No more Pity Parties – One Australian farmer feeds 700 people – its time to celebrate

At least once a week for the past three months I have been receiving calls from print and TV journalists asking for recommendations of farmers to participate in drought stories.

My first question is, “What is your angle?” and if the answer is clearly a “pity story” then I say I don’t have farmers in my network who want to share pity stories.

Over the last five years I have made a deliberate decision to surround myself with farmers who share stories of hope. Because it’s hope that gets me out of bed every day.

When farmers share stories of hope they are not ignoring the fact that the drought is tough.  They are NOT saying, “It’s hard, just get on with it.” What they are doing is sowing seeds of resilience.

When you share positive stories of drought farming strategies that have worked for you, there is a chance somebody, maybe several people, will read your story and think, “Maybe that might work on my farm.”  They are not saying they have all the answers, but they may have one. Not everyone’s farming situation is the same, so we need lots of farmers from everywhere sharing their drought strategies. The more we share with each other the more we can learn from each other.

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Compassionate wise words from Jan Davis and farmer stories of hope in The Australian here  

Farming today is a big gig. Farmers can’t do it alone, we need each other and government, business and the community working side by side with us. What we don’t need is PITY. Pity doesn’t give anyone a reason to get out of bed in the morning. And pity doesn’t solve problems.

Project based learning is the 21st Century teaching technique being promoted in schools. This method of teaching mobilises students to work together to rethink their world and solve tomorrow’s problems today. The Archibull Prize is project-based learning that brings together art and agriculture. When we invite the students to partner with farmers to design a food secure future, this is the information we give them:

Some little-known facts:

  • In Australia, farmers make up less than 1% of the population, yet they provide 93% of food that is consumed here.
  • 25% of our farms produce 70% of our food
  • Our wool farmers harvest 80% of the world’s fine Merino wool, and our cotton farmers clothe 500 million people.
  • Our farmers look after 60% of the Australian landscape and the majority of Australia’s natural biodiversity. Hence our farmers are both our largest biodiversity managers and our source of food and fibre.
  • Less than 6% of Australia’s landscape is suitable for growing crops and fruit and vegetables.
  • In 1950 one Australian farmer fed 20 people. Today one Australian farmer feeds 700 people using less land. But there is no denying this hasn’t come without an impact on the environment.
  • Yes, we have a lot of land. But we are also the hottest, driest inhabited continent. 35% of this country receives so little rainfall, it is classified as desert.

Australia is one of only a handful of countries that produces more food than it consumes, producing food for around 60 million people, and most Australians have access to an abundant and safe food supply. This makes Australian farmers important to everyone. A thriving modern agricultural sector can be a lasting source of prosperity and an effective and efficient steward of Australia’s landscapes, natural resources and ecosystems.

Australia is also considered one of the most vulnerable developed countries in the world to impacts of the changing climate, already 22% more climatically variable than any other country. Rising temperatures, increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, and declining water availability in some of our most important agricultural regions pose significant risks for the nature, distribution, quality, and affordability of our food supply.

The problems are complex and there is no single model solution. Making well-informed and timely decisions will help farming businesses prepare, build resilience and manage risks, regardless of the challenges ahead.

The solutions lie in farmers, consumers, businesses, scientists and government working together to:

  1. Fill the food production gaps

For example:

    • Wise use of fertiliser and water – more crop per drop.
    • Increase yields through improvement in plant and animal science.
    • Doing more with less i.e. producing more grain/cotton per hectare of land, more milk per cow, more kg of beef per cow, more grass per hectare of land, more kg of wool per sheep.
    • Adoption of technology. Particularly using the new digital agriculture era to allow farmers to make a higher quality, more informed decision, in a tighter window.
    • There is great opportunity to increase food quality rather than food quantity. If we merely aim for volume at all costs, then the natural environment will be the ‘cost’. However, if we send the signal that it is quality from an increasingly healthy natural resource base, then both the natural resource base and farmers will be the beneficiaries.
  1. Sustain productive capacity by addressing:
    • Climate change.
    • Pests and diseases.
    • Land and water degradation.
    • Competition between land for food, houses and mining.
  2. Reduce waste and over consumption.
  3. Managing the risks to the food system.

