Our cows are so cool

Our cows are dignified ladies who like to keep their cool in more ways than one. Bred in cooler climes than Australia, Holstein Friesians start to feel the heat once the mercury climbs over 25 degrees Celsius.

We’ve been really busy preparing the farm to help them deal with hot summer days:

  • planting thousands of trees for shade

    New plantation for shade and wildlife

    New plantations will provide shade for the cows and corridors for wildlife

  • installing 4 kilometres of large capacity water pipes and 17 massive water troughs. Milking cows can drink up to 250 litres each on a hot day or 20 litres in a minute!

    Water trough

    Installing water troughs has been a 3 year project

  • putting up sprinklers in the dairy yard to offer a cool shower while they wait to be milked and

    Yard sprinkler

    A shower cools the cows, the concrete underfoot and offers relief from flies

  • adding salt, minerals and zinc to their diets.

    Feed in the bail

    Zinc is added to the cows' feed during summer

I also select the paddock for the day with a keen eye on the forecast. Today is pretty uncomfortable, so they’ve been sent to a paddock ringed with trees and will graze a more open paddock tonight.

Cool cows are happy, healthy cows who make more milk, suffer fewer illnesses, carry pregnancies better and are nicer to work alongside! Dairy research body, Dairy Australia, has done lots of work on heat stress in dairy cows and you can access lots of useful info at the Cool Cows website.





Betting on a thunderstorm

Cows grazing with mower in distance

Have I made the right decision?

Imagine a game where you wager thousands of dollars on the timing of a spring thunderstorm. Too stupid? Well, that’s what I’ve just done.

Getting silage done this season has been…tricky. You need a three-day “window” of warm, dry weather to cut, dry, bale and wrap the grass. Three-day windows have been pitifully rare this season though and we have long, stemmy grass that needs harvesting.

This morning’s forecast said 25 degrees C today, followed by 30 tomorrow and a thunderstorm. We’ve decided to cut three paddocks. If the grass stays too moist, we might lose hundreds of rolls of feed. If we didn’t cut, the grass would go to head and stop growing.

Fingers crossed.

Why are farmers so secretive? I’ll ask them at 9.30

There is a dark side of dairying that is hidden from the average milk drinker.” – RSPCA

“Do you want to know a secret?…next week Animals Australia is going to do some advertising of their own, only this time, they’re letting people in on a little secret — the dark side to dairy that they *won’t* tell you about in their ads. Click here to download the new ad, or sit back and watch this video to discover the truth” – Animals Australia

Actually, we don’t talk much about ourselves unless there’s a drought or a flood and I’ve got a golden opportunity to find out why. From 9.30 this morning (Sydney Australia time) I’ll present a webinar to the Future Focused AgOz conference and ask the farmers there about the hurdles they see to farm blogs and will report back to you.

In the meantime, if you write, or read Australian farm blogs, please do share them with us on Twitter at @milkmaidmarian.

One farm blogger, Fiona Lake, reckons there are few Aussie blogs written by full-time farmers and has an explanation:

“It’s much harder to locate well-explained rural blogs written by people running fulltime agribusinesses, long-term – with information on the nitty-gritty facts of large scale farming and livestock raising, environmental and agribusiness issue discussions. (Full time) farmers work long hours most or all days of the week and are generally exhausted when they knock off. So naturally it’s hard to find any hands-on fulltime farmers dedicated enough to voluntarily spend some of their scant spare time, writing about what they do, for no other reason than to help people unfamiliar with the industry, understand how their food and fibre is grown and encourage thought on topical issues.”

Fiona’s certainly right but is that it? Are we all simply too pooped to tell our stories? I suspect there are other factors too and would love your thoughts.

Look at my sick dairy cows

Cows in hospital paddock

Cows in hospital paddock

These cows look fine but they’re in the hospital paddock because they have mastitis. It’s an infection of the udder that can be caused by bugs out on the farm, stress or some form of “mechanical damage”, like a bump or malfunctioning milking machines.

Sadly, it’s been a big problem for dairy farmers in southern Victoria this season. Very wet conditions are the perfect breeding ground for the bugs, which include e. coli and staph. Our cows have not been immune and the co-op’s milk testing showed up increased levels of white blood cells – a sign that the cows are fighting infections.

