Tuesday, 27 September 2016

I want to be a dairy farmer in France........

I have not posted since May. As I said before I am sure I am the world's worst blogger. It is not that I have had nothing to blog about, in fact it has been the complete opposite.
The farm has been busy, we travelled to France for a 6 week holiday (we had this all organised before the milk price drop) and I have been flat out trying to keep up with my rope baskets, bags and bowls for Dungog by Design. Add family, quilting and the dreaded flu since my return from holidays and like all of you, life has been very busy.
So this blog will be about what is happening on the farm. Well our milk prices are disgusting and our processor, Murray Goulburn, has continually been in the news over the past few months as I am sure you are aware of. What it has meant for us is a drop of about 6 cents per litre for each litre of milk Murray Goulburn pays us or put differently a drop of about 12% of our gross milk income. I do not know too many people who would like to take a cut in their annual income of 12%. It will mean watching the bottom line very carefully over the next year to see how viable milking cows will be for us. Thank goodness that we also have beef cattle and that the beef market has remained at a historic high for the time being and looks like it will stay this way for a while yet. So like usual ,we will tighten our belt where we can and carefully monitor our costs before making any major life changing decisions (like giving up milking cows). One big positive is the amount of fresh feed we have on the farm at the moment. The pastures look fresh and lush. It won't be long and silage will be being made again. The cattle are losing their winter coats and looking good.
Whilst DH Farmer and I holidayed in France we had the opportunity to visit some French dairy farms and cheesemakers. The farms we visited milked Montbeliarde cows where all of the milk went to making the famous Comte cheese in the local villages. How different milking cows in France is to milking here in Australia. Where we milk between 80-90 cows ( a fairly small herd by Australian standards)  the French dairy farms we visited milked only 30 and 40 cows. They barn their animals in winter where as our cows remain outdoors all year.
 DH Farmer checking out the Montbeliarde herd on the French dairy farm.

The cave of Comte cheese which is produced from Montbeliarde herds.

DH Farmer, Denis (owner of the French Farm) and myself on our farm visit.

Beautiful Montbeliarde cows on Denis' farm.

The huge hay sheds on the farms were full ready for the coming winter.

One of the girls on the farm. She is a lead cow , hence the bell.

More of the beautiful girls on the farm. Very happy and contented cows.

It was haymaking season in France in August.

The younger girls - well bedded and fed.

 The biggest difference however is the income and subsidies that the French dairy farmer receives. One of the farms we visited had taken a 10% cut in their EU farm subsidy in the past year. That cut was worth 25,000 euros to that farmer. That means that that farm received an annual EU subsidy of 250,000 euros originally. They now receive a subsidy of 225,000 euros annually. They also receive a premium price for their milk that they produce and sell for cheese making and not to mention the amazing prices they are selling heifers to China, Russia,Morocco and Saudi Arabia ( up to 2500 euros per head). DH Farmer and I worked out that their annual income would be in the vicinity of  $A 800,000. This for milking 40 cows. We could only dream of earning an income like this.
So whilst we are told that it is the global dairy market which is pushing down our farm gate price in Australia I would like to say that all things are not equal in the global dairy world. In Australia, we DO NOT receive any Government subsidy or incentives because we produce milk. The question is, how can we compete and make a living when farmers in other countries have their dairy industry propped up financially in such a massive way? Reality is, we cannot.
We would love to live in a country where those that produce the food for their country and for export was shown the same degree of worthiness as those farmers in France. I am not saying we want handouts and subsidies BUT I am saying a fair price for our milk is all we are asking for. We need to be paid a price worthy of the value of the food we produce and the time and costs we take in producing this food. We need to be able to make a good living and save for our retirement by being paid a fair and just price for our milk. I think it is time for those economists, price setters  and politicians to be honest about the true value of our milk in Australia. The global dairy market is NOT a level playing field so they need to stop using it as the reason we cannot be paid a just price. I am not an economist, a politician, a processor, I do not have a degree in business management. DH Farmer and myself ARE dairy farmers and have been for over 40 years. We know how to keep a farm financial and in the black. We know how to dairy farm. We know when we are being price screwed for our milk. Maybe in Australia we should be more like the French - when we disagree with what is being forced upon us , we should protest more and fight for our rights!!! How important is fresh milk really in our country I wonder???

