Solar on the farm? Maybe.

It costs between $4000 and $5000 per quarter in power bills just to run the dairy, so we jumped at the chance to have an energy audit done on the farm by Gabriel Hakim, thanks to GippsDairy.

Energy Audit with Gab

Gabriel and Wayne check out the systems

It showed us where our energy is used and highlighted that maybe we had better look at increasing the flow of water to our milk heat exchanger. Still, there were no massive savings to be made (and don’t we all love a silver bullet?), so I’ve started investigating alternative power for the dairy.

A wind turbine would have a payback period of 60 years! Jeepers! So, I’ve since been looking at solar. You can now lease solar systems with the repayments matched to your electricity savings, making the exercise cashflow neutral. Very nice! The only thing now is to get the right size system.

It’s not as easy as you think because the cows are generally milked too early and too late in the day to capitalise on solar energy, so I think we’ll be starting off small. That’s not so bad because it won’t lock us in to the technology forever and I am sure something even better is on its way!

How a farmer hangs out her washing (or desperation is the mother of invention)

At 15 months, Alex loves “riding” the quad bike.

The little man is drawn to anything he can climb, toot or wobble, especially if it has buttons and the quad has all those magical qualities with the added bonus that it’s his Dad’s.

The mite’s adventurousness is only slightly hampered by his wet blanket of a Mama. When Wayne bought Zoe a hot pink mini-quad for Christmas last year, I refused to let him bring it home. Quads are seriously dangerous bits of gear and, besides, a pushie is still the best way to burn up all that excess energy.

But whether it was out of sheer exhaustion or the joie de vivre that comes with the first truly warm day of Spring, I relented just a touch today and took Alex for an illicit ride on the quad. As we’d passed the quad with the washing basket, he’d somehow become firmly attached to the Suzuki’s grimy plastic faring. A moment later, his padded posterior was straddling the gear shift.

It turns out that the trip from the laundry to the washing line with a toddler is gloriously smooth-sailing when you’re riding a quad – albeit at a snail’s pace. It also turns out that the quad makes an excellent table for the washing basket and is just the right height for pegging up everything from unmentionables to our Sunday best. Don’t tell anyone, will you?

Robotic milking: the gentle touch of machine on moo?

FutureDairy project leader Dr Kendra Kerrisk is something of an icon in her field of milking automation and so it’s very exciting to have her write this guest post for Milk Maid Marian. There are already a handful of robotic dairies in Australia and this looks to be the way of the future. Ironically, Kendra explains, it may allow dairy farmers to spend even more “quality time” with their cows.

Robotic milking is a relatively new concept for Australian dairy farmers even though our European counterparts are well accustomed to the idea. It is a technology that I have had the honour of working with for 10 years now and there a lot to be send for this new way of milking cows.

To the less informed, the concept may conjure up images of metal on flesh that are less appealing than the tender human touch. In fact the contact with the cow is every bit at gentle as the conventional approach and one of my fondest observations is that robotic milking farmers have an increased ability to enjoy the time that they spend with their cows when they no longer have to attach milking cups to every teat of every cow twice every day. It seems that the saying “quality not quantity” has a place when it comes to farmer/cow interactions.

Robotic milking farmers are unanimous in their opinion that the technology creates a farm system that results in very relaxed and laid back cows. The idea of robotic milking is that milking occurs 24 hours per day and that the process is voluntary (i.e. the cow completes the process without human intervention). Whenever I spend time with visitors at a robotic dairy (either our research facility or on commercial farms) the visitors are always deeply influenced by how quite and calm the milking process is with robots.

With robotic milking the cow chooses when to be milked and moves around the farm system at ‘cow pace’.

Cows in paddock with robotic milker in background

The cows are moving one by one hoorah hoorah…

Whilst I have been involved in researching the application of robotic milking I have also had the pleasure of being involved with many commercial farmers as they adopt this new way of farming. The farmer must learn a new management style whereby the farm is managed in such a way that the cows makes choices that suit the farmer and the farm targets. Cows move around the farm to gain access to incentives and by default can find themselves at the dairy for milking when their time is due.

Cow walks through robotic gates

With robotic milking the cows bring themselves to the dairy (they even operate specially designed one-way gates themselves) and take themselves back to the paddock.

