian dairy industry and its still a great place to dairy for all the right reasons. We have great volcanic soil, which means despite all the rain the drainage is still excellent and the water moves away very quickly. Our cows aren’t whingeing as you can see.


There is always plenty to eat Rain Hail or Shine

What about the radio interivew you ask?  Well except for managing to move the flood back a whole month ( cant believe I said that) it went off okay. You can decide here

Walking when too much is not a good thing

At Clover Hill Dairies we milk 500 cows three times daily on two farms.

Milking three times a day is not the norm but we do it for a multitude of reasons which are good for people, cows and the planet.

Milking three times a day means lots and lots of health benefits for our cows but those health benefits rely on good time management.

Good time management is essential because cows need at least 12 hours a day to sleep. ( If you want to read the heavy science you can find it here.)

So as our cows walk backwards and forwards to the dairy three times daily we need to make sure they do that with as much cow comfort as we can provide so they can do it as quickly and efficiently as they can.

cows in line

Cows travel super highways at Clover Hill  (special thanks to Penny Scott who took this gorgeous photo)

To help them do this we have created a series of “supermoo highways” on our farms.

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Like this and this –  Cars and people like them too. We get lots of the “keep fit” crowd walking up this road


50% of our farm is rainforest and part of our role as land stewards is to make sure our farming practices do not impact on the native vegetation or the wildlife.

So we have supermoo highways through our rainforest as well .

Here is a great example of development of one through the rainforest

Cows Walking thru rainforest

This one was fine like this when we milked twice daily but it looked like this when we got a lot of rain and the cows started using it three times daily


So what did we do. We got some advice from rainforest experts and some cow comfort experts and we did this

Cows on Picasso Laneway  0006

Picasso Corner

Firstly we separated the cows and the rainforest with a fence.

Cows on Picasso Laneway  0001

Then we poured concrete on the laneway.  We had happy cows and a happy farm team who found the cows liked the new comfortable road and were very keen to come back to the dairy for milking.

Then we needed to spend some time nurturing the rainforest. So we found some more experts to give us the right advice like Erin and the team at Landcare Illawarra


Erin with Tony Hepworth and Mike Swanson from South East Landcare 

The troops came in and did their bush regeneration thing and achieved some great outcomes like this

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What about those cows getting their 40 winks!!!!!!!!!!

Yesterday I went for a walk and it gave me great pleasure when I came across the cows in the paddock at the end of the laneway we call Picasso Corner (another story) and saw this paddock full of very happy cows RESTING

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Great outcomes all round me thinks

Next Gen giving our farm lots of TLC

It was a huge day at the farm on Wednesday with our eco warrior Erin Lake leading a team of volunteers in revegetating an important area of our riparian (areas around our waterways) zone.

Little aside on Erin – Erin has passion for biodiversity like no other and she takes every opportunity to share her passion with the world

In her role as a Art4Agriculture Young Farming Champion


Here is Erin with the Castle Hill High School Archibull Prize entry team. See the video she made for her school presentation to Castle Hill High School here. Its awesome

Out in the streets hunting down and eradicating the dreaded evil Madeira Vine

Madeira Vine

or waging the war against the nasty environmental invaders on farms across the Illawarra and south coast

Erin Lake and Jake Proust  Clover Hill Dairies Bush Regeneration team

Here she is with fellow A team bush “regener” Jake Proust

Or organising community events like Dune Day

View album

Erin Lake event organiser

or spreading the good eco messages thru the media

Erins Passion for the Land

Or engaging with and encouraging young people to have a greater appreciation for the landscape

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Now back to today’s story –  the volunteers hailed from the National Green Jobs Corps– a youth training and employment program encouraging young people to be involved in the NRM ( natural resource management) industry.

Erin identified an area in one of our creek lines as an important wildlife corridor which links together two significant stands of Rainforest on the farm, and in need of a little help to get re-established.

So the wonderful Michael (Strong) arrived at the site before any of us were even awake, to slash the Kikuyu to make it easy for the volunteers to plant into. And what an amazing job he did! Oh and as usual- he did it with a big smile

Michael and Lynne Strong

Michael my hero – ooooooooooh palpitations

The Green Corps arrived early to get stuck into the planting. They were very excited when they found out that they were going to be getting a lift to the site in the back of Erin’s Ute (albeit very slowly) – but just as excited when they found out they were going to be revegetating some important sub-tropical rainforest.

Back of Truck

The trees that were used in the planting were nothing short of amazing- there was a huge variety of local species supplied by Richard Scarborough from Landcare Illawarra. Richard tells us that these trees were grown from around 7 different local nurseries and this makes sure that there is a wide genetic diversity in the plantings, which is very important for biodiversity.


Richard Scarborough – local legend

The trees we planted included some of Erin’s favourites – Native Tamarinds (Diploglottis australis), Black Apple’s ( Planchonella australis)

and even a couple of Giant Stinging Trees (Dendrocnide excelsa)- which are a very important local rainforest trees apparently ie if you can forgive the almighty sting you receive if you brush against one of the leaves! and I dont find myself very forgiving in this instance particularly after the day I thought a young one was a Tobacco Bush which I decided to pull out withy my bare hands. Oh how I regretted that little “do good” effort

Baby Stinging Nettle Tree

Stinging Nettle Trees love the soil at Clover Hill – I don’t love them  – baby ones popping up everywhere – that “thing” with the big round leaves next to the Red Cedar ( love them)

So the Green Corps did an amazing job of planting nearly 200 trees and we were very grateful for the use of a Petrol Auger that was supplied by Landcare Illawarra!

Erin and Mick returned on Friday to put on the tree guards (thanks to Couriers Please for your as always delayed service… LESSON TO ALL NEVER EVER USE “COURIERS PLEASE”).

We are trialing the use of Milk Carton Guards as they are biodegradable and very appropriate for a planting on a dairy farm!


And seeing some of our milk goes into PURA cartons I think we should be able to get a better deal on our next purchase and I can assure you it wont be “Couriers Please” who bring them to the farm

Our maintenance regime will be just as important and our plan is to mow and snip to keep the Kikuyu down and use a light Glyposate mix to keep the grass away from the plantings. This is where the guards will be very useful- they highlight where the trees are to the mowing contractors, and they protect the plants from any spray drift while they are only little. Once they grow to a metre- they will need very little maintenance and they will grow into beautiful trees before we know it.

So all in all a great day and another example of how effective partnerships can make a huge difference and lead to great successes in Natural Resource Management on Australian dairy farms and help keep our cows happy and healthy.

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Erin is a great advocate for the Nationals Green Jobs Corps Initiative. “This is a program that works. I have been lucky enough to be involved with a number of these groups and I have found that their team leaders are consistently brilliant- patient and very enthusiastic about training these young people- and learn a lot themselves from working with such a diversity of people.” says Erin

Well Done Green Corps and Erin!