Until next time......

Thursday, 19 May 2016

So where are we up to in this dairy crisis......

Last night DH Farmer and myself (along with many other fellow dairy farmers) attended a meeting with our processor Murray Goulburn. We knew that what we were about to hear was not going to make us feel very positive about our farming future. At this point in time we will be paid the pre agreed price for our milk for the months of May and June. We are lucky in NSW as we supply to the Sydney white liquid milk market.  Our milk pricing system is different to our southern farming families who work on a tier system with step ups and step downs depending on what is happening in the milk market. However, like our southern neighbours we will take a price hit starting July. We have not been told this price or by how much it will fall. That news will come at the end of June.We will make the big decision about our dairy farming future once we have more information. In the meantime we will buffer down and prepare for at least three hard years ahead.  We will fill our silos with grain, pre buy fertilizers, and other farming essentials as much as possible.

I would like to say that both DH Farmer and myself felt that Rob Poole who is Executive General Manager of Supplier Relations Murray Goulburn and a representative of the Board of Directors both were genuinely and sincerely sorry and concerned for what was happening to us farmers at this meeting. They admitted that a huge marketing mistake had been made and that this had resulted from a number of factors - sales to  China for Adult Milk Powder was over calculated; the fluctuating Australian Dollar; the global milk markets to mention a few. In the 65 years that this co-operative has existed they have only got their pricing to farmers wrong twice. The last being in 2009 with the GFC and now in 2016. Murray Goulburn has actually borrowed $30 million dollars ( the amount they have overpaid us farmers) which they will repay over the next three years by paying us farmers less over that period of time.  Hopefully global markets will at least stay as they are or even improve over these years. Apparently there is a world over supply of milk and until this balances out things will not improve.

So where to from here? Well we are use to ups and downs. It seems like there have been more downs than ups at the moment. Over the years we have experienced many various kinds of setbacks - droughts; floods; poor milk prices; companies who should never have bought into the world of milk processing and so on. We will be patient. We will wait and see. We will be grateful for what we have - our family; our farm which we fully own; the fact we also have beef cattle income; our good health.

What can you do to help? Please don't buy the cheap $1 a litre milk. To us in dairy farming this is the bane of our lives. It is a supermarket ploy to get you to walk into their store and purchase other more expensive products. But not our valued product - branded milk.
Think about what you do for a living. How would you feel if your work you produced was not truly valued by your employer, your friends and society as a whole? Do you get up at 5 o'clock EVERYDAY of the year and go and milk cows - rain, hail or shine, in sickness and health??? Do you sit on a tractor for endless hours ploughing the ground to sow pastures to feed the cows through the cold winter months??? Do you milk the cows every afternoon EVERYDAY of the year?? Even the days your children are born, your children get married, Christmas Day, New Year's day? Do you have to buy a tractor worth $60000 plus countless pieces of machinery to sow those pastures to do your work??? Is your fuel bill over $1500 a month? How big are your vet bills each and every month??? Do you have to dig holes and put up endless kilometres of fences??? Do you get disgusted when your work is under valued by being paid $1 for a litre of milk which costs you almost that amount to produce??? This is what truly breaks the heart of dairy farmers.

We are angry. We are hurt. We are disillusioned. BUT we are resilient. We are tough. We are survivors!!! We will get through this!

In our part of the world our milk is the Devondale brand owned by Murray Goulburn. Murray Goulburn is a farmer owned co-operative owned by us the farmers who supply to it. 100% Australian owned. Do some research on the food you are buying.Think about what you are buying. So it costs you a bit more money to buy branded milk and products and Australian products. We produce some of the best quality food in the entire world. Isn't that worth something to you and your family? Believe me ,we are grateful when you do buy our branded products.

