Two way conversations are the key

As anyone who knows me will tell you I have very strong opinions about the way forward for sustainable agriculture.

Today my post reflects on the importance of both talking and listening.

Sadly Australia is complacent about the challenges to food security.  There is a lack of appreciation by society in general of the interdependence of environment, agriculture, food and health.

However if we are to progress and fuel the mushrooming food needs of the cities while meeting the community’s expectations for environmental sustainability and animal well being, then both rural and urban communities must have greater mutual empathy and respect.

This I believe is the real challenge facing farmers in the immediate future – how do we fix it?

As I see it we can do one of two things

We (farmers) can sit back and lament that we are victims or we can actively acknowledge that farmers are business people selling a product and successful businesses recognise marketing is the strategic part of doing business.

Marketing doesn’t mean every farmer needs to write a blog, join Twitter or Facebook it simply means being customer focused. This means you have to understand your customer and their values and your business has to BE the image you want your customer to see.

Every sector of the food system whether that be farmers, manufactures, branded food companies, supermarkets or restaurants is under ever increasing pressure to demonstrate they are operating in a way that is consistent with stakeholder values and expectations. Farmers cannot expect to be exempted from this scrutiny just because we grow the food.

Businesses are built on relationships. This means we (farmers) have to get out there in our communities and start having two way conversations with our customers

Excitingly I know that once farmers embrace the concept they will discover like me that it can be very rewarding talking to your customers. They are interested and they do care.

There are so many ways farmers can share their stories. This one is very quirky and I just love it. Check it out you will too

Cobargo Dairy Farmer Stephanie Tarlinton shares her story via YouTube

Heads up on the research

Our second farm ‘Lemon Grove Research Farm’ PL  was leased in 2008 to grow and diversify our enterprise.

In complete contrast to the home farm whose terrain would challenge the fittest mountain goat Lemon Grove’s 68ha of alluvial river flats provides gentle leisurely access to beautiful pastures for our pregnant milking cows

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The lush flats at Lemon Grove Research Farm which is adjacent to the Jamberoo township

Despite receiving 33% less rainfall than Clover Hill (and the occasional flood!), we have managed to increase stocking rate on Lemon Grove by 150% to graze 5 cows per hectare. This has allowed us to achieve a 350% increase in milk production from that farm in the last three years.

Flood damage @ Lemon Grive  (2)

Thank God this only happens every 50 years ( touch wood)

This has  been achieved through a combination of improved feeding in the dairy and via our small opportunity feed pad, improved fertility in our pastures and innovative and exciting agronomic strategies that provide us with  a more even supply of high quality pastures all year round

Michael in Lucerne @ Lemon Grove

Michael standing in our lush first foray into the world of perennial pastures in Jamberoo

This leads us to our first and exciting research innovation which is to investigate the role and performance of perennial non-grass based pastures in coastal dairy farms

We were looking for ways to reduce our reliance on high nitrogen fertiliser inputs due to both its potential environmental impact and exposure to price volatility. We have watched urea ride the price roller coaster over the last five year due to its close linkage to oil price and we only see the upward trend continuing    

Roller Coaster

Traditional coastal grass based pastures (summer kikuyu/paspalum; winter ryegrass) are highly dependent on nitrogen  inputs, generally suffer from poor quality and manageability in summer, require re-sowing each year and are limited by root depth in being able to access moisture and soil nutrient and  hence are prone to short term moisture stress. There is also a significant lag (production gap) between rye grass senescing in spring and summer grasses growing well; and between sowing and production of new winter pastures in the autumn

Past efforts to grow perennial ryegrass have ben foiled by insect pests and summer grass weed infestation and dare I say inappropriate management practices .

 

Neil Moss @ CH

 

 

We have been working with Dr Neil Moss from SBScibus for 10 years

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We have been refining these pastures in the Jamberoo environment with our consultant Dr Neil Moss over the last 3 years and on our current trial site we have planted a mixture of pasture based on perennial legumes and herbs

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The trial site is located in paddock 6 with the control site in paddock 5

Over the next 3 years we will share our success and failures (hopefully failures will be few and far between)

This trial is supported by funding from

Food for thought0001

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.

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Eileen says watch out world I am on my way.  

 

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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

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

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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 )

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  • 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.

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

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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.

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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

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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

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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.

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Chicken eggs in incubator 

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

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

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

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We supply them with fresh water and chick starter

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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

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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.

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

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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.

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

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Our cows are just fascinated by chooks

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They have figured out how to get fed

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and watered

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They have gone on some big adventures

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Climbed a rock face

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

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and are now staying very close by

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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.

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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.

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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

Slide1

http://www.coolcows.com.au/

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.

Slide2

http://www.coolcows.com.au/

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.

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Flies seem to more prevalent on black cows

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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.

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

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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

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Big troughs and lots of them.

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

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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

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

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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

PHYSIOLOGICAL RESPONSES TO HEAT STRESS
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.

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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

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

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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.

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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

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

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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

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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  http://tobydixon.com/blog/?cat=1

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

Like this classic

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This is Clover Hill’s very own  Mandelyn Skyframe Toni

Back to the amateurs

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