The Life of the Dairy Cow

1441 aka "Cheeky Girl" on the left

1441 aka “Cheeky Girl” on the left with the pink nose

Meet 1441, known to us as “Cheeky Girl”. If you were in the paddock alongside me, she would certainly want to meet you. As a calf, a yearling and now, a mature cow, Cheeky Girl’s always been one of the first in the herd to wander up to you in the paddock. You’re busy working on the fence, you turn around to see who’s sniffing you and there she is, every time!

Vegan group, Voiceless, today launched an “expose” of cruelty to Australian dairy cows called The Life of the Dairy Cow: A Report on the Australian Dairy Industry. The group claims dairy farmers are secretive and that:

“…the average dairy cow is subject to a perpetual cycle of calving, milking and forced impregnation. She has been bred to produce double the milk she could have thirty years ago, and to ensure her yield remains at its peak, she is forcibly impregnated every 13 months to produce a calf who is immediately taken away from her and, in many cases, killed within a week after birth.”

“The emotional suffering this causes, along with the physical pain inflicted through standard mutilation practices and the prevalence of painful diseases, impact negatively on her welfare, but remain mostly hidden from the view of consumers.”

Here, I’m going to tell you about the life of one of our dairy cows, Cheeky Girl. The underlined links are to previous blog posts I’ve written here on Milk Maid Marian.  I’ll let you make up your own mind.

Cheeky girl as a rising two-year-old

Cheeky Girl as a rising two-year-old

Cheeky Girl was born in July four years ago. She was conceived in the paddock after her 10-year-old mother’s courtship with one of our eight bulls. At two days old, she was brought to the warm young calf shed where, in a pen with one or two other newborns, she was protected from the devastating BJD and fed with enough vital colostrum to give her the best chance of a long life. After the 48 hour window for colostrum absorption had closed, she was offered ad-lib pellets and water to help her rumen develop.

Seven days later, after we were sure Cheeky Girl had learned to suckle strongly, she joined a group of 16 calves in this sheltered outdoor fox-proof enclosure guarded by our Maremmas, Charlie and Lola.

One morning when she was a few weeks old, Cheeky Girl’s horn buds were cauterised to protect her herd-mates (and the people who care for her) from potentially fatal injuries later in life. It’s a job we hate but one that is done in the interests of every animal and person on the farm. And, yes, we know it hurt but by the afternoon, Cheeky Girl was looking for a scratch again. This year’s calves were spared this discomfort as naturally polled sires became available.

When Cheeky Girl was big and strong enough, we weaned her from her mother’s milk, vaccinated her against seven deadly diseases and let her join a mob of about 40 of her peers in a paddock by the forest. Aside from clover and rye, she was fed silage and high protein pellets to keep her growing and healthy. She was vaccinated and drenched regularly to prevent parasite attacks that might otherwise debilitate a young growing cow.

At 15 months, our four Jersey bulls began to flirt with Cheeky Girl and her peers. We only let the youngsters run with this small breed of bulls so there is less risk of complications. When her own calf was born in the carefully monitored “springer’s paddock” by the dairy, Cheeky Girl became a fully fledged member of the milking herd for the first time. She is fed grain in the dairy, lives her entire life roaming the paddocks with her herd mates and enjoys added silage or hay when the pasture’s growth slows in summer and winter.

Cheeky Girl makes about 25 litres of milk per day grazing free-range in the paddocks. She hasn’t fallen ill with mastitis or lameness but, if she does one day, help will be swift and attentive. Like her mother, Cheeky Girl can look forward to a long and healthy life – perhaps staying in the herd until the ripe old age of 14 or 15. And when she’s no longer able to cope with cold winters or becomes seriously ill, we will make sure she suffers as little as possible. We cannot stop the cycle of life from turning but we can do our best to look after our animals the whole way through.


Filed under Animal Health and Welfare, Calves, Cows, Farm

Making the wet worthwhile

Not quite monsoon weather

Not quite monsoon weather

I’m writing this post hoping to be embarrassed by calling this a flop of a monsoon trough. Earlier in the week, we were promised 5 inches of rain by now but we’ve clocked up about a tenth of that in five days of drizzle with perhaps an inch or so supposedly delayed in traffic still to come.  Not that I would ever look a gift horse in the mouth, of course!

The gift of a good soaking in summer is precious indeed. We don’t irrigate here so rely totally on what falls from the heavens and our farm is set up to make every drop count. The silver lining of greater climate volatility is more summer downpours. We have sown deep-rooted perennial pastures, including the heat-loving tall fescue and cocksfoot, throughout the farm. These pastures respond almost instantly to rain in summer and increase our resilience to an increasingly tricky climate.

