At 4.20am Neil is his own barista. He makes himself a coffee or “instant mud” as his wife Simone describes it, before hopping on his motorbike to round up 260 dairy cows for the morning milking. Staff arrive at 5am to assist and, on a good day, Neil’s back at home eating breakfast and enjoying his second coffee at 8am.
The rest of Neil’s day is a hectic mix of tasks including mixing grain, machinery maintenance, fixing a water trough, and coordinating the afternoon milking. It’s a full schedule until about 7pm.
“The work is never done,” Neil says. “I might finish the day by reading a cow magazine or information on cropping before bed at about 10pm. Then I get some sleep before the alarm goes off and I do it all over again.”
Neil and Simone operate the Jolliffe farm in heart of the Riverina region in New South Wales, about 10 kilometres west of Wagga Wagga.
Neil’s parents bought the property in 1978 and operated it as a beef farm until 1993, when they reverted to their roots of dairy farming. Neil and Simone joined the family as sharefarmers in 2000 and took over the property in 2008.
“I have fond childhood memories of being eight years old and driving a tractor, feeding the cattle and throwing hay off the back of the ute,” Neil says. “Farming life gives you a good work ethic. It’s not the easiest job in the world. You are your own boss and you know what has to be done, but it is one of those industries where you see the rewards if you put the effort in.”
Simone grew up on a cattle farm. Her strongest memories are of the times shared with her family.
“From a young age I got to work alongside my mum, dad and my grandfather, who taught me a lot about farming,” she says. “Now I see my children’s affinity for livestock and machinery developing. I love that I get to farm each day with my family.”
Her interest in livestock production was further developed through her studies on agricultural science at university.
“I envisaged being involved in beef farming in some way, whether it was in production or nutrition, but then I met Neil – a dairy farmer – and married him,” Simone says. “I actually found the transition from beef farming to dairy quite easy. The difference between the two is that with dairy you see the cows twice a day, every day. You can look at them in the paddock, see the grass they eat, and measure the milk they produce. So there’s an immediate response to what you do. Whereas in beef farming you sell animals just once a year.”
For Simone, dairy farming is a profession offering great fulfilment.
“When you get to the end of the day knowing you’ve fixed something, produced something or supported life – we calve all year round – then for all the challenges this job has, there’s always something rewarding,” she says.
Some of the challenges Simone speaks of includes the impact of climate change.
“We’ve been through drought and two floods, so we’ve become accustomed to adapting to the situation, managing our business to deal with the extremes the best we can, and not worrying about things we can’t control, like climate conditions,” she says. “Thankfully we do have some irrigation to assist, but our business decisions are based on forecasts and we adapt accordingly. For instance, if we have a dry season, feed will be in short supply, so we might look at reducing stock numbers. But if we have a good season, we can produce more homegrown, quality feed for our cows.”
The other prominent challenge facing dairy farming is the unstable pricing cycle.
“The current global situation of milk production is extremely volatile. It impacts Australian prices,” Simone says.
“We’re yet to see the new season prices, which will be released from 1 July. Farmers who are not impacted immediately by certain price cuts affecting the industry are aware of the volatility. Thankfully farmers are optimistic people, but the days of farming as a lifestyle choice have disappeared. It’s a business.”
This article features in the June 2016 edition of BeanScene Magazine.
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