Sunday, September 9, 2012

We Do What We Love - 'cause We Love What We Do!

We do what we love, 'cause we love what we do,
Come the end of the day, while thinking it through,
With a beer in my hand, and a tear in my eye,
I can't help but think what I'm doing - and why?

Am I filling a need, putting food on a table
Or being used and the owners of a label?
More than 80 hour weeks - every day of the year,
The work just gets done, without thought or fear.

So try as we might to explain the true facts......
To paint the picture as our industry cracks!
There'll be no turning back, beyond the point of no return
As I continually attempt to stir emotion and concern.

A failure I feel as my message is lost,
The reception farmers get is as cold as frost!
From the consumer - the processor - Woolies or Coles -
It's as clear as crystal, farmers have no control!

We'll get what we're given, and take what we get
No ability to negotiate - our prices are set.
So be it - each day - 14 hours at a loss...
Like a rolling stone, farmers don't gather moss.

With the best of intention and the highest of hope,
The work's being done...and the farmer will cope.
Yes fresh milk you'll have - for as long as we can...
That time's nearly up...wasn't part of my plan!

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Farmer Gregie far

I was recently asked to nominate for Dairy Farmer of the Year. While I did so - reluctantly, I felt quite deflated when I hadn't made the final. Bizarre! Only 3 finalists. Somehow, after compiling my story, I felt so confident that I was  a worthy finalist...if not winner!

Probably biased I know - I'm still so proud of my personal progress and that of our farm over the past couple of years. Here's my nomination.