Success requires farmers having access to a range of agricultural solutions, education to gain necessary skills, and financial incentives. Sustainable farming solutions already becoming standard practice include no-till planting practices, crop rotations, bringing vegetation back to degraded land and planting vegetation around fields to prevent erosion, and transitioning to green energy technology.

Resourceful land use also contributes to mitigating climate change. Globally 2 to 3 billion metric tons of carbon can be stored per year in soil. Farmers can produce higher yields on existing farmland, prevent further loss of fertile land, and find innovative ways to make use of marginal land, especially in developing countries.

Technology is an important part of the solution, but we must also partner to share knowledge. An unprecedented level of global collaboration must take place between farmers, consumers and entrepreneurs, governments and companies, civil society and multilateral organisations. Governments must support resource use efficiency and environmental stewardship, and the private sector must develop new technologies that enable these practices. People should be able to make informed choices about the crops they grow, the products they buy, and the agricultural systems they use. Agriculture should be viewed as a productive investment that drives economic development and builds long-term economic, political and environmental stability.

Drought stories that focus on pity ignore all this. They change the conversation around agriculture from collaboration, celebration, solutions and resilience, to blame, despair and failure.

Only one of these ways of thinking is going to get a farmer out of bed tomorrow to feed another 700 people. Let’s choose hope.

Footnote

The current drought hardship is real. If you would like to support people in rural communities who are struggling to put food on the table a donation of just $40 to Foodbank will supply a hamper. You can donate to Foodbank here  

#onedayclosertorain #strongertogether #drought18

Animal Care under scrutiny. Is video surveillance the answer ?

When I don’t sleep I find it cathartic to blog about the things going round in my head. So today you get two very different posts

I want to throw something out there for consideration and it concerns that highly emotive topic – animal  welfare and husbandry practices.

This week a horrifying story has come out of Canada which if you haven’t been in the loop you can read all about here. I cant watch the footage and it just horrifies me that EIGHT people were involved. Obviously this is a very big farm and yes farmers do need our support because as the statistics keep reminding us animal abuse on farms is very much in the minority compared to the the abuse of domestic pets and in particular animal hoarders.

Regarding the Canadian incident (is that a strong enough word ) I was extremely impressed by the BC Dairy Association response which started with the following first step:

First and foremost, we pushed for the immediate installation of video cameras at Chilliwack Cattle Sales, allowing for 24-hour surveillance of animal care practices on the farm.

Interestingly enough the world’s leading expert on humane treatment of cattle, pigs and sheep Temple Grandin also recommends remote video monitoring in large facilities to maintain high standards of animal welfare.

So I put it out there is there should Australian farmers routinely install of video cameras to allow for 24-hour surveillance of animal care practices on the farm?.

After all is there anywhere (except the family home) today humans who live and work in cities can go without being under video surveillance to monitor our honesty, work ethic and safety.

So in this changing social and economic climate is it inconceivable that livestock industries follow suit if we want to ensure high standards of animal care as well as limit the impacts on our businesses and ensure long term sustainability.

I agree with this comment

In an era of increased scrutiny and demands for greater transparency, it is not a matter of “if” a painful or stressful  husbandry practice will come under scrutiny but a matter of ‘when’. Siting back and waiting for the next  media ‘expose’ is not a wise approach to the issue.

As farmers I am sure you will all agree that we must be more proactive and engage with the Australian community and assure them the faith they have in the food and fibre we produce is warranted.

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We must agree that it is very stressful let alone hurtful when this happens as it appears to have in Canada if the online vitriol is anything to go by

Now it’s branded every dairy farmer in the country as a vicious sadist whose gleeful pursuit of profit comes at the cost of the animals in his or her care.

As I have said I have put it out there. Do we have anything to fear and perhaps everything  to gain by taking the lead and installing our own on farm video equipment?.

I welcome your comments.

Free range chooks – the food chain pecking order

“All you gotta do is get a free range chicken. It doesn’t matter how you get it, buy it or hunt it down with a knife. All that matters is that you treat the animal with respect.”  Christopher Walken

Trust me there are a lot of great reasons why chooks should not be free-range

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Free Range chooks live the rural idyll at Clover Hill

I love (d) my chooks and have had them for five years now and it broke my heart to see them penned up. Once they had experienced life beyond the chook house they would look up at me with their sad eyes and run to the gate to be let out.