Our first step was to look for cows with the classic symptoms: hot, firm quarters and clots in the milk. We do this routinely but we stepped it up a notch, closely examining every single cow and her milk in one night. We found a couple of cases but not enough to explain our herd’s elevated cell counts, so there was nothing for it but to carry out a spot herd test.

To do this, we divert a little milk from each cow into sealed tubes for analysis at the lab. They tell us which cows have high cell counts but can’t identify the bugs. So, yet another sample was taken from each of the high cell count cows, frozen and couriered to yet another lab. Four days later, we have the results and vet Amy has created a treatment program for each of the cows!

They’ll stay in the hospital paddock, though, until their course of treatment is complete and the milk tests free of antibiotic residue.

Farming with a baby in the summer sun

Keeping a baby safe, cool and protected from the sun while doing farm work is something of a challenge. And we all know how farmers rise to a challenge, equipped with hay band, tape and either WD40 or silicone!

In my case, it was half a dozen paper lunch bags taped onto the top of the baby carrier to form a “verandah” of sorts that got the fashionistas talking. I’ve since moved on and think I have achieved perfection.

Peeping out of a baby carrier

Peeping out

Some of Wayne’s old XXL cotton shirts have been seconded for a noble mission and you can see the result in the pic above. I just put one of these oversize shirts on over my singlet and the carrier and do up the bottom few buttons. Little man can be nudie rudie under the shirt and safe from the stinging sun.

Sun protection is equally as important for Zoe, who has just got a new hat and sunnies for summer (yes, I know it’s not strictly summer quite yet but it sure feels like it!).

Zoe in new farm hat and sunnies

Slip, slop, slap and splash with the yard hose makes for a cool farm girl

Unless we learn to work together, the animals will be the losers

You know, something diabolical has happened to our sensibilities as we use animals to feed ourselves. We have lost something in the process. It’s called CONSCIENCE.
I don’t know how dairy farmers can lie straight in bed, when they kill the babies … just as the baby seals are killed for their fur, these poor little animals don’t even get a chance to grow a pelt, let alone have time to be alive!!!! Where are we going as a species, to use other creatures in such callous, cruel ways? I am beyond disgusted, I’m appalled and ashamed. GET A CONSCIENCE FOR GODS SAKE, ALL THOSE IN THE DAIRY INDUSTRY.
Friday at 18:19

I don’t blame Sally Hook for that comment posted on the Bush Telegraph Facebook page. Her response to the reported dairy practices was very typical and I’d feel the same way if I wasn’t better informed. Sally and every other Australian has a right to know her food is ethically produced and if we dairy farmers feel slighted by the comments that misinformation brings, we only have ourselves to blame.

Farmers are understandably wary of the vitriol that drips from the tongues of many animal activists.  But that is no excuse to keep people in the dark. Nor can we leave it to our “leaders” to communicate with the rest of the world because it is impossible to delegate telling your own story. Sally needs to hear it from the horse’s mouth, no matter how scary that might be for us.

At the same time, I’m hoping the animal activists will also take a step closer to the table. Sally did. After two days of online “talks” with real farmers, as distinct from agripoliticians, she posted this comment:

I urge the good people of the dairy industry to keep pushing.
Sunday 2 hours ago

We can and must build bridges with Australians who share our passion for animals. Defending the indefensible minority, as industry people caught like rabbits in the spotlight tried and failed miserably to do on national radio, is not only morally bankrupt but counterproductive in the extreme.

Sally is right. The good people of the dairy industry must keep pushing.

About raw milk products

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 infrequently in pasteurised milk and pasteurised milk products.

In Australia, illness from dairy products is rare. Between 1995-2004, there were only eleven reported outbreaks directly attributed to dairy products, eight of which were associated with consumption of unpasteurised milk. In other Australian outbreaks, dairy products were an ingredient of the responsible food vehicle identified as the source of infection. However,
dairy products are a component of many foods and it is often difficult to attribute the cause of an outbreak to a particular food ingredient. Microbiological survey data for pasteurised dairy products in Australia show a very low incidence of hazards of public health significance in these products.

While commercial dairy products have rarely been identified as sources of food-borne illness in Australia, there have been a number of reports of outbreaks associated with consumption of dairy products internationally. Unpasteurised dairy products are the most common cause of these dairy-associated outbreaks of illness.

