Video shows what happens if you tangle with ag on the road

When you see a tractor on a straight stretch of road, you get ready to overtake the slow coach while you can, right? Well, this driver was preparing to do just that as he approached a tractor towing a silage trailer and mustn’t have noticed the right turning indicator was on until it was too late.

Apparently changing his mind and trying to go left around the outside instead, his ute ended up going under the cart and out the other side. Looking at the damage on this video, it’s amazing he survived.

Our silage and sowing contractor, Wayne Bowden, asked me to upload this video and plead with drivers to watch out for slow-moving ag equipment as the silage season begins. This is the second big road crash his team has experienced and he tells me they have near misses every year. One car even clipped the front tyre of a tractor and kept on going.

The same applies for cows on the road, so watch this space for a story about cows who are bad drivers!

Bank manager comes out on the farm

Our bank manager, Rohan, came out to visit us yesterday and since he’s relatively new in his post, he hadn’t toured the farm before. Seeing as it was sunny, Zoe, Alex and I took the opportunity to show him around.

I’m glad we did. Rohan has a fresh appreciation of the opportunities a stock underpass presents for the farm. About 40 per cent of the property sits across the road from the dairy. This means milking cows can only visit that side of the farm during the day and creates extra risk and work for all of us.

It was also a chance to show him the damage the floods had caused to tracks and demonstrate how we are protecting the pastures from long-term damage while keeping the cows happy and healthy.

When you’re coming out of a crisis like this, it’s a good idea to keep your advisors and everyone who has a stake in the farm close, which of course includes the bank manager. We did nearly bog the Bobcat in a remote paddock with Rohan on board, though. Not a good idea to have your bank manager trudge 800m through mud in leather boots.

Dangerous dietary advice on air gets me riled up

Listening to local radio on my way back from kindergarten this morning I was shocked to hear a naturopath talk about milk with such prejudice I felt compelled to ring in (or run the risk of crashing the car in a fit). She declared milk “completely compromised” by modern processing and even suggested that the immune systems of breastfed infants could be forever affected by their mothers’ dairy intakes. No mention of the need for calcium!

After taking her to task, the naturopath did say that hundreds of thousands drink milk every day with no ill effects. Dairy has too important a role in our nutrition to be so readily dismissed.

According to Dairy Australia:

New research shows people with self-perceived lactose intolerance may be at risk of poor bone health and higher rates of diabetes and hypertension.

The study published in the latest American Journal Clinical Nutrition examined the effects of self-perceived lactose intolerance – whether they were self-diagnosed or physician-diagnosed – on calcium intake and risk of specific health problems related to reduced calcium intakes[i].

The US researchers surveyed 3452 adults aged 19-70 and found participants who identified themselves as lactose intolerant had significantly lower calcium intakes than those who did not, particularly from lower intakes of dairy foods such as milk, cheese and yogurt.

Participants with self-perceived lactose intolerance were also significantly more likely to have been diagnosed with hypertension and diabetes.

Dairy Australia dietitian Glenys Zucco said people sometimes avoid milk and other dairy products due to concerns about lactose intolerance, but eliminating these nutrient-rich foods could impact diet and health.

“Dairy is a readily accessible source of calcium, and nine other essential nutrients such as magnesium, potassium and vitamin A. Inadequate consumption of these nutrients may increase the risk for chronic health problems,” she said.


But people who are concerned about lactose intolerance may still be able to enjoy dairy foods.


In 2010 a panel of experts was assembled by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to review the available scientific evidence about lactose intolerance and health after experts expressed concern people were self-diagnosing lactose intolerance and eliminating nutrient-rich foods such as dairy from their diet.


A consensus paper released by the group advised that in most cases eliminating dairy foods may be unnecessary.[ii]


‘Even in persons with diagnosed lactose intolerance, small amounts of milk, yogurt, hard cheeses, and reduced-lactose foods may be effective approaches to managing the condition,’ the paper reported.

Ms Zucco said hard cheeses (like cheddar and parmesan) contained virtually no lactose, making them generally well tolerated.

“Yogurt is also usually well digested due to the natural bacterial cultures it contains – which help to digest lactose,” she said.

“Milk can also be tolerated well – with a little know how.  Drinking milk in small amounts throughout the day, as well as enjoying it with meals, can reduce intolerance symptoms.

“And if lactose tolerance is particularly low, there are a number of lactose-free cow’s milks available in supermarkets.”

[i] Nicklas T, et al. 2011, ‘Self-perceived lactose intolerance results in lower intakes of calcium and dairy foods and is associated with hypertension and diabetes in adults,’ Am J Clin Nutr doi: 10.3945/​ajcn.110.009860

[ii] NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH CONSENSUS DEVELOPMENT CONFERENCE STATEMENT NIH Consensus Development Conference: Lactose Intolerance and Health February 22–24, 2010

Why farmers are so conservative


Oats too wet to graze

Feed everywhere and barely a blade to eat

What lovely forage oats at the perfect stage to graze! But we can’t. The paddock is too mushy.