This time last year I had 30 chooks (and a lot of eggs I couldn’t eat)

I had this many chooks because I just love chickens and could bear to take the eggs away from the brooding mothers ( I’d go broke fast if I had commercial chooks)

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I had favourites

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This gorgeous little thing and her identical twin sister are (were) a cross between a peking/silkie rooster and a silkie hen

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They were so soft and gentle and you could pick them up and cuddle them and they had a great time in the garden. – dig dig digging

But the rural idyll was short lived and over the last 12 months the foxes and the Goshawks have taken every single one and I have shed a lot of tears and felt very guilty about their demise

Dead Rooster Killed by Fox 

Now its one thing to have pets that produce enough eggs for you and your family ( and the whole street if you are like me)  and another thing entirely to have animals that feed the masses   

So now that Woolies have bought into the ‘caged vs free range’ trend lets take a look at some proven facts

Firstly let’s look at it from a sustainability level. Whilst free range egg production systems may improve the welfare ( that word with so many definitions) of laying hens, these systems on average emit 20% more carbon dioxide and use 25% more land per kg of product.

Secondly let’s look at that word ‘welfare’. Welfare includes factors such as whether hens are free to move; whether the system allows them to engage in behaviours that are normal for hens; whether they are protected from disease, injury, and predators; whether food and water are available in the appropriate amounts and type, and are of high quality; and whether the hens are handled properly.

Obviously maintaining good welfare within housing systems usually involves trade-offs.

For me my desire to watch my chooks have fun in my garden was much greater than my focus on their survival ( and the guarantee that I would have eggs)

In the commercial world for example housing systems that allow hens to perform natural behaviours (e.g., nest building for laying hens) may, in fact, result in more challenges for disease and injury control. Conversely, improving disease and injury control by more intensively confining hens can limit the hens’ freedom of movement and ability to engage in normal behaviours

Here it is in table format found here

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A Comparison of Cage and Non-Cage Systems for Housing Laying Hens

No matter which way you look at its complicated See “Fewer hens doesn’t always mean happier hens’ and in a country where consumers are in the main only interested in cost and convenience I shudder to think what it will cost egg producers to meet Woolworth’s criteria and what will happen to egg production in this country if Woolworths don’t pass those costs onto consumers.

Back to me and my seriously dwindling companion animals.  I have decided fish are the go. As it turns out I have a ready made fish pond in the rainforest section of my garden.

Rainforest garden

All it needed was to clean out the filter and change the water (and most probably add some wire to keep out the birds – the food chain can be a scary place to be) .

Fish Pond

As it turned out it was full of tadpoles so I will wait for them undergo the metamorphosis  into frogs (most likely in my area green tree frogs) and then I will be the person who keeps fish 

Frog pond

and In reality my chooks had a wonderful life albeit short life in paradise.

To quote Lenore Skenazy 

“You don’t remember the times your dad held your handle bars. You remember the day he let go.”

And if you need a good laugh like I do when I think about my chooks then this will really make your day – courtesy of Christopher Walken

Sadly I know too much about drought

Bessie Blore is a wonderful journalist, a girl from the city who married a boy from the the bush and I am so proud to know and work with her as one of Art4Agriculture’s Wool Young Farming Champions

Our place “Burragan” is 110km from the nearest town, 200km from the nearest supermarket, and 330km from the nearest major centre – Broken Hill. When I’m not out in the paddock helping with sheep work, I like to write, keep up with global issues, and uncover the strange secrets of our beautiful bush landscape.

Bessie writes a wonderful blog Bessie at Burragan where she shares the highs and lows, the laughs and the not so funny moments with her readers

I have been away for a week and the drive up the hill on Friday tugged at my heart strings.

The front paddock tells it all, the cows rotate around the farm every 14 days. It is 14 days since they were in this paddock and whilst it has a green tinge there is nothing for the cows to eat.

On my travels last week I went through Tamworth on my way to Gunnedah – there is no feed in the paddocks for the cattle there either. It was depressing and unfortunately those  farmers are not alone. Much of NSW and a great deal of Queensland are once again in drought.

Unlike me Bessie is new to the ravages of drought but she tells it so like it is in this wonderful blog post

I don’t know much about drought. Even when I saw her face, I didn’t recognise her.
Years before I moved to Burragan, we visited ST’s mum and dad one summer. Their house yard was a true oasis in the middle of a desert, in every sense. Outside the confines of the garden fence, they were feeding hay to cattle and saving animals from of empty, muddy dams. At the time, I didn’t realise that was what she looked like.

