real life

"I wouldn't be in the industry if I didn't love my cows": The reality of working on a dairy farm.

Dairy Australia
Thanks to our brand partner, Dairy Australia

Where I live, if I take the back road to Byron Bay around 3pm I’ll be stopped by a man and his cows.

They fill the road as they move from their grazing paddocks to the milking sheds. As consumers we don’t often think about who the people are that grow or produce our food, but coming face to face with a bunch of cows really makes you think.

This is how I get milk on my table. This man got up at 4am this morning, and has done for all of his farming life.

It’s a lifestyle a lot of Australians don’t come into contact with directly, so there are naturally some preconceptions people have about the responsibilities and challenges of running a dairy farm.

I spoke to Ebony King, a 21 year old (pictured above) who works on a dairy farm run by Wes and Rita Hurrell in Yankalilla in South Australia.

Ebony helps with the day-to-day running of the farm, which includes implementing strict practices around animal welfare and environmental sustainability.

“Some people think dairy farmers don’t care about or love their cows and that they treat them poorly. We do everything we can to keep our cows happy and healthy,” Ebony tells Mamamia. “They have us looking after them 24/7. And we have a vet who is always on call. They even have a nutritionist.

“Yes, it is a business. But if we didn’t look after and love our cows then they wouldn’t produce quality milk.”

Working on the land: Ebony King and her boss Wes Hurrell. Image: Supplied.

She explains further: "I wouldn't be in the industry if I didn't love my cows, because it's hard work not just on your body, but social life and relationships [too], because of the hours worked.

"I love watching cows do well, see them calve, and then go on to do great production when you have raised and bred those cows. [It's] rewarding."

Ebony's employer, Rita Hurrell, agrees that it's a job you can only do if you really love it.

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"I grew up on a dairy farm. It is a lot of work. I told my mum I would never marry a dairy farmer, but that didn’t exactly work out," she tells Mamamia. "It is a way of life and you need to be self-motivated and appreciate a new challenge every day. You have to be able to go with the flow and you have to be passionate."

Like Ebony, Rita believes it can only work if you have a special relationship with your animals.

"You definitely develop a love for your animals," says Rita. "They all have personalities of their own and you always have your favourites. If you didn’t love cows you wouldn’t be a dairy farmer."

Wes and Rita on their farm in the Fleurieu Peninsula, South Australia. Image: Supplied.

The Hurrells have Holstein Freisans with a few Jerseys. They currently milk 450 cows, but are in the process of leasing another property so they can milk 600 cows across the two farms.

"Holstein Freisians have been bred specifically to produce larger volumes of milk than needed to feed a calf," Rita explains. "And cows are fed accordingly to support milk production and the health of the cow."

As well as having a nutritionist on hand to ensure their cows' diet is top notch, the Hurrells make the lives of their cows more comfortable with shade and cooling facilities, fresh clean drinking water, and veterinary treatment when needed.

"The calves are given the best care from day one," Rita adds, explaining that their farm is focussing on opportunities to reduce the number of bobby calves, or newborn calves that are sent off to abattoirs when the farm has more calves than are needed for their dairy herd.

"I think what most people relate to when talking about animal welfare are issues with bobby calves, and taking calves from their mothers," Rita says. "We use sexed semen and breed wagyu beef to limit the number of bobby calves. We also breed stud bulls."

dairy farming
One of the Hurrells' calves. Image: Supplied.
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Like many Australian farmers, the Hurrells are looking towards more sustainable practices in their farming when it comes to the environment too.

They have introduced a large solar system; they recycle water and spread manure on the paddocks to replace some of their fertiliser needs; they protect waterways by fencing; and they have engaged in tree planting. Providing shade on the property is vital as for six months of the year the property experiences high temperatures.

Dairy farmers like Wes and Rita Hurrell face many challenges in keeping their farm viable. And according to Rita, there's one thing you can do to help support local industry.

"Buy branded products produced in Australia," Rita says. "Support businesses that use Australian products. For example, there is a large pizza chain that imports all their mozzarella. There is a supermarket that imports cheese from America for its branded cheese."

Supporting locally grown food in all areas of agriculture is hugely important and has massive impacts on reducing the stressors that create climate change.

If we are producing cheese here, then why are we importing cheese from America?

Most importantly, says  Rita, dairy farmers want to see "a milk price that support us and is regulated accordingly to expenses".

So next time you cruise past the milk fridge in the supermarket – have a think about what milk you are using, how much you paid, and that at around 4am every morning, while you sleep, that there are people out in the dark, often in the freezing cold with their cows collecting the milk that you’ll have in your coffee later that morning.

Do you have a question about dairy farming? Get the answers you’re looking for from real experts with Dairy Australia's new You Ask, We Answer section on their website, dairymatters.com.au.

This content is brought to you with thanks by our brand partner, Dairy Australia.

Dairy Australia

 

“What matters to you, matters to us too. The Australian dairy industry is committed to producing nutritious, safe, quality food while providing best care for our animals and doing more to protect the environment. Read about each of our commitments to sustainable food production, our goals for 2030 and how we plan to achieve them, here. 

Dairy Australia is an independent, not-for-profit organisation whose purpose is to help dairy farmers achieve a sustainable future. The organisation is committed to providing the public with reliable information about the Australian dairy industry, from trusted experts, including data analysts, nutritionists, researchers, farmers, veterinarians and environmental scientists.”

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