Gearing up to the countdown

Our little Princess Eileen is off on a big adventure to International Dairy Week the largest annual dairy cattle show and sale in the Southern Hemisphere.


Eileen says watch out world I am on my way.  



Held in Tatura, Victoria, IDW as it is best known is indisputably the most prestigious event in the dairy industry, showcasing the best quality dairy cattle to over 4,000 visitors from every state in Australia and over 20 countries internationally.  Australia’s dairy men and women bring their top stud animals to compete in a display of over 1,000 dairy cattle from over 6 dairy breeds.

This year for the first time Clover Hill Dairies will be exhibiting in the Jersey section represented by the gorgeous Eileen. You first met Princess Eileen at Christmas when she donned her Rudolph crown


Well since then she has been washed and blowed dried and washed and brushed and fed and led and generally pampered daily






So what does one look for in a show cow. Well this is what you look for and as you can see the stud cattle world has a language all of its own.

  • The animal needs to be long, stretchy, and of good size for her age and breed.
  • It should have sharp, clean withers; a straight, strong back; a long, level, wide rump; and feet and legs with correct set.
  • It should have a good spring of rib and be deep in the chest and rear flank.


ILB illeen

This picture of Eileen taken by professional cow photographer Dean Malcolm shows off all of Eileen’s best assets 

This picture taken by me shows how her udder measures up ( there is a lot of udder talk in the dairy industry )


  • rear udder should be high and wide with a well defined ligament throughout
  • fore udder should be snuggly attached to the body wall with four teats hanging straight to the ground

Months of preparation goes into preparing show cows. They have to be well fed. The nutritional needs of your show animal are of major importance and should include high quality hay and grains.

Eileen on hay feeder

Now Eileen is quite tiny compared to our Holsteins but like all true princesses she knows how to get her own way and no-one but no-one beats Eileen to the best hay in the hay rack.


Eileen in the dairy scoffing down her grains whilst she gets milked just before leaving on the truck for IDW


Emma says “I will miss her whilst she is away”

Show cows have to be brushed at least once a day and have their feet pedicured. Eileen’s feet are looked after by the team of vets from Sydney University. The cows have to be clipped which improves the animal’s style and overall appearance.

Just as weight lifters strike a pose that demonstrates their taut muscles and fashion models know which profile to present a cow needs to be led and posed so as to show off her best assets  The cow should be lead at a comfortable pace with the animal’s head held high enough for impressive style, attractive carriage, and graceful walk.


Come Wednesday evening next we will see if all the hard work has paid off. What ever happens Eileen will always be our little princess and doesn’t she know it


When humans interfere with nature

As part of my Christmas at the Dairy post I mentioned we made the choice of interfering with nature by choosing to artificially hatch out a clutch of eggs two of our chooks decided they were no longer going to sit on after the first four chickens were born


New life – Four healthy chickens and 17 eggs still to hatch out ( Hen on the left is a Peking and hen on the right is a Silky)

Broody chooks will not only sit on their own eggs but also tend to gather other chooks eggs over the next 21 days. So when the original clutch of eggs hatch the chooks have to make the decision to look after the live ones or continue to sit on the remaining eggs until they hatch and hope the live ones can look after themselves.

Not surprisingly they chose life over potential life – sounds pragmatic to me

However humans have the capacity to help them do both and being big softies Michael and I chose this option.


Chicken eggs in incubator 

Its pretty simple to do and very rewarding bringing new chickens into the world


Once they hatch they stay 24 hours in the incubator and then we move them to their next home


We use a plastic container like this and cover the bottom with pine shavings or in this case rice hulls


We supply them with fresh water and chick starter


and a light to keep them warm

Then we have to make the big decision as to when is the best time to give them back to their mums


By this time you are getting pretty attached and you tend to keep putting it off and putting it off

So by now the 2nd batch ( they are still hatching) are almost two weeks old and it was now or never

So we decided to put the first 5 out on dusk just as mothers and the chickens they were looking after had gone to bed.


