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Dairy farmers stay positive with plans to expand herd

BRIGHT FUTURE: Nadine and Roger Blanch live on their home property, Red Gum, at Millbrook.
BRIGHT FUTURE: Nadine and Roger Blanch live on their home property, Red Gum, at Millbrook. Linda Mantova

NADINE Blanch grew up milking cows before and after school every day, and many would have vowed never to milk a cow again, but not this busy mother of three.

Instead, Nadine and husband Roger have invested heavily in their dairy herd, milking 135 cows each day.

Nadine established her own Brown Swiss stud when she left school in 1995, starting out with just a couple of head.

Today she has 130 registered animals in her Coolibah Brown Swiss stud at Millbrook, west of Clifton.

"I like the Brown Swiss as they have a good temperament and are easy to work with, plus they are good milkers, producing high protein and milk fat," Nadine said.

The Blanches are not ones to talk of gloom and doom in the dairy industry but are confident there is a good living to be made.

So much so that, while others are planning to sell up and leave the industry, they are planning to expand their herd with hopes to have up to 200 milking cows down the track.

Roger admits he never had much to do with milking cows until he married.

You don't get time to be negative in the dairy industry as you don't have time but processors have to be held to account a bit more.

Nadine's parents ran a Friesian dairy for many years, like her grandparents before them.

"Our dairy has been here for a hundred years, as Mum was with Unity when the cream factory was at Felton," Nadine said.

The young couple is currently under contract to Dairy Farmers Milk Co-operative (DFMC), with an allocation of 370,000 litres a year.

MIXED HERD: Nadine with her milking cows.
MIXED HERD: Nadine with her milking cows.
Roger Blanch looks forward to good seasons.
Roger Blanch looks forward to good seasons.

 

However, they have plans in place which will allow them to achieve a better allocation and price per litre when their contract runs out in July next year.

"We want to stay positive and are looking for a more productive relationship with our processor," Roger said.

"Presently we are way over our allocation, producing about 900,000 litres of milk per year, but only around 400,000 litres is under contract," he said.

"At the moment we are paid a tier one price for our quota, and anything over that is considered tier two but, because so many farmers are leaving the industry, they have upped their tier two price to match tier one."

The Blanches operate a TMR (total mixed ration) dairy, with their ration made up of wheat silage, wheat straw, forage sorghum, vitamins and minerals, and distiller's grain.

"Distiller grain or wet cake is a by-product from the ethanol plant in Dalby, owned by United Petroleum," Roger said.

Roger and Nadine live on their home property Red Gum, which consists of 157 hectares, and travel five kilometres down the road to their dairy on Kooringal Valley, which is 169ha.

Nadine hopes to move onto the dairy so, when she has to check cows calving, she doesn't have to travel in the middle of the night to their other property.

The dairying lifestyle doesn't suit everyone however Nadine doesn't mind the early starts and two lots of milking each day.

Milking from 4am to 7.30am, Nadine then heads home to get her two daughters, Montana, 6, and Dakota, 7, ready for school, with the help of Roger and on occasions his parents, Rob and Helen Blanch.

Their other daughter, two-year-old Indiana, spends a lot of time with Mum and her Brown Swiss cows, and helps out feeding calves.

Nadine then makes the feed for her mixed herd of Brown Swiss, Friesian and Jersey

cows, before milking starts again at around 4pm.

"It takes about two-and-a-half hours by the time I clean up after milking, and we have a 13 aside swing-over dairy," she said.

"We updated the dairy in January. It was a complete refurbishment which was about 15 years overdue."

The forward-thinking couple plans to purchase a new vat to more than double their storage capacity at the dairy.

"The future is bright enough but we need a few good seasons and we don't need floods," Roger said.

"You don't get time to be negative in the dairy industry as you don't have time but processors have to be held to account a bit more," he said.

"What processors don't realise is that you don't breed a dairy herd overnight and, if they lose dairy farmers, it will take a lot of years for them to come back.

"Everyone says that dairy farmers aren't willing to change but they have to adapt and comply with new changes in the industry about every 12 months."

With the long, busy days and commitment to the farm, the Blanches believe the venture has to be profitable or it wouldn't be worth it.

Currently receiving 55c a litre for their milk, they both agree it "pays the bill".

"The profit in dairy farming is a very individual thing, depending on your debt load," Roger said.

"A dollar per litre would be better as it would allow us to pay off our debt and maybe buy another property," he said.

"At the moment we put everything we make back into the farm and we are constantly updating.

"We are wealthy in assets, but cash poor, as are most farmers."

Nadine is conscious of good genetics and quality stock.

"We hope to get up to 200 cows in the future, as we have a lot of young heifers we have bred to come into the dairy, as well as some new breeding stock," she said.

"We have sold Brown Swiss bulls to Qatar, as well as heifers. I used to concentrate on the stud side of it for years, but now I have to concentrate on producing milk."

That said, Nadine is committed to producing top quality milk, with their butter fat content at 4.1%, and protein at 3.95% .

"We get paid in kilograms of milk solids but most farmers break that down to cents per litre," she said.

The Blanches receive $9.90/kg for protein.

Roger isn't diplomatic about the future and believes in always having a "back door" in any business.

"If the price crashes too much, we will just chop their heads off," he said.

Topics:  dairy dairy farmer milk price