We are a 5th generation dairy farming family - will we have another generation of farmers??
Until next time.....

Friday, 13 May 2016

All is not well in the dairy industry.....

I know it has been ages since I blogged. As I said in my last blog - I think life is about to get a lot busier and so it has. I feel I have something important to talk to you all about - All is not well in the dairy industry!!!! There are no pictures to make this blog look pretty and appealing because it isn't BUT please keep reading.

Something has happened to our dairy industry in Australia which I think you should all be made aware of. You already know that being a dairy farmer means a huge commitment not only as far as lifestyle but also as far as financial commitments. Recently our milk processor, Murray Goulburn, stated that there will be a huge drop in the farm gate price their dairy farmers are going to be paid for their milk. Due to economic circumstances and decisions made by this processor they have overpaid their farmers by apparently approximately 30 million dollars. How can such an error occur one might ask??? Poor decision making at the top; trade agreements; the world dairy commodity prices??? The bottom line is that we as farmers are being made to repay this money over the next three years by paying us an unviable and unsustainable price for our milk.
We have been very lucky with a great season over the past year. It has become dry here at home and we are in urgent need of rain. DH Farmer has sown some of our winter feed. Most has shot but is struggling. It will be a tough winter if rain does not come soon. We have a good backlog of silage and hay we made earlier in the year for use in just such situations. So for the time being we are okay. I wish I could say the same for our fellow dairy farming families in Victoria. They have been hit hard by drought, high grain prices and now a brutal blow of a huge drop in farm gate milk prices.  Many are running at huge losses this financial year. Any farm with a debt is in even further trouble. Our processor, Murray Goulburn, and Dairy Australia and other dairy industry bodies are showing huge concern for the mental and physical well being of these farmers and their families. There is talk of mental illness and that dreaded word "suicide". Many are at breaking point and are closing up their businesses. We all need to be aware and concerned of this.

So I come to this and it is something I do not ask you to do lightly. Could you please sign a petition linked below. Maybe it will make a difference - maybe it won't. Who knows BUT I feel that I have to do something to stop this situation from getting any worse. There is an election soon. Will any of our politicians listen I wonder?
Here is the link to this petition:

Raise the milk price for struggling farmers

If you do sign this petition I thank you for your support to our farming families and the Australian Dairy industry. If you don't then I thank you for taking the time to read this blog and at least be a little more aware about what is happening in our farming industry. Hopefully things are not as dire as we in the industry fear but somehow I think our concerns are valid.

Until next time......

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

A new venture.....Dungog by Design

Last blog I made a passing comment about a new venture. Many of you are aware of my love of sewing, quilting and other handicrafts and I am very happy to say that my new venture relates to sewing.

Every Christmas I love to give my girls a handmade gift and last year I searched for something a little different. I came across handmade rope bags. I watched the technique on You tube and decided to give it a go. The bags were a huge success with the girls and they have been using them regularly when they go to the markets. I quickly became addicted to this technique and have had orders for my bags from friends. I also did a quick workshop at the quilting group I am a member of to show the girls how to make them. I love making items that are practical and use natural fibres.

Another friend suggested I approach Dungog by Design - an artisan cooperative in my nearby town- to see if they would be interested in selling my bags. I am delighted to say that after a friendly interview, my rope bags, bowls and other items were well received and are available for sale at the local shop. It is lovely to have an outlet for my work with such a friendly and supportive group. The cooperative is committed to local artisans making work which is "Original, Handmade , Inspiring". If ever you come through Dungog the shop is worth a visit - 224 Dowling Street, Dungog (opposite the IGA). It is open on Thursday and Friday from 10:00 am - 4:00 pm and Saturday and Sunday from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm. Members of the group take turns in the running of the shop during opening hours so I am also going to have loads of fun promoting all the lovely items in the store to locals and visitors to our small local town.
Dungog by Design also has  a facebook page which features the different artists and their works.