Since I took over management of the family farm in 2008, we’ve had a drought, a record price, an unprecedented milk price collapse, unheard-of grub infestation and now, a record-breaking wet season. Volatility in the extreme. Such an unpredictable environment weeds out rash risk-takers in the long term.

We’re seeing urban parallels while the world’s economies reel from one shock after another and the gold price soars as investors scurry for safety. Conservatism is suddenly universally in vogue.

Cows have best friends too

Here’s fascinating research reported in the Daily Mail:  Cows have herd mates and the bonds can affect yields, according to UK researchers.

Krista McLennan, an animal welfare researcher at Northampton University measured heart rates and cortisol levels of cows to see how they cope when isolated, penned with their best friend or with an unfamiliar cow. “When heifers have their preferred partner with them, their heart rates are reduced compared with if they were with a random individual,” McLennan said. “Keep an eye out for those cows which like to keep their friends with them. It could have some real benefits, such as improving their milk yields and reducing stress.”

I’ve noticed this myself. Just the other day, the herd was walked past a paddock of two-year-olds and I watched one of them gallop up to sniff noses across the fence with two herd members. The amazing thing was that their ear tags revealed they were all born in the same year. What I’d assumed was a two-year-old turned out to be a three-year-old late-calver conveniently paddocked with the younger ones. Old friends were catching up!

Online mapping software makes farm planning so much easier

Part of the farm on eFarmer mapping software

Part of the farm on eFarmer mapping software

While most dairy farm work is outdoors, some of our most valuable tools are in the office. In the two years I’ve had access to eFarmer mapping software, I have used it to:

–          plan new fencing (very handy today!)
–          site new stock troughs
–          work out where to put new water lines (and their lengths)
–          plan and carry out pasture renovation
–          plan for a better effluent distribution system
–          map soil types
–          create a map for contractor use (cropping, weeds, fertiliser, fencing, trenching)
–          apply for environmental grants
–          plan and implement revegetation projects
–          accurately specify fertiliser applications

In other words, it has allowed me to be a much better farmer and custodian of the environment.  Thank you to the Victorian DPI and Murray Goulburn for making it happen!

Untangling how much farmers are paid for milk

The most anticipated email of the year popped into my inbox just before midnight. It was our co-op’s announcement of its opening milk price: “a weighted average price of $4.90/kg milk solids”.

Ironically, farmers are not paid for milk – just the fat and protein it contains, which we call “milk solids”.  Here’s the tricky part: protein is 2.5 times more valuable than fat, different herds (and the individual cows within them) produce different ratios of both, the price per kg changes almost monthly and the amount each cow makes shifts throughout her lactation and as her diet changes.

We are also subject to charges based on how often our milk is collected, if milk quality drops, and even milk volume.

For all these reasons, the price a farmer receives for a litre of milk is as individual as the farm.  To further complicate the picture, the co-op introduced  a new payment system last year that allowed farmers to select from three pricing models reflecting different pattens of production over a season.

I opted for the Domestic Incentive and committed the farm to supply at least 40% of our milk between mid-February and mid-August. It was the right decision at the time but that record-breaking wet summer affected the normal pattern of supply. With just one tanker of milk to be collected, it’s touch and go. About the same amount as the cost of my tractor engine rebuild is riding on how well the girls milk tonight. Wish me luck!

PS: The pricing system I’ve described applies only to our co-op. Other farmers, particularly those interstate, may have radically different structures.

Getting kangaroos off the farm without fences or guns

Moving the maremma hotel

Moving the maremmas' home

Our farm shares kilometres of boundaries with state forest and, unfortunately, tonnes of its feed with hundreds of kangaroos and wallabies. While animal activists quote research carried out in semi-arid lands that found no competition between livestock and macropods, nothing could be further from the truth here.

The kangaroos and wallabies decimate luscious dairy pastures and crops. Last year, an oat crop adjoining the forest was cropped to just four inches high near the bush and grew to around a metre tall on the other (inner) side of the same paddock.

Our neighbours have installed massive fences in an attempt to keep the kangaroos and wallabies out, with mixed success. The other alternative is to shoot them and I do have a licence to cull 40. I haven’t used it because I hate the thought of it.

Instead, I’ve been looking at ways to deter them from the farm. A promising study used dingo urine but this seems to have come to a premature halt due to staffing issues. Many researchers have found ultrasonic deterrents ineffective.

I’m hoping we’ve found the solution. We’ve been bonding two maremma livestock guardian dogs, Charlie and Lola, to our calves and teaching them to respect the boundary fences. Fluffy white 35-kilogram bounders, these gentle dogs have a formidable bark and presence. They are also very protective of their “family” – us and the calves.

The only hitch to date has been getting them to roam far enough from their charges, so we’ve moved them and a couple of bovine mates to join a much larger mob living by the forest. Charlie was happy to go but Lola hung behind in her more familiar paddock. Fingers crossed they make the transition!