Waiting, waiting, waiting. I feel like there’s been a lot of waiting for the past 6 weeks. Waiting for Olive to calve and as a result; waiting for more milk so I can a). meet my CSA orders and b). sell some milk at the market, waiting to write a blog post about it, waiting to move two of my nearly dry cows out of the milking herd, waiting to know if Olive was going to have a heifer or a bull, waiting to know if she was going to have an easy birth or a hard one like last time, waiting for her to bloody calve!
So we waited and we waited. She was due on the 27th of Dec but showed no signs of calving or bagging up (udder growing/filling), other than being enormous. After 8 days I had a feel, there was definitely something in there! I was sure she was loosening up in preparation. We waited. Day 23 I had another feel, yep no question, there is definitely something like a small head in the pipeline. All this time Olive showed no sign of being sick and so we were happy to let her do it her way. Then 24 days after her due date we got a organics derogation to induce her. Our amazing vet Nadia came out and had a feel before planning to inject her. She then pulled out the small remains of a calf which had probably died a few months ago. All that was left was possibly the neck, a couple of feet and some ribs. Olive had shed the rest herself without me noticing and all without showing the slightest sign of something being wrong.
So I have a healthy cow, tick, no difficult birth, tick, no need to induce, tick, however, my most consistent milkers is not in milk or in calf. A bad place to be as a dairy cow! I’ve been told many times to put her on a truck, however I’m going to give Olive another go. In a month she should be good to go back with the bull and then we wait, nine long months!
As a result of this I’ve put in my order for a new pregnant milker. Another Illawara dairy shorthorn who we’ll need to have on the property for six months for her milk to be certified organic.
Then we have Joyce. Dream cow! Calving extraordinaire.
Two days before she’s due I drive up the driveway to see Joyce with her perfect little heifer. This cow never skips a beat. Joyce is the Buffy family line so Willow is the obvious choice for a red head. Joyce was back on the line this morning, no training required and one massive bag of colostrum which Willow has hardly made a dint on.
The first 5 days of lactation, the milk is kept out of the vat until it settles into straight milk not colostrum. As of Friday this week we will have a decent amount more milk going into the vat and out to our customers. Hopefully with the cooler weather this next week the other milkers will also increase their yield. They’ve had a drop over these hot few days, putting their energy into staying cool under the trees and not being super excited about eating.
Thank you everyone for being patient and understanding while our supply is low. Working with such a small herd leaves me very vulnerable to drops in milk. Thanks for supporting small scale dairy!
There’s a lot to consider when planning to have a steady milk flow all year round. Particularly when you are working with such a small herd, one cow can completely throw out your predictions. The coming couple of months are going to be very tights for milk supply at Sellar Farmhouse Creamery so I thought I’d take the opportunity to share some of the contributing factors which lead to this.
People often ask if I get more milk in the spring. When comparing seasons then yes you probably would get more milk for the input in spring, however there are many other factors which have a stronger influence; no. 1 being how recently she calved.
The standard milk graph for a cow would see her increase each week after calving, peak at around 3 months and then decrease as she is gets close to having her next calf. Most commercial dairies, breed every 12 months. This insures that all cows have a profitable milk supply and helps to maintain clean fresh milk with a low cell count.
When calving every 12 months it’s hard to know how long a cow would naturally milk through for as she never gets the chance. To begin with, all cows are individuals. Then we add several influencing factors which will determine her milk production and how long she will milk for. Breed, family genetics, age, health history, how stressful calving was, the season, how long she was dry in the lead up to calving, what she’s eating all play a role.
My previous experience was with goats, some of whom had kidded once in their 9 year milking life and were still huge producers. I’d also heard stories of other dairies and house cows who would milk through without calving on a yearly basis. I like the idea of this as I’m in the business of milk not meat so the fewer calves I have the more energy and feed I have for the milkers. I also know that the three months after calving puts a huge strain on the cow, many health problems occur in this vulnerable period and in my books, the fewer times she has to do this the better.
As I said though, each cow is an individual (don’t they like to remind you of this!) and until I’ve worked with them all through their first lactation I have no idea who will milk through and who wont. So it’s been a learning curve and trying to manage a steady milk flow has been difficult. For example Olive has been milking now for 15 months, still has the most beautiful clean milk, producing 11ltrs a day consistently for 10 months and I’m now having to force her to dry off as she’s due to calve on boxing day. She is definitely a cow that I don’t need to breed annually. However, Joyce on the other hand calved in Sept, went from 16ltrs a day in Feb to 6ltrs in May and down to 2 in July. As I only got her in calf again in April she certainly hasn’t been paying her way for a while. This may be her breed, or her as an individual or that this was her 6th lactation and previously she’d been bread every 12 months so maybe her body was use to it, who knows. But she will definitely need breeding every 12-14 months to stay in milk production. I learnt this the hard way.