So my busy life has just become a little bit busier but with lots of fun to come. When you love doing something it really isn't work is it?

Until next time.....

Thursday, 10 March 2016

Hay and silage making, three day sickness and moving children......nothing new!!!!

As usual life on the farm has been very busy. The past few weeks has been hay and silage making season. After all the rain and great pasture growth we had experienced the past few months it was time to mow, rake and bale all that surplus pasture into hay and silage. Feed for the cattle to be stored on farm for a time when grass is in  short supply or the dairy cows need extra protein. Taking the excess feed off our paddocks also makes it easier to prepare for autumn sowing of winter pastures which is just round the corner.

The past couple of weeks has also seen three day sickness (bovine ephemeral fever) in some of our cattle on the farm. This virus is spread by mosquitoes or march flies biting cattle and spreading the virus. The sickness lasts for around 36 hours. The cattle develop a high temperature of 41 degrees celsius, milkers suddenly drop milk production, they stop eating and drinking and become depressed. Cows heavily in calf can abort their calves. Often they become lame, joints swell and the cattle refuse to move. By the third day they stand again and begin to eat though they still can appear lame for a couple more days. Last year we didn't have any three day sickness and so we expect that this year a lot of our young cattle will come down with it. We actually prefer our heifers and young cattle to catch the virus so that when they do get in calf they are immune to it and won't lose their calves. It also means that if they are dairy cows and they have already had the virus then their milk production is not affected. Rarely do cattle catch the virus twice.

The weather has turned very dry very quickly and the lush greenness of the past few months has turned to dry and brittle brownness. There is plenty of bulk feed for the cattle and most importantly good water in the dams and creek. A few weeks without rain does not hurt us so long as it doesn't turn into months of dryness. It also means that the new mower has not been getting as much use as was expected.

 In the past month not one but two of my children moved houses in the same week. I spent more time helping my eldest daughter move than I did my son and his family as it is not  humanly possible to be in more than one place at the one time (though I wished otherwise). There have also been sick grandies to help look after, as like all littlies, they seem to pick up whatever bugs are doing the run at their childcare centres. Saturday afternoons is filled with a French for Travellers course which is running in our local village through community education and has been loads of fun. We have a wonderful holiday to France coming up later in the year which DH Farmer and I are quite excited about some of which is farm related. I also have a new venture about to begin. I will tell all very soon. A busy 2016 ahead!

This busyness is the norm and happens in all households in one way or another and days fly by I am sure.

Until next time....


Friday, 12 February 2016

When your mower breaks down on a farm....

What happens when your house yard is a large acreage on a farm and your second hand ride on mower breaks down??? Read this and you will get the answer.

I am not sure if this happens to anyone else but this is what always happens to us!

Every time we have a mower break down it is usually the week or two before Christmas when everyone is flat out on the farm and trying to keep up with family and friend commitments  as well as all the usual Christmas preparation stuff we all do. It is ALWAYS the years that there is plenty of grass to mow and rain falls in copious amounts on a regular basis. It is not that the mowers are not maintained - they just wear out, are old and beyond repair. This has happened at least 3 times that I can think of.

These pictures show part of our front yard.

Mowing is one of my chores on the farm of which I am happy to do. I push mow the backyard for exercise and fitness but use a ride on to do the front and side yards near the house. I physically cannot mow all that area with a push mower especially when the grass grows at the rate it is at the moment.
My solution when the ride on breaks down is to now let DH Farmer know that I cannot and will not push mow the front and side yards. I stated that we needed a new ride on as the old one was beyond repair. So after DH Farmer push mowed those areas three times from before Christmas until about two weeks ago he came to the conclusion that we did in fact need a new ride on mower!!! Yay I thought!!!!  DH Farmer said  - " leave it to me - I will organise it".  I was glad that he had not resorted to putting the slasher on the tractor to mow the lawns. ( And yes - this has been known to happen as well!!)

