23 December, 2022
Technology lightens load for fourth gen farmer
When you roll out of bed on Christmas morning, grab a coffee and head for the Christmas tree to start unwrapping presents, spare a thought for our small band of local heroes who will be getting up at 4am and heading to work as usual.
Rain, hail or shine, seven days a week, 365 days a year, Tableland dairy farmers must ensure their cows are milked, Christmas, Easter or illness not-withstanding, the show must go on.
But fourth generation sup-plier of milk to the Malanda factory, Kasey Clark, could not be happier.
“Dairying is a great industry to be in. I love the cattle and I love the lifestyle and things have improved dramatically since Bega Cheese has taken over running our factory,” she said.
“Not only have they increased the farm-gate price to a level that has been delivering a reasonable return to producers, and providing additional benefits and incentives for the first time in years, they have also been offering a $5,000 bi-annual grant to farmers aimed at increasing the uptake of technology in the industry.
“I am really happy with Bega, it feels like they care about us and that we are in this together.
“This year I lodged a success-ful application for the ‘Automat-ic Dipping and Flushing’ (ADF) system which has been fitted to my 14 a side, double up herring bone dairy’s automatic cup re-movers.
“After each cow is milked, the ADF system automatically dips the open teat canal with teat dip to protect it from infec-tion and thoroughly flushes the inside of the cups leaving them clean for the next cow, prevent-ing cross contamination between milkers.
“Since the upgrade, our so-matic cell count has dropped to 69, our lowest score ever, where a count of under 200 is desirable and penalties exist for scores over 200. The cell count is used as the key indicator of mastitis, the costliest disease in global milk production today.
“In conjunction with ADF, I had a culling spree earlier in the year, getting rid of mastitis-affected cattle and have begun a dry cow antibiotic therapy program, treating all quarters of each cow as they are dried off. This cures existing infections and prevents the development of new ones without creating resi-dues in sale milk,” Kasey said.
The ADF system isn’t the first innovative project Kasey has undertaken on her 183ha farm. A few years ago, when she “got sick of tail painting,” the old system of identifying cows coming on heat, she purchased electronic collars for her 230 strong herd of milkers.
At a cost of $250 per collar, they were a big investment for Kasey and her husband Dean, but the multi-purpose smart collars are almost like having an extra person on staff.
The system’s 2km bluetooth radius enables it to track the heat status and behaviour of most cattle on the farm, recording activities such as rumination, feeding, resting, walking and lying and comparing them to the cow’s vown history and the behaviour of other animals in the herd.
Data is sent to Kasey’s phone and laptop, identifying a cow’s prime insemination window prior to her coming in for the morn-ing or afternoon milking.
“The first thing I do when I wake up each morning is check my phone to see which cattle need to be artificially inseminated and I put them aside to be done at the end of the milking,” she said.
“Having such up to date and accurate information also helps identify if an animal is having trouble calving, is developing milk fever or mastitis. If a cow is feeding or walking less, it is likely she may be in the early stages of an illness and the quicker we can treat sick animals, the better their recovery rate.”
Kasey has no doubt that the collars detect health issues before their clinical signs and symptoms are visible to the hu-man eye and that this early detection minimises the need for medical treatment and reduces drops in milk production, reduced fertility, culling or even death.
Kasey and her brother James Johnston, took over the family farm from their parents 17 years ago. They worked it together un-til Kasey and her husband Dean bought James out four years ago.
“James isn’t from a dairying background, but did Ag at school and loves this lifestyle. Dean does the day work - all the tractor work with the pastures and weeds, the farm infrastructure and maintenance and I do the milking, starting at 4.30 am in the mornings and again at 3.30 in the afternoon,” Kasey said.
“We are in the process of restructuring the herd at the moment. We are going out of Brown Swiss and Jerseys and focusing on a 50% Friesian herd combined with Illawarra, Aussie Red and Ayrshire breeds. The Jerseys were good, but it was hard to market their smaller male calves and I find the Brown Swiss tend to underperform in their first couple of seasons.
“We are also trialing some sexed semen, although it is thought to achieve a lower conception rate and because it is not supposed to be used in cattle with a history of mastitis, lameness or calving issues, it does re-duce the target group.
“We want to work on our pasture quality, increase waters to two troughs per paddock to reduce the walking distance for the cattle and are in the process of upgrading our effluent pond, replacing the tractor-mounted pump with a three phase one that will be much easier to use.
“Getting a bit more money for our milk means we can af-ford some of those improve-ments we have been wanting to implement for a while. I try to focus on the details of our busi-ness and pay attention to what is going on with the cattle and what they need.”
The dire shortage of relief milking staff makes it hard for farmers, but Kasey has an ar-rangement where she is able to take Tuesdays and every second weekend off to spend with her husband and their two children, five-year-old Alex and one-year- old Emma, who will hopefully one day follow family tradition down the dairy lanes.