Why wear tall rubber boots on a 35 degree day?


This very stylish cow is modelling Milk Maid fashions for the day. The hat, sunnies, first aid kit stashed in the Bobcat glovebox and sunscreen don’t need any explanation but the boots might.

I might be a bit of a chicken but reckon I’ve had about a dozen “near death experiences” with snakes. Never been bitten, never want to. Hence, the horribly hot but impenetrable footwear. Maybe it’s time to invest in some gaiters!


Dead baby snake found where the school bus stops


Filed under Farm, Safety

Dairy industrial action


Day shift conditions are far superior to those at night

In a wave of industrial unrest over the weekend, dairy cows at Milk Maid Marian Inc began staging sit ins. On Saturday afternoon, the herd voted not to go into the night paddock until entitlements for the evening shift matched those enjoyed during the day.

An apology and explanation from the employer that the limited volume of dam water could only provide for daytime millet and turnips was enough to move the cows through the gate. But once again faced with the stark reality of honey-coloured pasture, the milkers voted unanimously to reinstate their stop work action.


“You have got to be joking!” was the theme of the stop work meeting

After threatening to blockade the flow of milk, the cows entered into a fresh round of negotiations with the farmer on Monday.

The new remuneration package includes 6kg of grain pellets during milk harvesting, three hours of access to turnips following the morning milking, five hours of access to freshly irrigated shirohie millet and nightly silage to offset the honey pasture.

Addressing the herd, union secretary Pearlie Girlie said the industrial action was a wake-up call for the dairy sector.

“We understand and appreciate that the dairy sector is facing headwinds,” she said, “but weather conditions are no excuse to cut the living conditions of those at the coal face to unworkable levels.”

“All parties in the supply chain need to bear their fair share of the risk. In fact, those with the deepest pockets have the greatest responsibility to shoulder the load.

“Those who choose to ignore this fundamental truth will see production fall accordingly.”


Filed under Cows, Farm

Farmers finally get our chance


A once in a lifetime opportunity to sort out the whole damn dairy mess we’ve all taken for granted for so long is coming to town. The ACCC wants to meet you, dear dairy farmer. Not the men in suits – you. If you can’t get to one of the forums or find the time to write an email, that’s okay because they’ll even take calls from the tractor cab on 03 9290 1997. Just do it.

Why? After last year’s debacle, we shouted from the rooftops that the system stank. For once, people listened. Average Aussies dug deeper at the supermarket to help us. And, now, the regulator is asking us exactly what the problem is and what needs to change. We can’t fall silent now. Would anyone ever take us seriously again?

We deserve a system where:

  • the risk in the supply chain is shared fairly by processors and farmers;
  • the farmer is free to sell his or her milk based purely on its virtues on an open market;
  • processors act independently of their competitors;
  • there is trust and transparency in all dealings; and
  • farms big and small are treated fairly.

This stuff is pretty basic in other industries and it’s far bigger than the behaviour of MG and Fonterra (the regulator is looking into that separately). It’s about the way the entire dairy sector ticks and how we are paid for our milk.

It may just be the closest we will get to spelling out and solving the problems that ruined lives. Don’t let others decide our futures. This time, the ACCC means business  but it needs your input.

The ACCC dairy forums will be held at:

  • Monday 6 February 2017 – Toowoomba, Qld
  • Tuesday 7 February 2017, 12pm–2pm – Club West, Taree, NSW
  • Tuesday 14 February 2017– Traralgon, Vic
  • Monday 27 February 2017 – Warrnambool, Vic
  • Tuesday 28 February 2017 – Shepparton, Vic
  • Thursday 16 March 2017 – Bunbury, WA
  • Monday 20 March 2017 – Hahndorf, SA
  • Wednesday 22 March 2017 – Burnie, Tas

Go if you can, email dairyinquiry@accc.gov.au or call 03 9290 1997 and ask for Amy Bellhouse. All the details are at the ACCC dairy inquiry website.


Filed under Community, Farm, milk price

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