Most cow’s reach their peak production at around five years old, or their third lactation, so having a diverse range of ages in my herd is very important. I’ve got Berta, Joyce and Ginger between their 5th and 8th lactation’s while the rest are still in their first. Currently Berta and Ginger are producing a third of my milk each. At the other end Quartz and Norma have both started off with small udders and low production. However they will increase in future lactation’s and as they have both been a dream to calve and train they are certainly welcome in my herd.
Then there is the calf-at-foot practice which I run. For the first 3 months, calves run with their dam. The first full week they spend together and then I begin to separate the calves at night in a pen attached to the parlour. This way mum can come a check in during the night, she can touch her calf but not feed it. In the morning I take 3/4 of the milk and leave one for the calf who then spends the day with thier mum. The time they spend apart gradually increases until one day the afternoon feed stops and they are weaned. So during this high production period I’m taking between 1/4-3/4 of the milk produced depending on the cow. I’ll leave the details of calf-at-foot dairying for a future blog but it’s worth mentioning here as it has a big impact on planning my milk production.
There is also feed at play, milk is directly a result of what the cow eats the 24hrs before hand. All milkers get a consistent feed ration at night and while milking however misjudging the quantity/quality of pasture in a paddock can impact the following days milk total by up to 15%.
These are some of the main factors I’m balancing up when trying to plan the year ahead to have a consistent milk supply. Cow’s are pregnant for 9 months so planning needs to happen a long time in advance. I aim to always have two calve at the same time so calves have a buddy, although sometimes cows (Iggy) have their own plans. This is why my sales structure is based on having 3/4 of my milk sold through CSA subscription and 1/4 through farmers market sales. The farmers market acts as a buffer, meaning that if something was to happen to a cow, or the season, then I can decrease the amount I sell, or increase if production is high, without it impacting my CSA sales.
Norma Jean calved 3 weeks ago with Doris Day. She is the first planned calving of a heifer I raised, it’s been really beautiful to watch it come full circle (Iggy broke in with the neighbours bull and had a teen pregnancy so that wasn’t my planning!). Norma has been such a super star milker, not a single kick or poo in the stall and coming in on her own after a week of leading in.
Next to calve is Olive on Boxing day so this is why my milk supply may drop over the next two months. Olive is a very good, consistent milker who I must dry her off now before she calves. Norma is not up for replacing her in milk quantity due to being smaller and having a calf-at-foot. Joyce is also dry now until Feb and Luna and Quartz only give me their two cents worth. The more I work with my herd and get to know them as individuals the better I will get at planning for a consistent supply. Then nature will remind me I cannot control her, throw chaos to the plan and the whole process will start again!
Sellar Farmhouse Creamery is very excited to finally launch our yoghurt!
Similar to our milk, the yoghurt comes in a 1ltr returnable jar.
It is yoghurt in it’s purest form, no additives, milk powders or thickeners. Just our beautiful herds milk, probiotic culture and pot set. You’ll notice the good thick layer of cream on our yoghurt which many have come to love with the milk. I scrap this off and use it as sour cream, however I know many people fight to be the person to open the jar; so they can take all the cream for themselves.
Our yoghurt is mild in flavour which makes it more versatile for sweet and savoury combinations. I often strain some in a cheese cloth for an even thicker yogurt to use as cream cheese or the base for dips and cake icing.
Available through the Castlemaine Farmers Market Weekly on Wednesday afternoons and for those luck enough to be on CSA subscriptions you can add it to your next milk order.
Yoghurt prices will be $10 per ltr from the farmers market and $9 for CSA customers. The standard $1 jar deposit will apply. Currently I’m only turning one days worth of milk into yoghurt so you’ll need to get in fast.
From the spectacular foot hills of Leanganook, where we are so blessed to farm, the ladies and I thank you for all your support!
Here at Sellar Farmhouse Creamery we were never interested in selling milk in single use packaging. However there’s much more to it than you might think.
Every week when we return from market and unload creates of returned milk bottles for reuse, it blows my mind to think that these would normally be going in the bin. To then think how teeny tiny our part of the liquid milk market is really hits me as to just how much single use packaging goes into landfill.
So far, in the 7 months we have been operational, we have bottled some 8000 litres of milk. In that same time I have brought 1650 new bottles into the system most of which are still part of the fleet I have on rotation. Each week on average I bring 10-20 new bottles into the system which I think is a pretty amazing return rate! So thank you to all the people who regularly return their bottles. A minimum waste dairy system ONLY works when people take part.
Funnily enough, the old milk bottle return system was well thought through. For starters they were thicker glass. Currently I break about 2 bottles a week due to rushed movements and thin glass bottles. The quality of my new CSA bottles which I had to get in from Italy, once my original Australian made bottles ceased production, is far worse. We’ve had far more of these import bottles break in transit.
These modern bottles that have the threaded lid system are convenient in some ways but are more difficult to clean. The old-school milk bottles had no thread for screwing a lid on(instead having a press-on foil lid), which allowed for much easier cleaning. Ensuring there are no caked on bits stuck in threads is the most time consuming part for me.