I don’t know much about drought. But I know that she’s inevitable.
I am lucky – or perhaps unlucky and lulled into a false sense of beauty and romance – to have moved to Burragan in the middle of several great seasons. This year, we’ve already had our annual average 11-inches of rainfall. We are thankful for that. And yet it’s dry. It’s dusty. It’s only getting hotter.

I don’t know much about drought. But I can feel her creeping up on us.
The signs are there. Selling stock. Buying hay. Blowing bores. Boggy dams. Empty tanks. Moving stock. Fierce winds. Thunderstorms that are no longer viewed as salvation, but instead, as fire threats. Those afternoons that smelt like rain; but when they came, they looked, and felt, and taste, like dust. Perpetrations for a dry summer.

I don’t know much about drought. But I know she’s more than a lack of rain.
She’s stress. She’s suffocation. She’s the haunted eyes of men whose strength is buckled by the weight of the world, and women who wish they could take the load off.
I don’t know much about drought. But I wonder if we will recognise each other, when we meet again.
I know we can’t be friends, and yet, to survive in this environment I cannot view her as the enemy.
We might have to learn to get along for quite a while.

Clover Hill one day in paradise

How I long for the farm to look like this again and for farmers everywhere to see drought pack its bags and go into hibernation

Todays Youth Tomorrows Farmer

Last weekend I went back to my roots and visited my dad who I have always called John

John is one of a large number of farmers who are contributing to the rising age of the average farmer i.e. still going strong at 83.

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John and Lucy

I always thought the ‘average age of farmers’ figures are pretty woolly in that farmers who continue to live where they work never retire.

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Just to prove my point meet John’s  next door neighbour also called John (on the bike – check out my John’s hot Ute) 82 years old  and still running a slick operation his farm 

As my John says “what would I do”.  Indeed unless your lifelong dream is to spend your retirement travelling the world then where better to spend your time than doing what you love best. clip_image003

In my dad’s case that is growing prime Angus steaks for your table

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And growing the best pasture he can (and conserving it) to make sure those cows he loves so much are well fed

Now my dad is still waiting for his son to return to the farm.

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Things where looking up 3 years ago when all his worldly possession arrived on the door step

But he was lured away by lucrative offers from the mining companies and my dad lives for the time he comes home on short breaks as he is this week. I will do a whole blog post on my dad and his farm shortly.

We know young people are the key to success for agriculture and I know agriculture has talented young people ready to take on the challenge. Young people with fire in their bellies taking every opportunity to generate a buzz around Australian agriculture   .

I know this because I work with these exciting young people every day

This weekend I am down in Bega and taking time out to visit two of these dynamos in  Art4Agriculture Young Dairy Farming Champions, Andrew D’Arcy and Tom Pearce.

Both Tom and Andrew have been farming side by side with their dads ever since they left school (and in reality since the day they were tall enough to put cups on cows)

The Pearce family lives on Pearce’s Rd as you do when generations of your family have farmed in the one spot. My dad lives on a road named after his farm

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940 acres of rolling hills, bush and pasture. The pasture is currently 50:50 perennials to annuals with the traditional kikuyu base over sown with perennial and annual ryegrass, chicory and plantain over sown with oats in the autumn for those into the technical

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Norm and Tom Pearce work side by side to milk 260 cows in a 16 aside swing over herringbone dairy

The farm is beautiful

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And the cows  _

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and their offspring are happy and contented

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This  one peeking around the corner of the tree is a bit like Tom’s dad a bit camera shy

The farm is heaped in tradition and I so enjoyed the walk from the ‘new’ dairy up to the original walk through dairy where the cows where milked by hand up until the 1950’s

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Tom’s sister is getting married shortly here and you can see the views will make for great wedding photos

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The Pearce’s have recently installed a K-Line irrigation system to improve water use efficiency. Whilst they have a 560 mega litre water license , they currently only have a 40% allocation. Water is indeed a very expensive and very precious water resource.