Now as you know we like to buy local. So DH Farmer visited the places in town that sell ride on mowers and decided that he would purchase from the dealership that also services the mower in town and is not sent away. Good idea. I will add that this dealership is the place we always purchase our tractors for the farm from.

He ordered the mower with my approval. He went to pick it up in the back of our truck. He returned home without the mower. " Where is the mower?" I asked. The reply was -  " It is too big for the back of the truck."


He went to town with our eldest son and his larger truck and returned home with the mower. When I saw it I thought -  " OMG he has bought another tractor!!" On the front cover of the handbook it is in fact called a "Mower Tractor" -  so I was not far from the truth.

After some lessons I must say that the tractor (Oops!!!) mower is lovely to use and does a great job! I am happy if not still a little scared (read as terrified!!!) of it but I am sure that we will become great friends as time goes on. I am most grateful that we no longer push mow all our yard and that DH Farmer did indeed take care of getting a new tractor (Oops!! Mower).

Trevor the tractor (mower) and it is red because it goes fast!!!!
I takes up about 2/3 of a car bay in the garage!!!!

Until next time....

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Dairy farming - how can you do it everyday???

One thing that has remained a constant ever since I married a dairy farmer over 35 years ago, is the reaction some people have when you tell them that you are dairy farmers. A lot of people say - "Oh, I don't know how you can do that everyday of the year!' True, it is a life that is a real commitment for 365 days of the year, milking twice a day with few days off and even fewer holidays. Dairy farming these days is a business BUT it is still very much a lifestyle. True , there are times when we are out socially and know we have to head home early to do the milking or other farm chores and wish that we didn't have to. But mostly we accept that this is our life and we have happily chosen to live our life this way.

There are huge advantages for being a dairy farmer, especially if you own your own farm. It is a business and you are your own boss. What you put into your farm reflects very much what you get out of it.We are very much reliant on the weather, especially since our farm is a dry farm with no irrigation. There are times when no matter how hard you work, a dry spell or a major drought controls much of what you can and cannot achieve on your farm. At the moment ,with all the rain we have had and the growth of pastures and feed, farming is probably the easiest we have experienced for many, many years. Plentiful water and pasture grass, healthy cattle, plenty of milk being produced at low cost and most importantly happy farmers makes dairy and beef farming a real pleasure. Sale cattle prices are historically at a record high and milk prices with our processor are solid so farm income is healthy. This, however, is not always the case with farming.  Like everything in life there are highs and lows in all aspects of farming.
Dairy farming is a great place to rear a family. Everyone in the family gets to spend a lot of time together. Children reared on farms are very self reliant, responsible and possess a great skills and knowledge base that their city cousins rarely or perhaps never acquire or encounter. Our farm is a generational farm, so our children spent a lot of time with grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins as they grew up. There was always family around when the children were younger and even now when they come home to visit. Our children learnt to ride horses, drive tractors and utes, entertain themselves and much, much more from fairly early ages. Chores were part of their everyday life and were expected to be done and done properly. 
On a dairy and beef farm one of the great advantages you have is that you eat a lot of food that you have produced and grown yourself. Milk is plentiful, beef is home grown, fresh eggs, fruit and vegetables. You know what you are consuming and have a real appreciation of what it takes to put food on the table. I remember when I was teaching a Year 4 class (at a large town school) about farming and the production of milk in particular. I asked the question - "Where does milk come from?" Unsurprisingly the answer I received back was "the shop"!  By the end of the lesson these children had had a reality check and had a small appreciation of where food really came from.
So whilst there are odd times when I wish we weren't so committed, overall I would not change our life for anything. We have reared 4 great kids on the farm who have become great adults with their own lives and families; have a farm we have worked hard to own (yes - we did have to buy into the farm initially - not all farms are handed on without cost to the next generation); produce excellent quality milk and beef to help feed our country; and live in a rural community that more and more people wish they could move to and experience.
I wonder how many dairy farmers there will be in the future? The average age of dairy farmers is now late 50's - early 60's........

Until next time...