Our current Dairy Operation is very much a family enterprise. The Dennis Family has owned and operated this farm as a dairy since the 1930’s. My Nan, Rita and grandfather Hal (who passed away before I was born), took ownership of the farm, and started their family almost eight decades ago. My Uncle Ray, and father Darrell, were both born onto this property, and have lived their entire lives here to date. Their wives, Aunty Rose, and Brenda (Mum), remain actively involved to this day also. I am third generation on this property, and fifth generation dairy farmer (to my knowledge). Now our marriage into its 18th year, with two fantastic children, my immediate family has offered great stability to my life. Particularly my wife Trish (who is a polar opposite personality type to me – having just done the Myers Briggs personality test), who keeps me grounded, and injects the structure when needed in my life.
The farm has seen many transitions – from the 20 cow herd, milked by hand in the 1930’s, through Box Bales – to a 6 a side Herringbone in 1972 – to the 50 platform Rotary and milking 360 cows in 1991(and being the second largest dairy in Queensland) – to leaving the dairy industry in 2003 as a direct protest against deregulated milk prices  – to re-entering in 2007 by rebuilding a 10 a side herringbone with second hand components and milking 120 cows – to installing 3 Lely Astronaut Robots in 2010 and increasing numbers to 200 cows  – and the installation of a 4th robot in 2011 – to today growing towards 250 milkers through natural increases. I’ve always looked outside the box, setting up a Mobile DJ business (Gregie DJ) in 2003 – I continue to do gigs today, into my 10th year. I also worked full-time as a Surveyors Assistant in 2007, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I was seriously looking into becoming a Surveyor, at my then boss’ recommendation, when the opportunity to restart our dairy arose. A Surveyor that I did a lot of field work with had mixed feelings when he heard of my decision, as he told me, “You are the best ‘Chainman’ I’ve ever worked with.” I had a lot of respect for Doran, so that meant a great deal to me.
Although my direct involvement in the farm has been since leaving school in 1986 – it has been somewhat stifled. My father and uncle have remained heavily involved in daily operations, to this day. While that has offered great stability, it has acted as an unintentional ‘hand brake’ over the past few years. As they start to wind down, they only see the work involved in future projects – rather than the benefit. In hindsight, this may have led to the best thing that has happened in my life – a diagnosis of Clinical Depression in January, 2010. My impending recovery put a lot of pressure on my family and the farm. During this time however, I was absolutely committed to do whatever was necessary – taking on board professional psychological advice. This time of reflection and self- analysis gave me a great insight into where I’ve come from – where I’m heading – and who I am. As tough a time as it was, I immersed myself in a couple of major projects. Firstly completing High School (with High Destinctions) through USQ Distance Education, at the age of 40. I was accepted into the Psychological Science intake in 2010, as I felt an empathy towards others suffering from mental health issues. However I declined that invitation, as my outlook changed dramatically while I was on the mend, and I began to see endless opportunities on the very farm that I thought was ‘marking time’.
Only 4 months into the recovery process, I heard that work had started on the first robotic dairy (De Laval VMS) in South-East Qld. Robotics had always interested me, but I had falsely believed they were not a viable option in the past – based solely on opinion. So I immediately began researching the options online – believing the Lely Astronaut was the best fit for our farm. I clearly remember Dad telling me, “You can’t even do a full day’s work yet – how can you possibly take on a project like this?”, in May 2010. It wasn’t intended negatively, Dad was just trying to be realistic. I said to him, “I know – but I can feel I’m getting better.” One rather large obstacle remained (other than family doubters) – Lely do not install robots in an area until they have an established Lely Centre, to provide the necessary level of support. Not easily deterred, I booked flights to Victoria for Dad, myself and Derek Acheson of Teknodairy (I felt he was a key candidate for the Lely Centre). Before the flight home, Dad and Derek were both hooked. Within a month Derek had successfully negotiated the commencement of the Jimboomba Lely Centre. Through my co-ordination, and a great deal of support, our first cow was milked robotically only four months after our visit to the Warren and Williams’ robotic dairies, in October 2010. In that short time we’ve seen tremendous productive efficiencies of between 15% and 20% each month, with reduced labour. My wife used to do the morning milking with me, which made for a very long day for her. One of the biggest benefits for the farm, is that Trish has now been able to take over the bookwork, and Myob from Mum and Aunty Rose.
One of my most influential mentors is without doubt my father. Although the younger brother of the partnership, he always took the leadership role with financial and management decisions – particularly with the high growth phases of the dairy through the 70’s and 80’s. He wasn’t necessarily a pioneer, but always quick to analyze and adopt new and improved systems or technology. We built one of the early Herringbone sheds over 40 years ago, and in 1991 built a 50 platform Rotary. These improvements enabled rapid expansion and efficiencies on farm at their time. We have never relied on contractors, when it comes to farm work. With all our own implements, we are able to best work in with weather patterns, through the entire hay-making process, to annual planting of ryegrass, and ongoing fertilizing and irrigation. By growing all of our animals fibre requirements we are able to control both cost and quality. Our farm has always diversified, with Uncle Ray overseeing these sidelines. With beef cattle (as many as 600 head) from the 70’s to the 90’s – hay sales (of up to 20,000 square bales a year) over the past 15 years in particular. I am heading up our current venture into tourism as Farmer Gregie (with over 500 visitors in our first month – and already booked another 15 busloads for the remainder of 2012).
I feel very passionate about the impact we can have, through a simple viewing of our Robotic Dairy, to the wider population. With a perfect location (one hour from Brisbane and the Gold Coast), I’m particularly looking to base our core business on school kids – over 1,000 schools within an easy day trip of our farm. Cows are now literally milking 24/7 – offering great flexibility in viewing hours. As the gap continues to widen – between city and country – I see this venture as something I must do. I honestly believe our impact can be targeted at public awareness – far beyond exposure to the dairy industry. It will stimulate interest at school level in food production, agriculture, and future employment possibilities in rural areas. This will inevitability stimulate conversations at home with mum and dad. For some time now I’ve said, “I don’t want sympathy from our urban friends, but we can’t even expect empathy for our efforts – when they have no knowledge or exposure to our commitment, in providing for their families.” Early feedback has been exceptionally promising. Our ventures have always been calculated and costed. They are not always successful, but we are happy to give things a good go, and cut our losses should the outcome not live up to expectation.
Dad was always an avid reader of dairy magazines and newspapers, and I continue to do so. Publications like The Australian Dairy Farmer, Holstein Journal, Dairy News, The Northern Dairy Farmer and Young Dairy Network Newsletter, give me a great insight into the current and future trends of our industry. He also networked through local branch committees like QDO and National Party (being President of both) and attending regional and state meetings as a delegate. That exposure kept him in touch with developments and changes – he was always open minded to possibilities. This also influenced my path into committees – as President of HFAA Moreton Sub Branch, Vice-President Qld HFAA, Federal Classification Committee and Federal Delegate. I’ve also enjoyed involvement in my sporting clubs – Vice President BDTA (Tennis), Match & Management Committee/Vice Captain Beaudesert Golf Club, District Delegate Woodhill Cricket Club, Manager/Coach Beaudesert Wombats U7’s Soccer Team. I have recently been invited to nominate for a board position on the Northern Dairies Management Committee, which I have submitted. I was also fortunate to attend a RYLA Camp (an initiative of the Rotary Club) in 1994, and was subsequently invited back as a leader in 1995, and RYLA Camp Administrator in 1996. This experience provided a great boost for my confidence and self-belief, both on a personal and professional level. I have also just attended a 2 day Lead-Up Seminar (1st of three parts), already utilizing some tools – understanding where others are coming from. I have at times struggled with family not understanding my position – as I’m sure they have equally struggled with me not seeing theirs.
Trish and I are also very supportive of our children’s (Jewel 14 and Jack 6) involvement in sports and physical activities. From gym, tennis, swimming, soccer, cricket, school stage productions and hip-hop dance, as well as musical instruments like flute and guitar. I feel that many of the lessons learnt from these disciplines are applicable to life. I have always been actively committed to my sporting teams, playing for the Woodhill Cricket Club for 20 consecutive years, 12 years for Lyndale Pennant Tennis Team (until they disbanded), Indoor Cricket for over 20 years (representing Beaudesert in Super-League), and more recently moved into golf (due to a couple of niggling injuries), at The Beaudesert Golf Club. Having lowered my handicap to 12, I’ve also captained the Pennant Golf Team. Aside from the physical fitness, sports are a great reality check – bringing out the best…and worst in people.