We were very excited as you can see we managed to tuck “our” chickens under their mums with their brothers and sisters (B&S)


But it was a different thing next morning. The mums and B&S went off and did their own thing and left “our” chickens to their own devices.


But we are so proud of our offspring. They are resilient little champions. They have embraced the “chook palace” like they were born there.  


Our cows are just fascinated by chooks


They have figured out how to get fed


and watered


They have gone on some big adventures


Climbed a rock face


In the meantime they are are not being completely ignored by their mothers and B&S who have walked by many times.


and are now staying very close by


With the silky chook keeping a very close eye on their activities. Tomorrow is another day and I wouldn’t be surprised if this silky chook has new family 


In the meantime another chicken has hatched in the incubator !!!!!!

The humans should get their act together and collect the eggs more regularly and  we wouldn’t need to play mums to other animal’s children would we??

Fascinating facts about cows

Now here is a quirky fact you may not know


Dairy cows ( Bos Taurus ) only sweat through their noses. 

As dairy cows perspire at only 10 per cent of the human rate we have to help them maintain a comfortable body temperature in the hotter summer months.


Cattle dissipate heat primarily through breathing. That is why during the summer months cows’ tongues may be hanging out of their mouths. This is an attempt to increase the volume of air that passes through the airways, maximizing the exchange of heat with the environment.


And they have this very quirky way of wiping the sweat off their noses

To reduce the levels of cow heat stress the trick is to be constantly aware of the  weather and what is likely to be coming.

For example a combination of the following can act as a warning


The most useful and practical way to determine how your cows are actually coping with the prevailing conditions and managing their heat load is to check their breathing rate.


Holsteins being black and white have the added burden that black cows feel the heat more and seem to attract more flies that whiter cows. Whereas white cows will suffer sunburn.


Flies seem to more prevalent on black cows


Whilst this much whiter cow sitting next to her didn’t seem to be at all troubled by flies

We have the added complication of the home farm being very steep which means the   the cows require extra energy provided via a higher feed intake to walk up and down the hills. Metabolising this extra feed generates more heat aggravating any extra heat stress being incurred from the weather.


The cows are in paddock 3 this week between the morning and the noon milking.


Like this paddock it has a 5 to 6 gradient. That’s almost mountain goat terrain


And they traverse the hills like mountain goats on the walk home 


Udders full of milk prior to midday milking

On top of this our cows already have high feed intake because they produce a lot of milk so it goes with out saying higher milk production cows will begin experiencing heat stress before lower producing or dry cows (cows not lactating)

Okay so what do you do?

With wise advice from our nutritionist Dr Neil Moss we adjust the feed by packing the nutrients into smaller volumes of feed that we feed in the dairy.


Our cows get fed a mixture of grains and vitamins and mineral supplements three times daily in the dairy. 

On hot days, we put the cows in paddocks where they have access to adequate amounts of shade.


And you need to keep your eyes wide open for the ones in the bushes

High producing cows will often drink 50 per cent more water on a hot day so again it goes without saying they must have access to good quality, cool drinking water


Big troughs and lots of them.


Allowing the cows to take their time their time walking backwards and forwards from the dairy is always a high priority


Cows don’t seem to like hot concrete and will avoid it if the can

Milking three times daily makes it tricky too and our cows are walking backwards and forwards to the dairy during the hottest part of the day. Whilst its hard to modify the times of milking we normally start early ( 4am) so that milking is completed early in the morning before it gets too hot. IMG_5334

Early starts mean the cows get to the paddock before it gets too hot

We keep the cows close to the dairy for the midday milking and the night time milking (8am) is in the cooler part of the evening. Research says during hot weather,cows prefer to eat at night so we pick the paddock with the highest quality feed for the night feed.

