Author Archives: milkmaidmarian

About milkmaidmarian

Our family (me, my husband, little girl and boy) have a medium-sized farm in Gippsland, Victoria that has been in the family for generations. Like most Australian dairy cows - our ladies spend their lives outside grazing on pastures that change from green to gold and back again with the seasons. We hope our blog, Milk Maid Marian, helps other Aussies get a taste of life on the land.

Slugterra brings the dairy to a halt

slugterra-games Pic courtesy of watchonlinecartoons

It’s stinking hot, we’ve finally got the cows over to the dairy after an “exceptional” road crossing (“exceptional” is when you have two cars forcing their way through the herd at once in different directions, while a flashing fire truck appears over the crest). Then, with just 16 of the 255 cows heading out into the paddock, the machines fall off.

Wayne – who started life as a fitter, turner and boilermaker – is uncontactable at the little man’s swimming lesson an hour up the road. It’s down to Clarkie and me. Running out of ideas, Clarkie is changing the belts that power the vacuum pump. I am looking for vacuum leaks. There’s one at the milk receival can but not enough to cause a total failure.

Standing under the sprinklers in 33 degree heat and udders bulging with milk, the cows wait.

We start the pump again and realise that no water is coming out of the water exhaust. The pump is hot. Too hot. Have we cooked it? Pumps like these cost thousands and, without it, there will be no milking tonight or in the morning. Sweat trickles down my neck.


Brushing cobwebs aside, I look for the water inlet. There’s a rubber hose leading from a water-filled drum. It comes off easily and the elbow connecting it to the pump is full of goo. My spirits lift as I pick the slime out with my little finger. Clarkie digs into the port of the pump. A massive slug comes out. Could this be the answer?

We put it all back together again and press the start button. Only a few pitiful drips of water come out. Still no vacuum. The cows wait. I brush the sweat out of my eyes with a now filthy T-shirt.

The people we bought it from have folded so I reach for Dr Google. The pump is a “Flomax” water ring and, to my massive relief, the vacuum pump expert at Dynapump answers the phone! It turns out Dynapump does not make our pump but I have found not only an expert but a gentleman in Andrew, who offers to help with advice if I can text him a photo.

At the same time, Wayne finally answers his phone and tells us to prime the pump with water but not to put it down the exhaust.

“There must be a tap or a plug on it. You could damage it if you put it down the exhaust.”

We can’t see any way to add water, so Wayne gets a contact of his own, John, to call. But John is an hour away, at least. He suggests having another go at the pump with a long piece of wire. I do. Still nothing and this time, the pump begins to growl.

It’s 5.30pm. The cows have been waiting in the yard for an hour and a half. I make another call to Wayne and talk to him about sending the cows back to the paddock and letting Clarkie go home. My heart is in my boots.

Andrew of Dynapump rings back. Our water tank is too low to flood the pump. It has to have a water level at the same height as the shaft to make the pump seal so it can generate vacuum, otherwise it needs vacuum to draw in the water. We have a Catch 22.

There is only one way to get water into this pump and it involves a hacksaw. Clarkie and I nod and compare our weapons. His is sharper and in no time, we are pouring water into the exhaust. Yeah, there is a risk we could damage the shaft if we put too much water in but the belts should slip enough to protect it.

A roll of duct tape later and we’re ready to press start one last time. With an almighty cough, the pump springs into action. Just the hint of a grin spreads across Clarkie’s tanned face and he says: “We’re a bit clever, aren’t we?”.

Wayne and Clarkie are down there now milking together. I stink of sweat, cow and grime but I am one very grateful farmer. A breakdown like this is tough on the farmer and worse for our ladies. A huge thank you to Andrew of Dynapump for answering a milk maid’s desperate call that would have been much easier to dismiss as someone else’s problem.


Filed under Farm, Machinery and equipment

Free range milk in Australia


Jamie Oliver has a new cause – free range milk. Of course, his focus is on the UK but what about here?

There are housed dairy cows in Australia but I’ve never seen one because they’re very rare – so rare, I don’t even know how many hours I’d need to drive to show you one.

When we talk about the “cow shed” here, we mean the dairy. Aside from milking time, our cows spend their days out in the paddock grazing pasture and munching silage or summer crops.