I have learnt a great deal from Dad over the years, from cow – to feed – to people management. My specialty has remained cow health/milk production and breeding programs. Since 16 years of age I’ve managed the breeding program, continuing to favour purebred Holsteins. We were actively involved in showing our cattle during my first 18 years. We had some great success, the highlights including Senior Champion and Best Udder at the 1996 Qld State Feature Show, Supreme Junior Champion 2000 and 2002 Qld State Feature Shows, Reserve Senior Champion 2000 and 2001 Brisbane RNA, All Australian Progeny 1998, 1999 and 2000. Queensland Cow of the Year 2000, 2001 and 2002. Runner-Up Australian Cow of the Year for 6 consecutive years. Perhaps a highlight for me personally, was the honour of being the youngest ever recipient, at 36 years, of the Holstein Master Breeder Award in 2006 (for points accumulated by cows bred over a 20 year period). We were also Most Successful Exhibitor (All Breeds) at our local Beaudesert Show on 7 consecutive occasions, immediately prior to our hiatus from dairying.
The transition over the past three years however, has been huge. My responsibilities were increased, particularly with finances and daily operations, as we re-entered dairying, because it was my decision (in fact mine alone) to come back. As I become increasingly aware of my true ability to view future possibilities, I have continued to struggle with the resistance offered by many (or all) family members who were simply unable to conceive my vision. As my father and uncle continue to live and work (70 hour weeks!) on farm, their drive for expansion and improvements has subsided, but their work ethic and commitment to a common cause has remained second to none. Perhaps this makes the position our farm is in today, even more impressive than I realize – as it is only for my dogged determination and belief, that progress was made. I have always done extensive research and cost/benefits before proceeding with any such project. Today I predominantly use the internet at first, following up by direct phone contact, tracking down the true facts – rather than personal opinion. Too often I’ve seen uninformed opinion become the platform for somebody’s truth, and that can result in very costly mistakes.
The major challenge facing the dairy industry is undoubtedly the structure of the supply chain. It is the one area we have the least control over as farmers – but it has the greatest impact on our bottom line. This is already placing pressure on the major milk processors, by passing on price cuts at farm gate to retain margins. I was personally disappointed with the contract offered to us by Parmalat last year. In fact, I made a counter offer – outlining our requirements at farm level…but unfortunately they declined my offer. I have personally not felt the stress of coming off contract on December 31 (although I understand some of my family have). I have every confidence that our farm is well positioned to find a home for our milk supply – and have continued to make calculated decisions based on the future as I believe exists. The best way to counter market forces is with a positive public campaign, through social media (I now regularly update my newly established ‘Scenic Rim Robotic Dairy’ facebook page) and our new tourism venture. Only through the support of widespread public pressure, and empathy, will the supermarket chains adjust their decisions and strategies. Not until they see a potential financial backlash, will they pay attention – as they are so ‘money driven’. I am currently reviewing the possibility of on farm processing at a future date, as it would perfectly compliment the tens of thousands of visitors we will likely see on an annual basis.
The only certainty about climate change, is that it will continue to happen. To what extent it will affect different regions around Australia is not an exact science. It is just as important to be proactive, making provisions for future forecasts, as it is to remain flexible, adapting to changes that may not yet be known. My preference has always been to remain proactive, avoiding future pitfalls where possible – but I understand that uncertain times (with both environments surrounding global weather and financial patterns) will demand reactive decisions, when necessary.
The biggest impact on our herd over the past 3 years has been the extended hot, wet conditions. We’ve seen some serious health issues within our milking herd, most particularly mobility with stone bruising and foot-rot, and mastitis like I have never before seen. The environmental strains we are now dealing with do not discriminate – as most farmers I’ve spoken to in South-East Qld, and Northern NSW have been pushed towards and beyond 400,000 bulk somatic cell counts. Fortunately I’ve just negotiated finance for the next major project on farm – with commencement of construction of a 256 cow Artex Free-stall Barn with Promat Gelmats set for mid-August this year (I think they may be the first in Australia). Completion is expected prior to October’s end. Only for my relentless actions, is the project going ahead this year – as I was strongly deterred by other family members, and our bank. While all other dairy farmers in the region have helplessly thrown their hands in the air, I refused to accept this debilitating health issue could not be resolved. Cow comfort and health is to me, of equal importance as the public perception of our responsible actions as producers of food. Despite its $650,000 price tag, my conservative cash-flows have suggested a 5 year ROI. Once I had done the sums, I informed my family and bank that the project needed to happen this year, as I was not prepared to subject our cows to another unprotected summer. I also let the bank know that I would source finance, whether they wanted to be a part of it or not. By approaching a finance broker (who for a big part of the process looked the likely victor), I continued to work with both parties, offering all financials requested – with absolute transparency. Our bank obviously saw the solidity of the cash-flows I presented, and perhaps a benefit in retaining our business. Whilst I am relentless in making these projects become a reality in a short period of time, it remains possible only through the support of the family unit. The resistance I encounter has definitely improved my negotiating skills, forcing me to validate any position I foresee.
The two other key areas I’ll be targeting in the near future (directly related to climate change), are power savings and water efficiency. Firstly, we will be putting enough solar panels in place to provide our daily power usage for the dairy shed and four houses on the farm. Unfortunately that meter usage was too large to qualify for the recent State rebate scheme – but my calculations still show a solid benefit displacing peak-rate power costs (at 27c/kWh and growing). The other three meters on farm qualified for the rebate, and will generate a payback of 44c/kWh. Close to $100,000 worth of solar panels will be installed in the next 12 months. Water pressures on irrigation farms in the Scenic Rim will continue to grow, as priority has swayed towards the urban population base. Although currently using conventional irrigation – I have placed a 5 year time frame on the transition to centre pivots (although my Dad has stated, “It won’t happen in my lifetime”). Dad however remains the main man when it comes to irrigation. As he nears 70, his workload is as unsustainable as it is irreplaceable. Our farm layout would enable 3 pivots, covering about 70% of the existing irrigation land. Between water efficiencies, power and labour savings – even greater profitability will be generated, moving forward.
For myself personally, possibilities seem endless. I was fortunate to be invited to speak at last years’ Northern Dairies Conference on the Gold Coast, about our robotic dairy. I like to help where possible by sharing my experiences – I have just been invited to speak at the New Generations Forum in Coffs Harbour, October 2012 (a Sub-Tropical Dairies initiative), and am being considered as a Speaker for the upcoming Dairy Australia Conference, relating to my recovery from Clinical Depression. Derek Acheson (Jimboomba Lely Centre) has also requested my services, (in a professional capacity) for the upcoming Lely Astronaut installations. Lely Australia require that a Lely Centre have at least 2 qualified technicians, so I offered to do the 10 day training with Derek in 2010, and am officially trained as a Service Level 1 Technician. As my awareness grows, of the positive impact I can have beyond our farm gate, I am equally conscious of balancing those obligations with a strong core business. Without question, the people I surround myself with will become key.
While I was asked to nominate for the Australian Farmer of the Year Awards, I feel a little inadequate. Despite the tremendous progress made on our family farm over the past few years, I personally feel like a ‘work in progress’. I have so many projects queuing up for the coming years that I’m confident the best is yet to come. Perhaps though, that future will only be possible, via the foundations laid in the past couple of years. The sentimental side of me would truly cherish an award such as this, during ‘The Year of the Farmer’. Perhaps the greatest aspect though, would be the impact I could have beyond agriculture, as the recipient of this honour. It is always easier to ‘preach to the converted’, but my message moving forward is far wider reaching. Through the soul-searching forced upon me only a couple of years ago – I feel as though I have found my purpose in life, by reconnecting our city cousins, with their rural heritage. It just happens to be that the vehicle of choice is doing what I love!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Welcome to the Global Village!