Among the risks that are neutralised by pasteurisation are salmonella, listeria and e coli.

Raw milk cheeses may be on their way

FSANZ recently recommended permission for non-pasteurised hard to very hard cooked curd cheeses on the provision that there are new processing requirements for cheese production that state storage time, and moisture content requirements for these cheeses to ensure product safety.

FSANZ says it will “continue to look at permissions for other raw milk cheeses through a new proposal that will use the technical work already undertaken under P1007”.

Prominent cheese officionado, Will Studd, says the changes will be insignificant.

Raw drinking milk to remain illegal in Australia
In the words of the FSANZ:

The assessment work for P1007 concluded that raw drinking milk presents too high a risk to consider any permission in the Code. In the new proposal, FSANZ will be reviewing the current exemption that allows raw goat milk.

For raw drinking milk, even extremely good hygiene procedures won’t ensure dangerous pathogens aren’t present. Complications from bacteria that can contaminate these products can be extremely severe, such as haemolytic uraemic syndrome (HUS) which can result in renal failure and death in otherwise healthy people.

People with increased vulnerability to diseases caused by these bacteria include young children, elderly people, people with compromised immune systems and pregnant women and their foetuses.

What if a farmer sells you raw milk?

I wouldn’t ever sell it to you. I would lose my dairy farmer’s licence and face five-figure fines, as one man did for selling raw milk for “cosmetic purposes” earlier this year. Worse still,  I couldn’t live with myself if, despite our best efforts to deliver clean milk, one of your children fell ill. Sure, we drank it as kids with no ill-effects and the risks are low but they are there and it is illegal.

Even after pasteurisation, milk is one of nature’s superfoods. Drink it, enjoy it and let your children thrive on it.

By the way, for a good discussion of the raw milk cheese debate, check out the Food Sage blog.

Can you guess what the most commonly shoplifted product in the world is?

A report has revealed the most commonly stolen food around the world, and you may be surprised to find it’s not bread, flour, milk, meat or other essential staples, but rather cheese.
Food Magazine

Can you believe it? Cheese stores well, goes with anything and is the ultimate treat that’s good for you. Humble grilled cheese on toast is my to-die-for breakfast.

How well Australian dairy farmers are paid compared to those around the world

International Farmgate milk prices US$ per 100kg

This graph kindly supplied by Dairy Australia (please click on the link to see it) shows that Australian dairy farmers are enjoying their best prices in a long time. I haven’t rushed out to put a deposit on a BMW for five very important reasons:

  1. The US dollar is incredibly weak against the Aussie dollar, so the high price is not translating to an equally high pay packet in our terms.
  2. Our costs, especially fertiliser and power, have increased dramatically in the last five years.
  3. I’m playing a game of catch-up. When prices are low or seasons are unfavourable, we put off spending on necessities like cow tracks, fencing and emptying effluent ponds but we can’t put that off forever!
  4. We’ve had the autumn/winter/spring from hell and that’s cost a fortune in feed.
  5. Even if I had the money for the Beemer, I’d be too scared to spend it in case the global economy forces a repeat of 2009, when our price dropped 40% almost overnight.

Given that half of our milk is sold on the volatile international market, nothing’s  guaranteed in Victorian dairying except that the cows need to be milked and fed and you never know what’s around the corner.

Why have Australian farmers received such a low price for our milk for so long, you ask? First, we produce a lot more milk than our domestic market can consume, which means our milk needs to be sold on the highly competitive international market. Second, the US and European Union have subsidised their dairy industries, creating an artificially low international price. The so-called “butter mountain” was sold at unsustainably low prices for many years.

More recently, the political appetite for subsidisation has waned and this has helped Australian dairy compete – while still hardly a level playing field, it’s not quite so tilted against us.

Mother duck shows spring is here

Mother duck

Mother duck and her brood

Driving over the dam spillway this morning, I gave mother duck and her brood the fright of their lives and had to leap off the UTV very fast to snap their photo! In the last week or so, we’ve seen quite a lot of waterbird chicks on or near the water and it gives me a real thrill to see them thriving on the farm.

We live close to the sea and are proud to offer this protected nesting site.