Dairy cows are much more commonly housed in difficult climates. Teats exposed to snow in Europe or the USA can freeze, while cows exposed to desert heat in Saudi Arabia can die of heat exhaustion. Keeping cows indoors in those conditions not only makes sense, it’s the only humane thing to do.

There are some cases, though, where cows are kept permanently indoors, just to make the most milk possible. Advocates of housing say the cows live lives of luxury and are not forced to walk long distances and endure the discomfort of bad weather.

I’ve got some sympathy for those arguments. On the other hand, studies suggest that cows prefer access to pasture and then, there are videos like this one showing Dutch dairy cows being let outside for the first time after winter.

Really intensive farms are popping up around the globe where thousands – even tens of thousands of cows – are housed and milked up to four times per day.

I’ve never been to one of these places, so find it hard to pass judgement on them but it’s even harder to forget watching a cow leap for joy as she greets the great outdoors.


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

What do you want on Milk Maid Marian this year?

Milk Maid Marian has just been named among the world’s top 20 dairy blogs and I’m grateful to the Feedspot people for letting me use the little medal picture. But, honestly, it’s what you think that’s important.

After last year’s high dairy drama, I’m wondering where to take Milk Maid Marian from here but, really, it’s not about me.

Tell me what will make reading the next post worthwhile.


Filed under Farm

Our gift from the land to the sea


When I was a little girl, Dad taught me to look for this giant as the mark of our boundary with the neighboring dairy farm to the west as well as the river on our north. As farms have grown, this majestic gum now sits halfway along our river frontage but remains a landmark.

To its east, remnant native trees and shrubs hold the riverbank together but, to the manna’s west, the river is almost entirely edged with basket willows. Only a couple of generations ago, planting willows was considered best practice for erosion control but today they’re regarded as invasive weeds.

Unlike the evergreen natives, willows carpet the water every year as they drop their leaves en masse and have the nasty tendency to grown in the river as well as around it. Both habits, science tells us, is bad for native fish.

Ridding the river of willows is not easy. Each has to be removed with an excavator and regrowth poisoned every year. We have not tackled ours yet. It’s too expensive for one farmer to bear and the once-abundant funding for this type of work has evaporated. Instead, we are picking the low-hanging fruit, planting at least 1000 trees or shrubs on the farm each year.

This year, though, we have been able to get a small Landcare grant that will allow us to fence off the manna and just over a kilometre of the river bank in the next two weeks. I suspect the native veg that’s already thick and healthy down the bank itself will creep up thick and fast but, next Spring, we will add another thousand or so plants to a 10-metre strip that extends onto the flats.

I’m a bit excited, to be honest. The kids and I love exploring sections of the river and gully and can’t wait to add some more wild spaces. While I worked on one of the plantation fences yesterday, Zoe and Alex splashed about in the water and found a colony of freshwater mussels.


It’s a good sign, especially given that our river flows into the internationally-recognised waters around Wilson’s Promontory.

We may be milking cows but those who farm the sea – both with nets and beaks – depend on us doing the right thing upstream, too.


River fencing is dirty work.


Filed under Farm

We’re all in this together


“We’re all in this together” was the message on the invitation. How true.

So, on Saturday night, around 200 locals enjoyed a “Night on the Green” sponsored by the UDV. As the kids romped on jumping castles or chased each other with balloon swords, the grown-ups took the chance to unwind and regroup after a torrid 18 months. And it didn’t matter where you send your milk.

Among the farmers at the Night on the Green were Paul and Lisa Mumford, who just days earlier had opened their farm, their books and their hearts to visitors. The pair are well-respected and volunteering to make their business a Focus Farm brings a level of scrutiny most would find daunting: everything is on show, right down to their most revealing financials.

The husband and wife team were in equal parts honest, humble and inspiring as they answered questions about their aspirations and challenges. We’ll all learn a lot from Paul and Lisa because they’re so generous with their knowledge.

And, on Sunday, a group of about 10 local Landcarer friends spent a morning doing something for one of our own. Kaye is my Landcare heroine. For years now, she has been the backbone of our group, giving away thousands of trees and coordinating our mob of volunteers to great effect. A long bout of illness meant Kaye’s magnificent garden needed a tidy up. What an opportunity to show her we cared!

This is what community is all about. We’re all in this together! Merry Christmas!