It would be fair to say I've had more than a gutful of the treatment being dished out to Aussie farmers. Maybe I'm just a little cranky today. The 'smoke and mirrors' within the dairy industry, are equally contributing to consumer misconception.

The Supermarkets have been extremely successful with their SPIN surrounding $1 a litre milk (the WAR ON MILK, as I prefer to call it). They have publicly maintained there was no flow on effect to the farmer. Even the extensive Senate Inquiry was satisfied there was a benefit to the consumer, and chose not to take action against the marketing giants. Thankfully through a growing public backlash, we can expect them to pull the pin on $1 milk. Sadly they will shift their focus to another easy target, and cripple yet another industry in the process.

At processor level, the pinch is certainly being felt. One by one, almost all the major processors have dramatically cut milk prices to the farmer - by anywhere between 10% and 30% depending on your location. We have just be given a taste of things to come for the next two years...and to be honest - it is leaving a bitter taste in my mouth. Our family farm is nearing the end of honouring a 5 year Supply Agreement with Parmalat. The average price we received for our milk in that period was 55c/L. We felt this was acceptable, although were disappointed that is never rose with CPI (between 2007 - 2012). The offer on our table yesterday, will see our average price for the coming 2 years drop to 41c/L.

Loyalty within some agricultural sectors would certainly appear to be a thing of the past. For the consumer, locally produced fresh food appears to be heading in the same direction.

As farmers though, we must wear our share of responsibility. The large processors and huge supermarkets have really have done a great job - pitting farmer against farmer within supply groups, against other supply groups, between states.....The farming community should be banding together - all around our country. Seriously enough of the "us and them", the "haves and the have not's". Are we not all trying to achieve the same objective - putting food on people's plates...every day of the year? I have never been able to understand the animosity that continues to plague sectors of our great industry - I never will.

Dairy Farmers in every corner of Australia deserve nothing less than a solid financial reward. There are not many people left in our great country - who are more dedicated to their cause...tirelessly working 80+ hours every week, for you...THE CONSUMER. The tragedy is that many dairy farmers (mostly family businesses) have already been unnecessarily forced to exit the industry. Worse still - many farmers are now faced with the prospect of undertaking that workload at a loss, while hoping to survive.

And for the next generation....? We never lose hope that common sense will prevail.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Herd mentality...

As a society, our growing level of apathy is astounding. We are collectively receiving exactly what we asked for - in fact what we deserve. The supermarket chains have been eagerly filling our need for convenience since the 70's. In the process the multi-nationals have strengthened their position in the market place to the point of an absolute stranglehold. Today in Australia, we see the two main players enjoying over 80% of sales in the retail sector.

Despite my best efforts over the past 6 months, to create an awareness of the truth behind raw milk, I have overwhelmingly underperformed. My message has fallen largely on deaf ears, barring a select group of health enthusiasts, who have consistently followed my work. Without being intentionally cynical - I feel as though it suits the 'herd' to retain the status they can whinge about it. Honestly, the opportunity I've provided for people to have their voices heard, and make a positive impact on the supply chain and supermarket dominance has been discarded. As we continue to abide by archaic laws that contribute to a rapidly growing health crisis - we are reassured by our favourite supermarkets.....

Hi Tracey, we just wanted to let you know that we have strong relationships with all of our producers and suppliers across the primary industries sector and strongly believe that delivering value to consumers has to be balanced with a sustainable return for the producer. We appreciate your feedback and thank you for getting in touch. Thanks

Yes - that is the standard response on their Facebook page to the many concerned posts (relating to price cutting, first Milk, then Fruit & Veg, now Lamb). As a producer in one of these primary industries....well, I am so grateful that they have our best interests at heart. They are so good to the farmer - I'm not sure how we can ever repay them......(no - I do not understand or use SARCASM!!!)