The concept of robotic milking is creating a work environment that allows farmers and their employees to focus on higher level management tasks. In this manner they have the opportunity to manage their herd through an increase in the level of real time data that becomes available to them allowing them to focus on individual cows that require attention. The real attraction is the more flexible working hours that reduce the need for the early morning starts and commitment to milking cows twice a day. And the bonus for the cows is that they can now manage themselves in a manner that best suits them as individuals or as social groups.

Robotic dairy

These ladies know exactly how to manage the system to ensure they don’t miss out on the “treats” and “rewards” that are available to them.

Cows are creatures of habit and they truly appreciate a predictable environment. Robotic milking is exactly that and the outcome is a herd of cows that are very easy to work with since they become extremely calm and ‘chilled out’. With all of my experience in the area of robotic milking I have absolutely no doubt that this is a way of farming that is going to be increasingly adopted on commercial dairy farms in Australia and around the world.

Possibly one of the greatest bonuses is that I reckon dairy farming is going to increase in appeal with the younger generation which is exactly what our industry needs if we are to remain sustainable far into the future. If we achieve that they we are all winners because it goes a long way to securing our ability to continue to provide Australians with fresh, safe and nutritious dairy products that are produced in our own backyard!

There’s always time for a good scratch!!

There’s always time for a good scratch!!

A week of mechanical meltdowns

It’s been a busy week. Aside from all of us getting the flu, we’ve had one mechanical breakdown after another.

The opening salvo came from the river pump that supplies all our farm’s water. All of it. Bearings collapsed. We are now waiting on quotes to install a back-up pump and save ourselves a fresh crop of grey hairs.

Then the Chainless Hustler cart we use to feed out the hay and silage broke down. Ironically, it was a broken chain.

Chainless Hustler

The Chainless Hustler broke its chain

Next came the big quad bike. Only one dimmed light is working (no good for pre-dawn rounding up) and an oil leak onto the exhaust pipe threatens to toast us alive. Now visiting the mechanic.

Then the little quad bike. Won’t run unless at full throttle, despite our attempts at life-saving surgery. Now in quarantine in case it’s contagious.

Quad bike mechanicals

Open heart surgery on the quad didn't help

Then, the auger that carries grain into the dairy decided to spring apart.

Auger

Thankfully, Dutchy the sparky came to our rescue with this "Big Deal Breakdown"

Now, it’s my trusty Bobcat’s horn – you don’t think you need it until it’s gone. No respect from the cows at the head of the herd.

No horn

No horn = no respect

“May your life be an interesting one” is old Chinese curse. Certainly has been an interesting week!

What do you get the farmer who has it all? A stripper?

I am obviously a hard woman to buy for. For my 30th, Wayne had me thrown out of an aeroplane. For my 40th, he sent me into a tank full of sharks. This Christmas, he got me a stripper. One way or the other, he wants me to have a heart attack!

The stripper came in very handy today though and performed in ways I would never have imagined were possible. In fact, I think you could say the whole experience has rekindled my interest in wiring repairs.

Stripper

This thing made my heart skip a beat today

I have pathetically weak hands but this amazing tool allowed me to whip the insulation off in no time like a pro. The knurled portions grasp the insulation and wrench it straight off the copper wire. To make matters even better, Wayne paired the stripper with a ratcheted crimper, so getting a good connection was equally as easy for the feeble-fingered.

Before you begin to worry, by the way, I would never attempt to do the work of an electrician and risk electrocuting myself. All strictly fencing units and so forth (but now that I have the stripper, where do I sign up for an apprenticeship…?).

One job I love and loathe

Hosing our yard takes an hour and a half every day. It can be frustrating because there’s so much we could do with that time but, on the other hand, you can use it as time to let your mind drift. I reckon it’s the equivalent of a city commuter’s traffic jam. It’s made so much more fun though, when you have help like this.

Hosing the yard

Making hosing fun

One day, we will get a hydrant wash, which gushes out large volumes of water at low pressure and do the job in five to 10 minutes. Maybe Santa will find a way to fit one in his sack!

My brand new shiny thing is being licked all over!

Oooh. Look what I’ve bought.

BIG calf feeder

It's a monster!