Filed under Community, Farm

The response to animal cruelty

Following Milk Maid Marian’s recent post discussing animal cruelty at Riverside Meats, the Victorian Minister for Agriculture’s office has provided responses:

What are the laws surrounding animal cruelty and what are the penalties for abuse?
In Victoria the relevant animal welfare legislation is the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986 (“the Act”). A copy of the Act is available on the Victorian Law Today website.
The Act sets out who can enforce the provisions within it and what powers inspectors, such as officers from the Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources (DEDJTR) and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), have to enforce the laws. In addition, the Act makes it an offence for a person to do something that is likely to result in the unreasonable pain or suffering of an animal. This enables inspectors to intervene and prevent cruelty occurring.
The penalties for an offences in the Act are considerable, with fines of up to $38,865 or jail for up to 12 months for animal cruelty, and up to $77,700 or jail for up to 2 years for an act of aggravated cruelty, which is cruelty that results in the death or serious disablement of an animal.

What can people do when they see animal cruelty?
Animal cruelty can be investigated by Inspectors authorised under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986.
Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources (DEDJTR) Inspectors primarily investigate matters concerning commercial livestock. Complaints should be directed to the Animal Health Officer at a person’s local DEDJTR office. People can contact the DEDJTR customer service centre on 136 186 or email
Further information on reporting cruelty can be found on the Agriculture Victoria website.

If you are concerned a neighbour is not coping and animals are suffering but do not want to see them get in trouble, what are your options?
It is the primary responsibility of owners or persons in charge of animals to ensure that their welfare needs are met at all times. DEDJTR staff can provide a range of extension materials and advice to assist farmers in managing the health and welfare of their animals.
If a person is concerned about the welfare of neighbouring animals, they can contact their local DEDJTR office to report their concerns. Not all complaints about the welfare of animals result in prosecution, often the most appropriate response is to provide farmers with education and advice.

What is the process for dealing with animal cruelty allegations and who is involved?
DEDJTR inspectors have powers to investigate complaints about the inappropriate treatment of animals and prosecute those responsible where there is evidence of cruelty.
When a complaint is alleging animal cruelty is made an Inspector will examine the available evidence and determine whether an offence under animal welfare legislation is likely to have occurred or not.
Following a complaint an Inspector has the power to undertake any one of the following actions depending on the outcome of their investigation:
• take no further action
• provide education and advice
• issue a formal notice to comply
• seize the animals and collect evidence including requiring information from relevant persons
• begin a prosecution
During an investigation a person must comply with the requirements to give information to Inspectors as detailed in the Act. It is an offence to give false or misleading information. It is also an offence to assault, hinder or threaten an Inspector. Complainants are able to enquire as to the outcome of investigations but the investigating organisation may not be able to reveal the outcome in all cases.

How can people who trigger animal abuse investigations feel confident their call is being acted on?
Cruelty in any form is completely unacceptable, it is illegal, and is a blight on both our hard working farmers and the broader industry.
DEDJTR takes all allegations of animal cruelty seriously. All complaints that are received by DEDJTR are assessed and an appropriate response is determined based on the nature of the complaint.
Complainants are able to enquire as to the outcome of investigations but the investigating organisation may not be able to reveal the outcome in all cases.

Are people found guilty of animal abuse allowed to continue working with animals?
If a person has been found guilty by a court of an offence under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986, the court has the ability, if it thinks fit, to order that a person be disqualified from owning or being in charge of animals. This can be for a period of up to 10 years for a first offence. For a person that has previously been subject to a disqualification order, a permanent disqualification on owning or being in charge of animals can be imposed by the court.

Riverside has a history of animal abuse allegations. How can repeat offenders be stopped?
Non-compliance was previously identified at the Echuca abattoir when regulatory oversight was increased, and stayed in place until the facility could demonstrate that it complied with the Standards. The corrective actions put in place by PrimeSafe at that time have been maintained. While there is some overlap of previous and current allegations, the current substantive non-compliance is different.