And then there is the very knowledgeable consumer, who already knows...everything. I'm sure Garrett won't mind me quoting him - since he posted this as a response to one of my blogs.

Garrett Wells (friends with Matthew Arkinstall) commented on your link. Garrett wrote: "Yeah, you're all right, it never hurt you, and asbestos was once thought of as safe, DDT was the best thing going, and lead paint gave a finish that couldn't be beat...the bacterium contained in raw milk and dangerous, and in some cases can be deadly, the only difference, is that we now KNOW, beyond a doubt that they are harmful to humans, if you want to drink it, buy your own cow and milk it, but don't try to preach your outdated doctrine to the rest of the world who are intelligent enough to realise that pasteurized milk is far safer"

Yes Garrett, 95% of the rest of the world can buy raw milk legally. That would at least place you in the top 5% (intellectually) according to your knowledge of pasteuerized milk?

As did Joanne -
Joanne Coulter commented on your link. Joanne wrote: "How on earth can Milk be dead. Milk is merely a product. what you do with it will determine the outcome. For starters pasteurisation does not alter the nutritional value of the milk. And yes the risks may appear less than in the past but also the number of people milking their cows and selling to the public is so much less also. Another thing you are all forgetting. Those on the farms in the past did bring their milk to the boil which is the same pasteurizing milk so to claim that they are doing something different to what the current milk processing is doing is incorrect. If you don't bring the milk to the boil you are only putting yourself at risk. Most remember drinking milk on the farm but have forgotten than Mum did bring the milk to the boil. Yes we all drank straight from the bucket if just milked but if it was to be stored it had to be brought to the boil."

Gramatically well written Joanne - at least I didn't have to run spellcheck over yours (as I did for Garrett). As for the content, I would suggest it is somewhat devoid of fact! 

Sadly, we are dealing with this level of public awareness. Opinions that are not validated, yet obviously maintained. We are also battling the multi-national companies (who continue to post record profits, while claiming to offer both the consumer and the supplier a fantastic deal....). All the while - hundreds of thousands of average Australian citizens are drinking raw milk every single day. Remarkably they are neither getting sick, or dying.

Without a strong surge of public sentiment, one thing is absolutely certain - FSANZ will not review the existing laws surrounding the food safety of raw dairy products.

We do what we know. When we know better - we do better.


ps.....I'll still be drinking RAW MILK (of the unboiled variety) regardless

Monday, August 13, 2012

Reality Check...

Feeling a little sombre and somewhat overwhelmed. Much as I love my life, wife, family and farm...hard to explain. Maybe just the culmination of a few things this weekend? I think that I just need to put these feelings out there to let go.

Yesterday, on 7's Sunday Night, I was looking forward to a story about Raw Milk. I certainly got caught off guard by the first story - about bullying. It was quite devestating to watch Olivia's story unfold (of which I was previously unaware). Having personally come out the other side of clinical depression, I will be forever grateful that suicidal tendancies never had a hold over me. I feel so powerless to help, despite the empathy I have for those battling mental health issues.

So often, with the benefit of hindsight, we relfect on the obvious signs, and lack of action we could have taken. I now find myself with a heightened awareness of subtle signs in another's struggles. That still doesn't put me in a position to make the difference I'd sometimes like. I simply don't have the tools required. While I was always open about my condition during recovery - I will just as openly suggest that someone seek proffessional help, or simply ask if they're ok. Some have acted on my advice - others were unwilling to receive help. So be it. You simply cannot force a lasting recovery on someone who is not yet ready.

There is not doubt that the experience of depression is as real as it is different for all who have suffered it. Irrational and ilogical thoughts make perfect sense, as they run on an endless loop. Seeing clear of the 'fog haze' seems an unreasistic goal. The physical fatigue leaves you thinking there may only be months left to live. An attempt of suicide may be the inevitable conclusion - when viewed as the obvious...or in fact only solution. From the outside, we can never justify such action. We will never understand this path. From within - it was undoubtably the selfless outcome by which all others would benefit. If only they knew the truth.

The saddest reality is that a victim's best intentions to leave a lasting impression doesn't hit the intended target - to make a stance - to prove a point. Their internal thoughts are so severely corrupted, that their subsequent actions are equally misplaced. Their 'truth' is...false. Their desire to impress those who care least becomes overwhelming. In Olivia's case - the bully could care less. Bullies thrive on the knowledge that pain has been inflicted - they did 30 years ago - they will in 30 years time. Mission accomplished.

Enough of the excuses! We live in denial - and justify actions. Pointing the finger...laying blame...What ever happened to good old fasioned 'responsibility'? Maybe the time has come for its reintroduction to mainstream acceptance?

As a society, we seem to be focusing all our energies on the wrong end of the problem - the BULLY! Why feed their need with any sort of recognition? The victims should be comfortable in the knowledge that they need not feel compelled to seek approval or acceptance of bullies. That message needs to be instilled years in advance. A strong sense of self - an even stronger sense of unconditional love.

Beyond that remains a helplessness that will exist forever.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Our recent OPEN DAYS

Calf FeederI've been overdue for a post! Below is a recent story in the Young Dairy Network newsletter....