Bring it on!

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Filed under Climate

How much listening to farmers is okay?

"Fonterra on Twitter" by Digital Jungle

Excerpt from “Fonterra on Twitter” by Digital Jungle

I don’t need to tell you how much of a stir a report tracing Twitter conversations surrounding Fonterra made when it was tweeted by farmer Shelby Anderson (@cupslinga) yesterday. The extensive 54-page document monitored just one week of Twitter conversations and looked to be a sample of what the social monitoring service could provide rather than a commissioned routine report. Still, as Shelby tweeted, it was a veeeerrry interesting report all the same.

I asked Fonterra Australia’s national milk supply manager, Matt Watt, to answer a few questions about how it listens to farmers. Matt very promptly offered these answers yesterday afternoon:

MMM: How do farmer perceptions affect Fonterra Australia?

MW: Our partnership with our farmers is fundamental to our business strategy. Therefore, their perceptions are very important to us. If there are issues or opportunities that are impacting farm profitability or aspirations for growth, we need to know about them – if we don’t, we cannot assist in addressing them. Concerns from the farmer base around volatility were the catalyst for our Fixed Base Milk Price program, confusion around milk price structure was the reason for our simplification of our milk price are a couple of recent examples of how farmer perceptions have affected our actions. More broadly, farmer perceptions will impact farm production and farm production is the start of our business – how much milk is produced and of what quality impacts all the way through our business to the consumer at the other end.

MMM: How does Fonterra Australia gauge what matters to farmers and how they feel about Fonterra?

MW: There are lots of different ways by which we engage with our farmers and most of them give us the opportunity to gauge what is most important to farmers and how they feel about us. A key channel is our field team – I fundamentally believe that the most important connection is the conversation on farm, over the kitchen table. This is also where our Support Crew kicks in – if we identify a particular opportunity to assist on an individual farm, we utilise the relevant Support Crew expert to assist in HR, Nutrition, Finance, Milk Quality or Sustainability. Similarly our BSC board and supplier forum are a key channel in enabling us to better understand farmer priorities and sentiment. We often use this group to test our thinking in terms of new initiatives and priorities. We also have in place our Mooodmeter – this is 3 minute telephone or electronic survey that allows farmers to give us feedback on how we are performing in our partnership and also provide any specific feedback or points of action.

Beyond these there are opportunities to gauge through farmer meetings, discussion groups, market outlook cluster meetings, responses to the weekly Watt Matters emails,  industry body discussions and, of course, social media.

MMM:  Has this brief report been followed by a more comprehensive analysis of farmers’ social media interactions?

MW: No, since receiving Digital Jungle’s trial report we’ve had no further dealings with them. As mentioned earlier, our priority in terms of learning farmer perceptions of Fonterra is through direct engagement, through our field team, our supplier forums, Mooodmeter, farmer meetings, and other ways of engaging. Social media naturally plays a role in this – social media posts and discussions can act as a weathervane, indicating both farmer and broader community sentiment on key matters of concern – however it is only one method through which farmers engage with us.

MMM: How does Fonterra work to improve its relationships with farmers?

I think that being open in our communication is the first part of this. This means investing time in understanding what is important, acknowledging that and then being clear about what we can and can’t address. Following that, ensuring that you deliver on what you said you would is fundamental – whether that is as simple as a call back, making the payment on time through to adding genuine bottom line value to a farm business through the work of our Support Crew. Again, the variety of channels from our field team to our supplier forum to social media are key in this. The other aspect is recognising farmers for their hard work – we have had some successful site dairy rewards days where farmers come to site to get a pack of Fonterra product along with our recent Christmas functions which were really well attended.

MMM: Has Fonterra changed the way it communicates with farmers in the last two years?

MW: I think that we have become clearer in what it is that we can bring to the partnership with our farmers with our focus on leveraging our global strength for local benefit, supporting profitability and enabling growth. On the back of  that we have also sought to make communications simpler and clearer. The way in which we were able to present our new milk price structure was an example of that. Finally, we have looked at new channels – just before Christmas we did a video version of the weekly email Watt Matters which received some really positive feedback and a number of our team are on twitter and engage from time to time in discussions around the industry. However, there is more opportunity in this space – social and digital media is evolving incredibly rapidly so keeping pace with that and ensuring we have the capacity and capability to effectively engage in this is both a challenge and an opportunity.