Why did it take almost a month for the minister to become aware of the Riverside abuse footage? How does the Minister plan to respond?
The Minister’s Office was advised about this complaint on the day it was received by PrimeSafe. PrimeSafe is an independent statutory authority and as such it was appropriate that its investigation was carried out independently.
The initial response from PrimeSafe to the complaint occurred within 12 hours of its receipt. As PrimeSafe obtained new information it was acted on. The video evidence was investigated and actions were taken as new information and allegations were made available to PrimeSafe. For example, after the receipt of the first videos, four abattoir staff were immediately removed from their roles. Regulatory directions and sanctions are in place, with ongoing regulatory oversight to ensure animal welfare is maintained in accordance with Standards. PrimeSafe had adequate resources to manage the issues as the information became available and used the powers available to it within the Meat Industry Act 1993.
Minister Pulford has now also asked that the CVO, Dr Charles Milne, lead an additional investigation by Agriculture Victoria to identify whether any breaches of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986 have occurred and if so, to determine what further action should be taken to hold those responsible to account.

Are animal abuse cases becoming more frequent?
Agencies that have responsibility for enforcing animal welfare legislation including DEDJTR and the RSPCA have seen a trend of increasing complaints about animal welfare. This does not necessarily mean that there is more frequent abuse. An increase in abuse complaints could occur for a range of reasons including, increasing community awareness of animal welfare issues and increased expectations from all members of the community, including farmers, for the humane treatment of animals.

How can farmers feel confident our animals are not suffering at abattoirs?
Abattoirs in Victoria are licensed under the Meat Industry Act 1993, which requires compliance with the Australian Standard for the Hygienic Production and Transportation of Meat and Meat Products for Human Consumption. This requires that animals are handled and slaughtered in a humane manner.
The management of animal welfare at meat processing facilities is controlled and monitored. Incidents of cruelty or poor welfare outcomes at meat processing facilities in Victoria are initially investigated by PrimeSafe, and where those incidents are substantiated, details are passed on to the DEDJTR for further investigation under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986.

A big thank you to the Minister of Agriculture’s office and that of the Chief vet for responding to Milk Maid Marian’s questions.


Filed under Animal Health and Welfare

A farmer’s trust broken at the abattoir and why it’s taken me so long to write about it.


Footage obtained by animal activists at Riverside Meats via the ABC

It left an indelible mark on me as a child watching Dad wiping away tears the afternoon his favourite cow, Queen Bessie, left the farm. She was getting old and arthritic, the last cow to reach the dairy. He couldn’t bear to see her fail or to pull the trigger himself.

And so it is for me these days. I hate watching trucks roll out the farm gate with any of our cows on board. A dairy farmer is in fact a shepherd, watching over our cows and willing each a long, healthy life in the herd.

We see off every threat imaginable, from making sure she gets enough colostrum at birth to making sure she has the right diet before and after giving birth herself.

It matters to me that cows sent to market have a gentle ride on the truck, so I choose a driver I know takes care. But once at the yards, all I have left for these cows we have raised is faith in the system. That we have done everything we can to give them a good life that ends without fear or pain.

So you can imagine how it felt to read of horrific cruelty at Echuca abattoir, Riverside Meats. Worse still, Riverside is a repeat offender. How could this happen?

I rang Agriculture Minister Jaala Pulford’s office and asked if I could send in some questions. Her advisor was keen. Ten days later, my questions remain unanswered despite assurances.

In an online statement, Riverside Meats says it will “support the installation of 24-hour CCTV surveillance of its Echuca meat processing facility, with independent monitoring” and that four workers “have been moved to other roles”.

Now that Riverside has rolled over and the media has moved on, I guess there are higher priorities than answering questions about abattoirs and animal cruelty. But this farmer certainly has not forgotten and the thought of sending another cow to market leaves me with a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.

I do hope the minister’s office provides answers so I can post them for you here. In the meantime, here’s the list, which I will now also send to our local MP. Will you do the same for your cows, too?

  • What are the laws surrounding animal cruelty and what are the penalties for abuse?
  • What can people do when they see animal cruelty?
  • If you are concerned a neighbor is not coping and animals are suffering but do not want to see them get in trouble, what are your options?
  • What is the process for dealing with animal cruelty allegations and who is involved?
  • How can people who trigger animal abuse investigations feel confident their call is being acted on?
  • Are people found guilty of animal abuse allowed to continue working with animals?
  • Riverside has a history of animal abuse allegations. How can repeat offenders be stopped?
  • Why did it take almost a month for the minister to become aware of the Riverside abuse footage? How does Ms Pulford plan to respond?
  • Are animal abuse cases becoming more frequent?
  • How can farmers feel confident our animals are not suffering at abattoirs?

See the full statement at


Filed under Animal Health and Welfare, Farm