Then we get to the fun part. We have sprinklers set up in the milking yard to cool the cows while they wait to be milked and large fans in the milking shed which helps keep both the people and cows a lot cooler


Cows love to stand under the sprinklers whilst they wait to get milked


The dairy is also protected from the hot sun by two huge Morton Bay figs

Its a challenge but we get better at it every year

For those who like the science – courtesy of Dr Moss

Heat stress induces a number of physiological responses by the cow in an attempt to keep body temperatures within normal limits. The following are some of the physiological changes occurring in the cow as heat stress conditions are incurred:

  1. Respiration rates increase and may reach the stage of panting. In this attempt to increase evaporative cooling, increased amounts of CO2 are exhaled resulting an a decrease in H2CO3 and an increase in blood pH. In response to the decrease in blood pH, the kidney increases resorption of H+ and more HCO3 and cations, primarily sodium, are excreted in the urine.
  2. Heat stressed cows lose two thirds of their evaporative water loss by sweating and one third by panting. The maximum sweat loss at 95° F is estimated to be 150g/m2 of body surface per hour. Cows lose potassium rather than sodium through sweating.
  3. Reticulo-rumen motility and overall rate of digesta passage is decreased during heat stress. There also is a change in rumen fermentation with less total volatile fatty acids produced and an increase in the molar percent of acetate.
  4. Blood flow to the digestive tract and other internal tissues is decreased and flow to the skin surface is increased
  5. Urine volume generally increases

What makes the ideal employee

In my previous post Growing the Milk Business I mentioned 80 cows had become 500 and a 1 man operation was now a team of 10

Today employees are more commonly referred to as team members and when I sat down today to write a job description for someone to replace Martin (which wont be easy) I thought of all the attributes that Martin brings to the team.

Martin came to us with no experience and a huge desire and commitment to learn. Martin is in his final year of a physics degree with a view to doing honours. Having struggled through physics as part of my uni degree and hating it with a passion I am fascinated by people who love it and master it and when they decide they want to milk cows in their spare time I must admit I am flabbergasted.

Martin’s commitment to learn the art of milking cows reminded me of my determination to snow ski well. I love skiing ( great start) I had lessons, I read manuals I even have a son who was a ski instructor for a short time in an earlier life and yet no matter how hard I worked at it I just never really got it.

But Martin is different whilst it was a slow process in the beginning you could see Martin would perfect the art of milking cows no matter how long it took and wow once he got he got it what a great team member he is.

People who milk cows must be committed to their welfare first and foremost like Martin

So what is the ideal team member for Clover Hill Dairies

I recently heard someone speak at the Agrifood Skills conference and they said they hire for character first and foremost. You can teach skills but not character and I think this is wise advice.

So the job description says ( let me know if you think I have missed something)

Applicants must have

1. strong animal wellbeing and team ethic

2. be computer literate

3. Present as personable, clean and tidy

4. Have driver’s license

Will train suitable applicant

Farming is hard work but oh so rewarding. If you love animals and think you have what it takes send me an email.  Future Einsteins welcome and we will train anyone with the right attitude

Paradise through the lens

Yesterday the cows enjoyed the views from the Cooking School paddock


Heading home (above) and enjoying the morning feed (below)


But the day didn’t get off to the ideal start for the cows, the neighbours nor the person who forgot to open the gate to the paddock.

Road Cooking school Dixon  (1)

This is the entrance to the paddock where the cows camped until one of the neighbours saw them and told us

This is the entrance after the manure had been scrapped of the road. Heaven forbid 250 cows waiting to get into the paddock can you imagine the mess.  Less said the better then again as they say in the classics “shit happens”.

The Cooking School paddock you ask?

Yes Clover Hill is very unique. It is part of a dairy centric rural residential subdivision with 12 privately owned blocks ranging from 1 to 100 acres and one of these blocks used to be a five star cooking school. Just as well no cooking lesson were being held today.

Today one of the other neighbours was able to have the pleasure of sitting on their front veranda with the cows almost in their front yard.