I'm a 4th generation Dairy Farmer (to my knowledge) - 3rd generation on this property. It has been owned and operated by the Dennis family for 80 years. My Uncle Ray (71yrs) and Dad, Darrell (68yrs) were born and raised on this property - as was I (and our 2 children, Jewel 14 and Jack 6). They both continue to work full-time and are still actively involved in the decision making processes of day to day operations. What started as a 20 cow milking herd in the 1930's (with 4 box bales for hand milking) - grew to 360 cows milked on a 50 rotary platform in the mid '90's, and the 2nd largest dairy in Queensland - to today, being the first Lely Robotic Dairy in this state. Next year our annual production will surpass that of the 1990's - 2.3M litres through 4 Lely Astronauts....from only 240 milking cows!

The farm is in a transitional phase, as my responsibilities surrounding financial and operational management, and future direction increase. Ray and Darrell's wives, Aunty Rose (70yrs) and Mum, Brenda (63yrs), also remain active - although currently handing over the books/accounts to my wife Trish. They will remain a vital key to our new direction on farm - as we venture into tourism and education. Their life experiences (on and off farm), and natural ability to interact with visitors is invaluable. My dad and uncle are also happy to offer an insight into days gone by - the way technologies have changed the daily routines and workload on farm.

My mentors on farm have been quick to adopt new technologies thoughout my life - so this has obviously impacted my own thought processes. The decision to go robotic was a combination of factors and timing. I was personally coming off a diagnosis of Clinical Depression (January 2010) when I was asked (April 2010) about long time locals Matt & Alison Cahill's venture into a De Laval robotic dairy. Being a bundle of positivity, I was happy to inform people, including Dennis family members, why it was not a great idea - pointing out all the probable pitfalls...based on my robotic knowledge of absolute ZERO!! I was however prompted to do extensive online research - so you can imagine the frosty reception I received in May, at the suggestion we look into the robotic option on our farm. The timing of my Depression was also key, as it forced me to review what the future held for my family and myself, as dairy farmers.

Not easily deterred, I booked a flight to Victoria for Dad, our dairy technician (Derek Acheson) and myself, in June - to visit two Lely Robot farms in Gippsland, with Jurgen Steen from Lely. By July we had signed a contract for 3 Lely Astronauts - and milked the first cow robotically in October 2010! Undoubtably the best decision made on our farm to date, it did however take until the latter part of 2011 before family members were able to physically see the improving production results. The first six months after start-up were particularly draining, as I was forced to run almost entirely on belief in a vision...that no one around me could see. Almost another year on, we are exceeding targets, that even I had set. For the first time in my 26 year working life - our 200 cow milking herd has hit a 30L average, at 2.7 milkings per day, while maintaining components of 4.0%F and 3.3%P.

RobotI never try to sugar-coat the commissioning proccess - telling other farmers, "However tough you think it will's worse than that!" We simultaniously have to shift our personal perception of the best management practices (formed through decades of experience) - while educating the entire milking herd of a new way, dispelling all they've learnt through their whole life. Yes it is true, sadly, the cows adapted quicker than the farmers! Throughout this proccess, of some rediculiously long hours (several times working more than 100 hour weeks), and broken sleep - the one constant remained - my committment and belief to make this new system work. I knew what we were dealing with on farm was only temporary, and I continued to push that line to all involved in our operation.

For many years now, I have held a strong desire to offer public viewings at milking time. My concerns have grown in recent years, at the void between city and country. While I would be the first to admit, as a farmer, we're not looking for sympathy - it would be refreshing to receive a genuine empathy - for the efforts we go to, supplying their demands. Obviously the fixed milking times of a conventional dairy were not compatible school hours or day trippers. Robots seemed to be the perfect fit, as cows would now be milked around the clock. Our shed layout is deliberately 'transparent', and has many good vantage points and open spaces, all under cover. I did the initial setout - with viewing areas and future visitors in mind.

Happy CowIt is early days, but we've had an incredible couple of weeks, with in excess of 300 visitors to launch our new venture. The timing appears to be especially good, as recent surveys of Primary and High School students have shown us a glaring lack of awareness, when it comes to food production. We farmers may be a dying breed, but that only strengthens my resolve to make a positive impact amongst the wider population.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The true reality of our elusive freedom!

As I near the end of my usefulness, regarding the RAW MILK debate - I eagerly await someone to take the baton......Any continuation needs to come from outside the dairy industry. As a farmer, I'll be seen to be persuing financial gain in the outcome. The truth is, I already receive the main benefit - of drinking real fresh milk - every single day.

In undertaking this project - I understood only too well the scale of the obstacles in place. The multi-million dollar companies clearly have vested interests in maintaining the supply chain's 'status quo'. While it continues to amaze me, in a deregulated market, the farmer has no opportunity to compete in the market place. This, of course, thanks to FSANZ deeming RAW MILK to be unfit for human consumption.

There must be a hidden agenda at play here - because there has not been 1 single death in Australia, related to the consumption of RAW MILK (in the past 3 decades). Despite a growing 'black market' of health concious consumers over the past 10 years, there have still been no reported deaths in our country. FSANZ are well aware of this market, as they are now putting 'plain clothed' inspectors into health stores - with the very real threat of huge fines, and possible closure. So powerless do these stores now feel, that only one of the ten I sent a petition flyer to, responded - with a reluctance to take a position of support for this issue.

Over the past month, I have shared my blog and petition with many forums on facebook and twitter - including TODAY, SUNRISE, MORNINGS, ACA, TODAY TONIGHT, 612ABC, 97.3FM, B105......and many personal 'health crusaders'. Unfortunately none of the above, (and many more) have been interested in picking up on this depravation of our CIVIL RIGHT to a free country!

