We’ve hit our target of ten milkers, sort of.

It’s been a long time since I’ve written a blog. I’ve been pretty consumed with just running the farm. But you’re about to hear from me a couple of times this week. Secondly with some big news from the Coop but in this post I wanted to do an update on how the herd is going as we pass the six year mark of milking and four and a half years of selling bottled milk and yoghurt into Castlemaine.

From the beginning my business has been aiming for this magic number of ten milkers and it’s only in the past couple of months that we’ve hit that, sort of.

Before buying my first cow I set up a business plan and budget, all based around this idea of ten cows. It seemed to be the herd size where I could make the business both financially viable and keep the enjoyment factor in it for myself. The other influencing factor is being on this current property up at Harcourt where more than ten milkers would really be pushing the land capacity on an average year let alone a rough year.

Daisybell and Olive

Things haven’t gone to plan along the way for that number ten. Early on I had a few cows who didn’t work out due to pre-existing conditions (Daisybell, Millie, Willow (no. 1), Daisy, Nancy), I’ve lost a couple (R.I.P Stella and Olive), I’ve had a few failed pregnancies (Doris, Bette, Olive, Swish), there’s been many a time when I’ve had a cow on heat but couldn’t get them to the bull that day, Luna retired after standing on and ripping the end off two of her three operational teats and some cows never hit the litres I’d hoped (Selenite I’m talking about you!). All of which have made it hard to reach the ten cows milking an average of 100 ltrs a day.

Luckily, due to my very affordable lease agreement with Katie and Hugh, my very cheap living arrangement and not having gone into debt I have had the luxury of taking my time in building the herd, feeling my way, learning from my mistakes.

Swish and Plush

We’ve had some new additions (Swish and Chloe) and second generations make their debut into the milking herd (Doris, Willow (no.2), Selenite). We’ve hit our ten milkers. However while we’ve had a couple of days where milk reached the high nineties and one day of 99ltrs we still haven’t hit 100ltrs in a day. This is mostly skewed by Berta.

Berta sticking her head in the ute
Berta sticking her head in the steering wheel.

Anyone who’s been following my blog from early on knows about Berta. Probably anyone who’s spoken to me in the past 7 years knows about Berta. Berta was my first cow and what a perfect first cow she has been. Having her 6th calving of Iggy in May 2018 and carrying a whopping great udder (43ltrs a day in her prime) we adopted Norma Jean the following day to make use of the milk as the factory was still months off being ready. Unfortunately that September 7, only days after Oli’s finger accident Berta went down hard with mastitis. This was my darkest day of farming so far, when all the dreams come crashing down to reality. Berta in herself made a full recovery; however her udder was permanently damaged and at some point over the past 5.5 years all four quarters have had some period of mild mastitis.

Raising Iggy and Norma

We went for another calving and she had Otis in Feb 2020. However she really struggled through this calving, her udder was an enormous mess and it took her immune system a long time to get over this. I vowed not to calve her again as the chance of her not making it through was too high. So we just kept milking her. Berta has now clocked over four years in this one lactation!

Three generations: Berta, Iggy and Hendrix

Until last December she was still milking around 8ltrs a day. Then it seems she made a new years resolution to retire. Since January Berta’s milk has continually dropped until I’m now just humouring her and getting one measly litre. In this time her hormones have gone crazy and she seems to believe she is a bull, everyday humping everyone. So after roughly 14650ltrs in this one lactation, today Berta retired from her milking career. Born on a dairy on the way to Maryborough, three years with Col and over six with me this 15 year old has had a good working life.

My first meeting with Berta 2017

For now Berta is going to stay with the milkers. Probably much to my relief milkers frustration as Berta is known for being bossy, stealing food and now the constant humping. However she is the perfect matriarch for my herd. While she is dominant and the boss, she is not mean for the sake of it. She always looks out for every member of the herd and makes sure everyone is groomed and included. I bought Berta after the wise words of a dairy mentor said the energy of your first cow will set the tone for the whole herd. So until I see a kind lady-in-waiting, Berta can stay. Currently Iggy and Norma are next in the hierarchy but certainly do not carry their mother’s kindness for everyone else. My hope is to eventually have the space to have a small retirement herd.

Grooming Gem whose mother rejected her

Following Berta’s retirement, Dapper, daughter of Swish will be calving and joining the milkers in four weeks, hopefully she will bring in a new flush of milk and make it feel a little more like I’m milking 10 cows.

Dapper and Bette

We will then have Bette, daughter of Norma, and Cherry, daughter of Olive joining the herd within the year which will give us some space to retire others as needed. Plush, daughter of Swish will be the new addition for 2025.

We’ve also had the addition of Teddy. After all the previous breeding mishaps I decided to keep a bull, so when Ginger calved last May with Teddy, he was the first boy calf allowed to keep his crown jewels. Teddy has just reached breeding age and has successfully been at work for a month now. Still a calm, quiet, well behaved boy I’m hoping he stays this way even when he becomes enormous. We’ll see how that turns out….

Teddy

This was a classic story of where Berta is often more of a co-herd manager with me rather than just a member of the herd. When Swish and Selenite were on heat recently, as Berta is so hormone charged there was no separating them. However Berta is a dream on a lead so I just led her across the farm and the cow I wanted trotted along behind her. We then delivered the breeding cow to Teddy for the day and Berta happily trotted back to the milking herd with me. This is exactly what I’d hoped for in keeping a bull, streamlining the process so that cows actually get to the bull when needed.

We’re currently having a long spectacular Autumn. For 9 months of the year it blows a gale up here at the base of Leaganook. Then Autumn hits and it just stops, calmness arrives, with cold mornings and sunny days, the orchard turns to yellow and red, the ground becomes green and the birdsong is a constant chorus. So, let’s raise a glass to Berta and say thank you for all that milk.

5 thoughts on “We’ve hit our target of ten milkers, sort of.”

  1. What a terrific story you have a told here. The ups and downs of farm life, niot for the faint hearted. So good to know you are still loving the dairy farm life and that you have reached 99% of your goal. Obviously the supportive co- op life that is HOFC has helped keep you going all these years.
    Good luck

  2. I love the way you know the lineage so well and their personalities . I will enjoy my yoghurt so much more this morning !.
    Happy retirement Berta and Thankyou

  3. It was a delightful read and am sure that from the comfort of my chair, it all sounds slightly more gorgeous than it all is. It is obvious however, that you are not deterred by grit, lots of gales blowing, disappointments galore. This is the patience and acceptance that works in farming, I’m sure. Thank you for the detailed and fascinating read.

  4. When I joined your CSA I knew I would get the best dairy but I didn’t know I would get detailed stories like this one. I feel so grateful to Berta and to you. Thank you Berta for all you have given and Thank you Tessa for being the queen of your herd and for caring for all your girls and now “Teddy” too. I am proud and honoured to be a member of your CSA. Will definitely raise a glass to Berta tonight.

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