You can check out how K-Line irrigation works in this great little vid

Tom Pearce is of course the farmer who puts the cheese on your cracker

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and was recently immortalized on the front of Bega’s Colby CheeseTom-Pearce-Farmers-Tasty-Cheese_thumb.jpg

Tomorrow I am off to visit the Andrew D’Arcy. Wow wait till you see the technology on Team D’Arcy’s farm

BTW Curious like I was what this is

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Tom tells me this is an antique wooden ice chest now home to Roger the Rat

If you stuff up it pays to tell everyone

On farm field days are a great way for farmers to learn from other farmers. The successes and the stuff ups that farmers share are equally insightful.

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Overview of research and down to the paddock to see it in action 

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At the Lemon Grove Research Farm field day we hosted in July as part of the 2013 Dairy Research Foundation Symposium I bit the bullet and shared the “Wish we had the knowledge, skill sets, attention to systems detail and time to do x,y & z better – Clover Hill Dairies story”

What I particularly liked was that I also got the opportunity to identify farmers in our region who were systems focused and balancing all four to get great outcomes for their cows, their farms and their staff whilst keeping the bank manager happy.

One of the keys to profitability in the dairy industry is having milk in the vat in the quantity and quality you and your milk processor want it to be all year round.

Milk yield of a dairy cow depends on four main factors: (a) genetic ability; (b) feeding program; (c) herd management; and (d) health. A good dairy feeding program must consider the quantity fed, the suitability of the feed and how and when the feeds are offered.

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Paying attention to herd nutrition in the 90 days prior to calving through lead feeding (aka transition feeding) can mean an extra $200 in milk production per cow.  But it’s not just about the dollars – an effective transition program also makes life less stressful for dairy farmers as well as making their cows’ lives safer and easier.

For smart farmers good herd management also means having your herd as “fresh” as possible. Now that doesn’t mean feeding your cows oysters, it means ensuring you have as many cows as possible in the herd at peak milk production. This means managing herd fertility well is paramount.

The top farmers in our region work with the team from Sydney University Livestock Veterinary Teaching and Research Unit.

The Livestock Veterinary Service operates commercial on farm personal herd health and treatment and consultancy services. Activities range from routine procedures such as pregnancy testing through to more complex project planning, clinical trials and disease investigation. A philosophy of the Livestock Veterinary Teaching and Research Unit is to promote application of science and technology to problem solving on the farm.

The Livestock Veterinary Service also provides veterinary students with an opportunity to get hands on experience working with livestock and post graduate veterinarians with an interest in livestock an opportunity to pursue specialty training.

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Dr Luke Ingenhoff  from the Livestock Veterinary Teaching and Research Unit preg testing cows at Clover Hill Dairies

I identified Phil and Craig Tate from Albion Park as the farmers I believed would share their story with the field day participants in an honest and open way that would resonate with other farmers like us who wished we were just a little better at it.

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Craig and Philip Tate with Assoc Professor John House tell their story at Lemon Grove Research Farm field day 

Philip and Craig outlined their reproductive system to delegates describing the ‘systematic
routine’ that they believe is the secret to their success.

When it comes to being successful in business, one must create systems. Systems provide a framework for your team to use. In order to create high-levels of efficiency you will need to constantly update your systems and be on the lookout for ways to improve your business’s way of operating. Creating systems will take time, but it will more than save you the time on the back-end.

‘‘The system is the solution.’’ — AT&T motto

BTW I had Craig and Phil’s presentation with Assoc Professor John House videoed so you can watch it too. See link below

So impressive was Phil and Craig’s presentation that Holstein Australia commissioned Lee-Ann Monks to write a story for their journal readers and guess who was invited to take the pictures. Well after all who else would do for nix (when oh when am I going to value my time?)

So off I went with my trusty Canon to Macquarie Holsteins, home of the Tate Family dairy and now the workplace for two of our former employees.

What a delight  are Craig and Phil, such great farmers yet so humble and so proud of their cows   

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Craig and Phil making use of Smart Phone technology to keep good records

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Good records in the dairy ensure everyone is in the loop. Knowledge is power

Communication is the true lifeblood of a successful organization – a high flow of information so everyone and everything is connected. Easy to say, hard to do.

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The herd favourite 1258

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Please note Craig took his helmet of for this stationery pix – trust me he does wear it when the bike is moving

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Mutual respect between farmer and cow is very evident at the Tate Farm

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Louise Macmaster –  Phil and Craig’s calf rearer extraordinaire

and of course looking after the next generation requires team members who treat the calves under their care with as much love and attention as their children

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and what of former Clover Hill team members John and Tim pictured below at our field day?