Unfortunately John and Jenny did host the cows in their front yard uninvited a few years ago as have most of the neighbours at some stage. But as you can see the garden did recover quite spectacularly


Much to our relief. In fact it was these very agapanthus that took the biggest battering


And the cows were eyeing them off again today but they were disappointed. John has made the fence cow proof thank goodness.

Speaking of the fence – the rock wall made a magnificent backdrop for this photo today


I have a Canon 600D which is their beginner top of the range but I do have the EF 24-105mm lens and this lens can turn even me into a decent photographer

Speaking of photographers John’s nephew is the well known photographer Toby Dixon Now this is photography. Check out his photo shoot with Jonathan Brown, Captain of the Brisbane Lions and Paul Gallen, Captain of the Cronulla Sharks here

Toby has done some adds for Cadbury’s and a few others at Clover Hill as well

Like this classic

Cadbury 'Smooth' 03

This is Clover Hill’s very own  Mandelyn Skyframe Toni

Back to the amateurs


How’s that view along the backline – might not be in Toby’s league but I am having fun

Weddings in Paradise

Believe it or not this is a story about growing grass.

Rolling green hills, seascapes and briescapes ( not that I think either of our processors make soft cheeses out of our milk – what a shame).

Recognise the backdrop


Four days earlier it looked like this


This wedding was in November and the bride and groom and the photographer Peter Merison did a rekkie for wedding photos at Clover Hill in late September.

When Peter knocked on the door and asked if he could take wedding photos in the front paddock little did he know how much preparation would go into the timing of the cows eating the paddock off in order to have the grass at the perfect height (and manure free- well almost) to provide the best experience for all parties concerned including most importantly the cows .

The weather was perfect, the grass was perfect, the photos look superb and if the wedding blog is anything to go by the wedding was perfect.

Now back to the finely tuned art form of growing grass for best practice pasture based dairying.

Greener than Green

Looking back from the west to the dairy and the paddock in front of my house  – can you see it?

This picture was taken in the spring and the grass in the forefront of this paddock is almost perfect. A nice blend of oats and annual rye grass at just the right height, with  high energy (carbohydrate) levels and balanced protein content.

Good dairy farmers know their grass so well they can pretty accurately estimate the energy and protein levels of the grass just by looking at it at any given point of the year. Take my word for it this grass is short and sweet and the cows quicken their step when they saw it.

During spring our rotation (number of days its takes the cows to eat off every paddock on the farm) is approximately fourteen days and thanks to the temperate weather and high rainfall this year our current rotation is still 14 days as the ryegrass is still hanging in there. As ryegrass is a cooler climate grass normally at this time of the year it would be too hot and the ryegrass will have died out or gone to seed (grass loses 40% of its energy content when it goes to seed) and the kikuyu will have taken over.

Good dairy farmers are always casting their eyes over their paddocks on a day to day basis to pick the best grass for their cows. If one paddock has got away (the grass is past its peak ) and another paddock is at the perfect stage you go with the paddock that is perfect otherwise you spend your time chasing your tail. Our cows go into a different paddock after every milking. This allows us to pick a paddock with good shade for the hottest part of the day. This means we need to pick three ideal paddocks every day.

Cows on heat  

Yesterday when we bought the cows home from Jack’s paddock we had a number of options which is always a good thing unless more than one paddock is past its best by date. We chose this one known as the dam paddock (for obvious reasons) or paddock 27


Each paddock has a number but they also have another name that often has no relevance to the present. Jack’s paddock has an historical significance. Jack and Viv used to own the 100 acres next door and as we have fond memories of them  I imagine this paddock will be called Jack’s paddock for a long while yet.

Back to the wedding. How impressive does this look


and my favourite photo from the blog


Wedding photos in this blog have been used with permission

Growing the milk business

In 2000 our dairy farm was a one man operation milking 80 cows twice daily.