I have been coveting one of these 1000kg capacity grain feeders for a couple of years now. Normally, we have to lug a tonne of calf pellets into troughs by hand every week. That’s a lot of 20kg bags and a lot of aching muscles.

The stars came into alignment this month though, when our store had a special on the 1000kg capacity monster and the stockfeed company announced they would supply us with calf feed in one-tonne bulk bags that we can handle with the tractor’s front end loader.

Calf food in a bulk bag

A week's dinner for our calves includes pasta

The feed is a mixture of grains that have a combined 18% protein content to help the calves grow big and strong and even includes pasta. The calves have wasted no time getting into their new dinners served up in my shiny new toy. Oh man, oh man, oh man!

Accursed trough crashes through again but the kids triumph

A wisecrack of a boss once told me that photocopiers can sense human stress levels and know exactly when to break down. So it is with troughs.

Alex was beginning to squirm with annoyance in the carrier on my chest and it was past Zoe’s dinner time as we headed home after setting up paddocks in the late evening sun. Then, a minor catastrophe.

A laneway trough with water gushing over the edge couldn’t be left until the morning and this was no simple task of adjusting the float, which is usually the case with this infamous trough. It was properly busted.

Trouble at the trough

This trough is always causing trouble Pic credit: Zoe

A little brass pin that holds the float arm in the valve had failed. Now the big question: can you fix a water trough with a baby in a front carrier without unintentionally baptising the poor little fellow? Sorry Alex. No, you can’t.

The only thing for it was to take him off, put him down in the paddock and see whether Zoe’s charms could keep him entertained while a much more slimline me could do a bushies’ repair.

Zoe entertains Alex Spanish style

Zoe entertains Alex Spanish style

A couple of minutes later, here was the rather rustic repair:

Bushy's trough repair

Bushy's trough repair - not proud of it but it works!

And the end result? Alex squealing with delight at Zoe’s matador antics and dinner delayed by just 10 minutes! Now, if only I could work out what that trough has against me…

I’m a rotten driver and it all started here

Alex driving the Bobcat

What's the holdup? Where did that idiot learn how to drive?

My late father used to tell anyone who would listen that “Marian’s a terrible driver, you know. Once, she would have driven us both into the river if I hadn’t snatched the wheel just in time.”. It was okay if I was there to defend my reputation.

You see, I was two years old at the time, propped up on phone books with a peg on the accelerator, while dad threw hay off the back of the ute. It was my job to steer the ute in serpentines and, according to legend, I had let him down with almost tragic consequences.

Although she is the ripe old age of five, Zoe does not drive and I’m not sure Alex has the right temperament just yet.

Quad bike manufacturers look like Big Tobacco

Quadbar

Crush protection devices will save farmers' lives

Just like Big Tobacco before it, the quad bike industry has been adamant its machinery is not responsible for the deaths of Australian farmers – rather that they got themselves killed.

The Weekly Times and SafetyOzBlog have reported the gyrations of the manufacturers and their representatives, the FCAI, which even included forcing some sponsored riders to remove crush protection devices. They claimed that the only answer was more rider education and that rider error was almost invariably the cause of the 23 deaths on farm ATVs in 2011 so far.

I thought it was all over bar the shouting match when The Weekly Times reported that the FCAI had dropped its opposition to Australia’s crush protection device, the Quadbar. Then I heard that at least one manufacturer has advised its dealers that its position is unchanged.

Now, the SafetyOzBlog carries this media release from the respected and independent Australian Centre for Agricultural Health and Safety tearing strips off the FCAI for failing to correct what the ACCC described as misleading and deceptive conduct.

“Embarrassing or not, the families of those people killed and permanently injured in such rollover events have a right to know why the FCAI, as suggested by the ACCC, has not only misrepresented the evidence but why they have not addressed this issue in a timely manner. The inaction and questionable approach of both the FCAI and manufacturers is showing complete disregard for the safety of their customers.”

People on our farms are dying. No matter who is responsible for the rollovers, the Quadbar is estimated to protect between one in four and one in three people. It’s worth it.

For more information on quad bike safety, call the Australian Centre for Agricultural Health and Safety (02 6752 8210) or visiting the website at www.aghealth.org.au