Perhaps in part - because this battle has been fought (and lost) many times in recent years. Perhaps this issue just doesn't tug at the heart attract the all important TV ratings that drive our modern networks. Perhaps it's just too hard to try.

It is after all - the LAW. Does that make it right? I am greatly concerned that, through a cleverly coordinated campaign of PROPAGANDA - our government (via FSANZ), have educated the greater population of Australia. The lesson learnt? "Raw dairy products carry too great a health risk". As I like to say, "We need to separate opinion from fact!"

FSANZ did carry out an extensive review of Dairy Products, over the past 3 years. Their resultant document of 119 pages, contains both opinions....and facts. The FACTS overwhelmingly support the very low level of risk, associated with our consumption of raw dairy products - both domestically and globally. Unfortunately, their outcome (based almost entirely on hypothetical opinion) condemned the food safety of raw dairy products.

Our current 1332 signatures is a great start - but that's all it is. It is such a small, insignificant percentage of Australian consumers, that it simply confirms FSANZ position - the level of demand does not warrant another review. To add any momentum, this argument now needs support from a heavyweight - from within the health or nutrition sectors (or both).

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Will the sun continue to rise for the humble dairy cow?

As multi-nationals continue to apply the pressure to milk processors, it inevitably flows onto the dairy farmer. In so doing, the life of our beautiful dairy cow comes under threat. Why? Simply because the extreme financial pressures faced by our current generation of farmers, transpires as increased volumes and productive efficiencies. While the farmer's price received for milk has dropped by over 20% (since the milk price wars on Australia Day 2011), our operational costs continue to rise. And as cost cutting must occur at farm level - this becomes the neccessary evil - for the dairy farmer to remain stay afloat! The more viable the farm - the more available are the funds required, to maintain the highest level of animal health.

The dairy farmer does not have the ability to form a relationship with you - the consumer, and market directly. If this was legal, an increased profit margin at farm-gate, would allow the farmer to produce less milk per cow, reducing the pressure on her,and improving her level of health.

The government has ensured that RAW MILK remains illegal (unfit for human consumption), through FSANZ recent revision of current legislation. This outcome, despite their knowledge that 100,000's of Australian citizens consume raw milk on a daily basis (both dairy farmers, and a growing black market of health concious consumers). Without a single related death reported in the past 30 years in Australia, their decision smacks of hypocracy. It does however insure, that the profit driven supply chain (proccessors and retailers) remain in tact.

Perhaps worst of all - is the infringement of your civil right to choose, in this apparently 'free' country we call home. Today there is an abundance of relavent information available, and a fast growing body of evidence, supporting the known health benefits of raw dairy products. Minimal risks have also been highlighted - from fresh milk produced by healthy cows, fed a pasture based diet. Surely we are capable, and must be permitted to make such choices - for ouselves and our families!

Petition - Legalize raw dairy products



                                                                                                        Blog - Milking it...for real !

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


After a restless night - feeling for Craig and Tom. Had my own 'near death' experience with Mum in July 2010. Here's a little something I put together this morning...for all our Mums.
As a fellow dairy farmer - I though that 'Milking It' was the best spot to post it.

Beyond the call, they do, whatever needs be done
And self-lessly their actions for a daughter...or a son

I saw it in my Mother, as her work would never end
It's continued in my sisters, as they couldn't buck the trend

Most of all I see it every day - in my own life
As a mother's work continues for my children, by my wife

Their desire to serve is constant as they focus on the prize
That one day their kids will shine, they'll just be a different size

For anyone who's experienced the bond between their Mum
Though different for us all, there is no 'rule of thumb'

They're as many and as varied as their children yet unborn
But from day one they're powerless, starting to transform

Yes with a heart of gold and intentions without doubt
Little things in the day to day is what Mothers are about

No matter what the challenge - no matter how seemingly tired
Throughout their days - until the end, it's just the way they're wired

So life goes on, continuing the a son
Too true as it is said, "A Mothers work is never done"

RIP Karen

Thursday, March 22, 2012

But it is Dangerous....Right?

My fascination with the outlaw-ing of raw milk continues to grow. It did serve a valuable purpose in its day. Prior to effective sterilization of dairy equipment, and more recently, the implementation of bulk refrigeration at farm level, there were genuine risks to consumers.

Today however, the bacterial prevalence is of a much lower level. The disease and viral infections that did in fact cause many deaths a hundred years ago, have been completely eliminated in Australia today. To my knowledge, a likely risk comparison could be draw to eating from a salad bar, or fast food outlet - with an outcome of maybe a 'belly ache'.

In fact, if you are highly motivated, please read (at least in part) the 119 page FSANZ document I've linked. The premise of their recent 'Assessment' (P 1007), and subsequent decline of legalization, appears to be based on HYPOTHETICAL RISK and SCIENTIFIC ASSUMPTIONS!

Wouldn't it be a common courtesy, that FSANZ at least base their 'assessment' on FACT, and real evidence from within Australia? I'm happy for OPINION to be expressed - but not when it comes to the legislation dictating our food choices. As tax paying citizens, we deserve better!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Raw Milk Petition


As I have stated over recent posts and blogs, I've been working on a petition. The end target is FSANZ - the endeavour to have them re-address their 2011 review of the sale of raw dairy products in Australia.

Their outcome is just as surely flawed, as it is biased. There was seemingly no consideration given to the health benefits of cow's milk, in its unproccessed state. The life threatening health risks can be considered no greater than that incurred when consuming many of our daily foods.