In 2005 our cow numbers had increased to 180 and we moved to milking three times daily

In 2008 we took on a second lease farm and milked a total of 400 cows three times daily

Today we employ ten people and milk 500 cows on two farms

The home farm never ceases to amaze me.

In the last 35 years the amount of land we farm on has stayed the same.

The number of people working and the cows being milked keeps increasing.


Clover Hill cows coming home for milking Boxing Day 2011

In 35 years the dairy has grown from a 6 bale walk thru to a 5 aside herringbone to a 14 aside double up herringbone.


Michael reflects on the milk biz changes in his lifetime

And the milk vat. More than anything I think the milk vat gives the most visual story of the growth of our milk business

This week we installed a 30,000 litre milk vat.

When we installed the 5,000 vat in 1995 we never dreamed we would fill this let alone get to the stage were we filled it twice a day.   Its hard to believe 30 years ago our daily milk production fitted into a 1,000 litre vat.

Its no mean feat getting a 30,000 litre vat up our hill let alone finding enough room to put it at the dairy

The vat would replace two x five thousand litres vats we currently have

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As you can see room isn’t exactly abundant

Milk vat0001 

So the sacrificial lamb was my garden – but all in a good cause

So now we had found the spot.  The next thing was to source a vat, only to find it had to be made in New Zealand and that took 16 weeks. Then it needed 2 cranes and a team of specialists all available on the same day at the same time to make it all happen.

Between the farm team we managed to capture this historic day via mobile phones and camera/video footage.

You can watch the video footage here

and see the photographs here

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Not one but two cranes


The truck driver looked pretty pleased to get it there all in one piece. The trip from the dock wasn’t exactly a walk in the park with the vat shifting quite a bit to one side on the way as you can see

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But its amazing what team work can do

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or at least what Ozzie team work can do. Soon found out half the parts to make it work were still sitting on the dock in NZ

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Christmas at the dairy

It always amuses me when people assume the cows get a day off for Christmas. Do breast feeding mothers get Xmas off? I don’t think so.

After all when you take on the responsibility of caring for other living things whether they be animals or children it is 365 and 24/7.

No-one is complaining at Clover Hill – though Michael is not quite sure how he scored the midday shift at the home farm but then that still leaves 21 hours to celebrate.

On our farm Louise coordinates the Xmas cheer.

Louise is just one of those people everybody loves having on their team. Louise brings the festive spirit to the dairy like no other


For the babies she looks after


and this one just 4 hours old

IMG_3780 C

for Sean


for Martin


There is also rumour Louise has pictures of Michael and Nick with antlers on. They are yet to surface but rest assured I am on working on it. WATCH THIS SPACE

The girls waiting to be milked think all of these hijinks are highly amusing.


Though they are a bit jealous when they find out Louise has Antlers for Eileen but not for all of them!!


But then Eileen’s face is adorable and lends itself to superb photo opps don’t you think?

Its not all play and no work. The babies still get fed and weighed to make sure we are taking just as good care of them as their mums do.

and back at the Chook pen new life has arrived for Christmas


But the girls got off the eggs before they had all hatched. So the farmers took over from nature and bought a few more into world


Which we will give back to their mums in a few days

Craig saved Christmas for our next neighbour by finding and fixing her broken water pipe


Michael said thanks Craig with a few beers.


The grain arrives and gets unloaded and Col is still trying to find out why all the parts haven’t arrived from NZ to install the new 30,000 milk vat. OMG Can you believe someone can put a vat this size on a ship and let it sail it across the ocean and left all the other bits that make it work sitting on the dock which now all have to be put on a plane and flown over. All that CO2

And what do you know?  Its dawn and its all happening again.

The girls say “Do we really have to go down that big hill this morning?

and Nick and Sean bring the springers (cows calving in the next 3 weeks) home


And next thing you know the girls are back in the dairy waiting patiently to be milked.


Sean’s on the job

Wouldn’t give it up for quits.

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.

Feed inj the dairy 0005

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