MMM: Have perceptions changed over the last two years?

MW: In my view they have and our Mooodmeter information validates that. We have seen a significant development in the general understanding of factors effecting milk price through our Front Foot program. Farmers tell us now that they better understand where we are focussed and we have a number of really positive stories around improved profitability and growth that we have assisted in some way through our partnership. However, we still have a lot of work to do in this space – we should never take for granted our relationships with our farmers – they are in a tough, variable business and unless we are there understanding that every step of the way, we will quickly lose connection and relevance.

What do you think? How should milk processors interact with farmers?

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Filed under Community, Farm, Fonterra

Secrets of a happy life revealed and it was here on the farm all along

“If your New Year resolution is to be happier, make your priorities fruit, nature, sun and sleep.”

This simple prescription for a happy life stems from Otago University research reported in the NZ Herald this morning.  Sounds a lot like farm life, doesn’t it?

From all of us here on the farm, have a wonderful 2015!

Before we say goodbye to 2014 though, I’d like to pay tribute to our wonderful fellow Landcarer, Margaret Ferguson, who helped us plant trees this summer and tragically lost her life in a farm accident this month. I still can’t believe this magnificent lady is gone but she would be delighted to see how well our trees have already grown.

The trees arrived in September

The trees arrived in September


The grass was sprayed to give the plants a head start

The grass was sprayed to give the plants a head start


We finished planting in the first week of October

We finished planting in the first week of October


Giving the trees a helping hand when it got dry was noisy work

Giving the trees a helping hand when it got dry was noisy work


Look how much they've already grown: the same trees on Boxing Day 2014

Look how much they’ve already grown: the same trees on Boxing Day 2014


RIP Margaret. We miss you.

RIP Margaret Ferguson: a passionate fellow Landcarer (Photo courtesy of Kaye Proudley)

RIP Margaret Ferguson: a passionate fellow Landcarer (Photo courtesy of Kaye Proudley)



Filed under Environment, Family and parenting, Farm

About raw milk products


A little boy the same age as our own Alex is dead after drinking raw milk sold as “bath milk”. I’ve reposted this piece about raw milk as some background. Please, don’t mess with raw milk. Do what we do on our dairy farm and make sure you only drink pasteurised milk. UPDATE: Actually, the best place to read about the Mountain View Organic bath milk tragedy is at Dr David Tribe’s blog:

Originally posted on The Milk Maid Marian:

Farmstead cheese

Photographer: Michael Robinson, pic courtesy of Cheese Slices

Did you know there is such a thing as “Real Milk Activism”? These activists believe the only real milk is unpasteurised milk.

Currently, it is illegal in Australia to sell unpasteurised “raw” milk but Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) is conducting a review that could (although it is unlikely, I suspect) see it hit the shelves.

Milk has caused very little illness in Australia over the past decade. According to the FSANZ paper A Risk Profile of Dairy Products in Australia:

Microbiological survey data for pasteurised dairy products in Australia show a very low incidence of hazards of public health significance in these products. Overseas data demonstrates that pathogens are frequently isolated from raw milk and raw milk products. Pathogens were detected in raw milk in 85% of 126 surveys identified in the literature.

In surveys of raw milk cheese pathogens were rarely detected. Pathogens are found…

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Filed under Farm

Singing in the rain: a pony introduces herself to the herd

Meet our newest family member, Dixie the divine.

DixieYesterday, the cows were in the house paddock for the first time since Dixie came to live with us and they were intrigued to meet her, lining up by the horse paddock and bobbing their heads in astonishment at the strange “brown cow that whinnies”.

The stars of the show line up to meet the new Queen

The stars of the show line up to meet the new Queen

It was a misty, drizzly morning and while the cows and Dixie were separated by perhaps 50 metres of paddock, the effect was magnetic. Dixie whinnied. The ladies mooed. And so on for a good half hour. Continue reading


Filed under Family and parenting

Skeletons in the dairy case


We know we are not perfect, we realise we must do better and we are proud of how far we have come.

Our cows live better lives than they did when I was a girl. Careful breeding has reduced the incidence of mastitis and lameness, while a new understanding of bovine nutrition has reduced the risk of calving trouble and helped us insulate the cows from the impact of both drought and flood. Our first generation of naturally polled (hornless) calves has just been born.

Even so, dairy farmers will one day earn a prime-time feature for all the wrong reasons. It could be someone doing the right thing that looks like the wrong thing: Continue reading


Filed under Animal Health and Welfare, Community, Environment, Farm, Research