In a democracy, don't we at least deserve the right to choose the dairy products we purchase and consume. During FSANZ's review, the general public were invited to lodge submissions, regarding their preference to purchase raw milk. I am yet to speak to anyone who was personally aware of this invitation.

The intention of the petition is to create a level of awareness at federal level (through FSANZ), as to the true extent of public sentiment surrounding the RAW MILK debate. For this to achieve any positive outcome, the sharing and support of this concept needs to be of 'epic proportions'!

Seriously - while I'm thrilled with nearly 250 signatures in 3 days....we'll need 10's of thousands, if not in excess of 100,000, to get the attention required!

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Real MILK....straight from FARM to YOU

It is important when reading this blog, to realise that the aim is not to discount the health benefits of milk, as we've come to know it - in its processed form. The reality is without legislative change, it will remain your only legal option as a consumer. It is much more about the freedom of choice - in a proudly democratic country! Enjoy...

The older I become, the more elite company I keep. Having been born on a dairy farm and spent my entire life here to this day - I am fortunate to be one of a very small percentage of this country's population to consume fresh - raw - cow's milk....legally, on a daily basis. All my life, until recently, I have taken for granted the growing number of health benefits that accompany this privilege.

As an over-regulated 'democracy' in Australia, we have the ambiguous situation today, that despite the near elimination of any remaining life threatening illness, transmitted through the consumption of raw milk, FSANZ (Food Standards of Australia & New Zealand) are happy to take the choice away from consumers. They concluded after a recent assessment (P1007), raw dairy products present too large a health threat, to be legalised.

I find this astonishing in a country where you can legally buy and consume as much alcohol as you choose beyond the age of 18, and smoke as much tobacco you desire. A country that you can , as an individual, eat as much junk food as you can stomach - or for that matter, supply to young children, as their parent or guardian. Of course these are choices you are free to make, with a wealth of available research to assist in the decision making process.

The choice is yours at least...but not when it comes to fresh, natural milk!!! No that is surely dangerous stuff. The irony is that while FSANZ feel obligated to maintain the status quo in Australia (a country whose food production standards - at dairy farm level - are perhaps the most stringent in the world) - in excess of 95% of the world's population, have the freedom to buy and consume raw cow's milk - legally. My fellow Australian dairy farmers are currently meeting quality standards (prior to processing) superior to the existing regulations governing the sale of raw milk in most parts of the world.

We are indeed entering interesting times. With life threatening illnesses such as heart disease, many forms of cancer, and especially growing incidence of type 2 diabetes inflicting people in their 20's and 30's. For the first time in known documented history, the life expectancy for young people today, is lower than that of their parents. Much of the scientific research undertaken over the past 40 years, is strongly linking the rapid rise of these concerns to the over-processing of the food we eat. In real terms - the destruction and reconstruction of many of our staples.

Few foods are more severely adulterated than milk. The process of pasteurization was invented to remove the threat of dangerous pathogens that existed more than 100 years ago. Unfortunately the result is to also kill many of milk's nutrients, and most importantly enzymes and probiotic properties. Prior to this process, milk contains its own enzyme (lactase) to assist in the absorption of milk sugars, or lactose....hence the sharp spike in dairy intolerance in recent decades. Homogenization was developed for customers' convenience, not having to shake the bottle to mix in the cream. This process literally smashes milk's molecular structure into tiny fragments, so they are unable to reform - which then has a detrimental affect on the way our body absorbs the fat content.

The gap between raw and processed milk will continue to widen in the coming years. The ongoing decline of locally produced fresh milk is inevitable, due to reduced farm-gate margins, and subsequent dairy closures. For this reason, we will see a rise in the need for UHT milk. Why - because milk will require a longer shelf life, as it takes more time to get from farm to shop. The process of Ultra Heat Treatment is even more destructive than pasteurization - rendering milk as little more than 'white water'. The carbon footprint will also be negatively impacted - as more fuel will be burnt in moving milk over great distances to the people.

There is some very interesting reading available on the web, including this quote - "
Raw milk is a unique living food and differs from all other foods. Raw milk innately contains many different enzyme, and bacteriologic systems (organic acids and others) that actively kill pathogens when and if they are introduced."

Check the article -

Change is only possible through overwhelming pressure from consumers. There is already a groundswell of domestic demand for raw milk. As in any market place, demand will determine that supply be maintained - illegal or otherwise. That has recently been in the form of bath milk, pet milk, or 'share cow ownership'. Despite FSANZ apparently calling for public submissions to their recent assessment (of which I'm guessing most of you were unaware?), they received about 100 requests from individuals whose desire to purchase raw milk was expressed. Is that a representative portrayal of public sentiment? Who could blame FSANZ for disregarding such a minute representation of our population.

Only with great pressure comes change. Perhaps through the voices of in excess of 100,000 concerned Australians, FSANZ' resolution towards this growing problem will be reviewed. We need for the pros of this arguement to be weighted as heavily as the cons.

In an age where we seem hell bent on sanitising and sterilising anything we consume, perhaps we've lost sight of the even greater hazard - eliminating its nutrient content. Even with our best endeavours, absolute elimination of such pathogens is simply not a realistic goal. We co-exist with them every day, through the surfaces we touch - the air we breathe - and they're found in many of the foods we consume legally. It's an unavoidable part of the lives we live. Cause and effect. Perhaps it is finally time to properly reassess 'food safety'?