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Tim (left) is now managing the farm across the hill and John is working at the Tate’s along with Louise. 

See and hear Craig and Phil Tate share their successful herd fertility management strategies with the farmers, students and researchers at the 2013 Dairy Research Foundation Field Day at Lemon Grove Research Farm here 

 

‘‘You must analyze your business as it is today, decide what it
must be like when you’ve finally got it just like you want it, and
then determine the gap between where you are and where you
need to be in order to make your dream a reality. That gap will
tell you exactly what needs to be done to create the business of
your dreams. And what you’ll discover when you look at your
business through your E-Myth eyes is that the gap is always
created by the absence of systems, the absence of a proprietary
way of doing business that successfully differentiates your
business from everyone else’s.’’
— Michael Gerber

Farming is tough My thoughts on how to avoid the Valium

I have had a bit of Annus horribilis in 2013 and looking forward to my Annus mirabilis (Year of Wonder) in 2014.

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Do you ever feel like Bessie ( thanks Brian)

I have survived my personal issues by throwing my energy into my professional life and in particular soaking up the bright minds I encounter beyond the farmgate in all of the diverse activities I now engage in. In particular I find the Young Farming Champions particularly invigorating

At home I find writing blogs posts very cathartic and it’s been a very tough week so you might have noticed a plethora of musings from my desk.

When suddenly I found I had no landline and no internet I thought I was going to have a serious meltdown. Mobile service is not great at times in paradise (fix my black spot Tony) and operating off my hotspot is always fraught with frustration

Instead of reaching for the Valium (just jesting) I have made a list of all of the things that are within my power to change that will help my wellbeing and begun ticking them off.

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This week I went to my doctor and started that list of tests I should have had 6 months ago (not smart when you have no phone and you are sweating on the results)

Whilst I was there I showed her my health and wellness bucket list and she is helping me work my way through it

Yesterday it was off to the dietician (they call themselves ‘Wellness Specialists” now)

So look out world it is the fit and ideal weight Lynne the world will be seeing sooner rather than later.

So what does that look like to me and this is all about me. I want to be proud of me; other people are irrelevant in this quest

Until I started winning a few awards I was always behind the camera so had to do a lot of searching for pix of me at my ideal weight and fitness. They were indeed hard to find and then I came across this one. clip_image002

OMG not only did I fit into size 11 jeans 10 years ago I had red hair. Yes to the size 11 jeans think I will leave the red hair off the list

I particularly like this photo because I have my arm around one of the most special people in my life Dr Neil Moss our farm consultant. Neil who has not only held our hand through the bleak years in the dairy industry, he supports all his clients at an unparalleled level through their darkest mental and physical challenges.

Read this great story on how Neil helped local dairy farmer Con Watts survive the devastation of the tier 2 milk pricing narrow minded strategy from Lion to combat the Down Down Down campaign by Coles here

My new ideal weight and health guru is Rebecca and of course she is tiny and super fit and wow is she interesting. I have a medical background which includes a fair amount of what I thought was good nutrition insights but I was quite amazed at the mindset change in this area since I left pharmacy

It’s all about portion size, high protein, low carbs and good fats. No counting every calories just healthy eating and quality not quantity exercise.

This means set the treadmill to incline and do the hard yards for half an hour rather than walking on the flat for an hour. So I can see why I looked like that ten years ago (before I broke my pelvis from a fall from the quad bike) and walked the hills of paradise.

What I find very interesting was the discussion we had on protein and how impressive eggs are.

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My breakfast this morning.

Now thanks to Jamie Oliver – Woolworths have taken a very strong stance on caged eggs.

As farmer who has chooks as pets I know how hard it is to let them roam free range and not be wiped out by predators and I am very concerned about the viability of the egg industry and the affordability of this very important protein for Australians going forward.

So tomorrow I am go to share my thoughts ( internet allowing) on why I think this stance by Woolworths may be very naive

And of course milk was at the top of the list as the perfect healthy protein so tomorrow I will be whizzing up a breakfast smoothie

For lunch its the divine Dairy Farmers Thick and Creamy Yoghurt ( all good fat) and peaches,

Dairy Farmers Thick and Creamy

Which reminds me sadly no more Tamar Valley