The screw-on lids seem to contain a lot more invested energy than a foil lid and yet only last me about 3 uses before they become too damaged for use.
The scale I’m at, it would not be economical to get custom bottles made in this style. My dream would be that one day there are enough of us out there wanting this product that an Australian glass factory might be open to making the old milk bottle again.
So to keep the system rolling I thought I’d just answer a few questions regarding returns.
Thanks for helping us to provide a minimum waste, fresh, local dairy system!
How clean do the bottles need to be?
Clean. Having a returnable bottle system is awesome! I do however spend up to 10 hours a week cleaning bottles and dirty bottles take a lot longer to clean. I’ll always be giving bottles a quick check, clean and sterilise at my end but I do require you to clean then out at your end. I can not accept returned bottles which still have milk in them. This is a hygiene hazard to bring into my factory. Please do not use SFC milk bottles for other purposes and return them. Please only return intact SFC bottles.
How to wash milk bottles to avoid milk protein build ups?
Prewash As soon as you have finished your milk, rinse with warm water to remove the residue. Washing bottles immediately in water which is too hot actually cooks the proteins onto the glass, making it much harder to remove. Cold water sets the fat, warm is the way to go.
Main wash and dry.
Wash bottle with hot detergent water with a bottle brush if by hand or a dishwasher, taking care to remove all residue from the rim of the bottle.
Rinse all detergent residue off the bottles and leave upside down to air dry. Avoid putting lids back on while still wet.
What about lids?
Lids have a much shorter life than bottles. While I do reuse them, only if there is no visible damage or discolouration. So if you lose one that’s fine. The flip side of this is that I always have a large supply of lids which would be fine for home preserving but not bottling milk so let me know if you ever are in need.
Do I need to return bottles regularly?
Yes! Every time you don’t return them, this means I need another fleet of bottles to cover the milk bottling. The more bottles I have to own, the greater the expense.
Well it’s no secret that Oli and I are both quite sentimental people, particularly when it comes to our vehicles. A few weeks ago we took a trip up to my family farm to pick up a tractor, but it’s a little more than just that. Growing up just outside Chiltern in North East Vic, I was a bit of a farm kid and spent a lot of time following dad around the paddocks. My father died suddenly when I was 9 and mum, with 4 daughters under 21 and a full time job took over running the farm. Yeah we think she’s a pretty amazing woman too! Unfortunately for her I soon became a bit of a moody teenager who had no interest in helping her out on the farm. Mum tells me now that she knew from when I was very young that I’d be a farmer. Turns out she knew me much better than I did and after a few years in Melbourne, I discovered this for my self.
There is no denying that another huge reason I farm now is to maintain a connection with Dad, even if we are from pretty different sides of the chemAG/organic farming coin, it brings me a great sense of place and meaning in the world. So this tractor isn’t just any old tractor to me. On the back of this photo it reads ‘Ian with his new tractor’ circa 1981ish.
As Oli drove it out mums gate for the last time to load onto the truck, mum reflected on how her father had been out from England when Dad’s first tractor arrived. Papa Reuben, a market gardener himself, said in a Yorkshire accent, ‘I know how proud you feel to get your own first tractor’.
So my tractor flew along the highway at 100km/h and now resides in Harcourt. It may not have air-conditioning and all the comforts of a modern tractor, or the utility of a front end loader. But it does what we need it to do, runs like a dream and when I’m driving along with a bale on the back I look in the corner where I used to stand as a little kid, watching the road move past under the cab and it definitely brings a smile to my face. To have come so far yet ended up back at the beginning in a way. We’ve named the tractor Ernie (Mum tells me there is a song about Ernie the horse who pulls a milk cart) to join Bert, our 1968 Toyota Stout, who runs our milking parlour and has become a bit of an icon of Sellar Farmhouse Creamery.
We own 6 Stouts between two generations. Oli’s love for the Stout started with his Dad’s 1972 model which he grew up with and learnt to drive in (still on the road).
Oli and I have Vera, our 1978 green road one, a very old one, three for parts and we bought Bert specifically as the milking ute. With a bit of initial fixing up, it’s been extremely reliable, heading out to milk every morning and moving that heavy parlour through the paddocks. Stouts were often used as milk delivery trucks due to their low gearing. Our most recent acquisition is for parts for Bert which was the original milk truck for Woodend and has been parked in a paddock ever since. It came with all the original receipts in the glovebox from when Mr Parker of High St Woodend took delivery in 1969. Oli and I are both so grateful for the opportunities which were given to us by our parents. While we both believe very strongly in maintaining and reusing old equipment rather than buying new, for sustainability reasons. We believe that by building connection and meaning to all that surrounds us, we are more likely to value and look after our possessions, while feeling more satisfaction and enjoyment through their use. It means a lot to me to be farming on the family farm of Katie and her father, Merv. It feels like we’re part of something far greater and enduring. Oli has a dream of restoring Merv’s old truck to become our market truck one day.
So that’s a little of where we’ve come from, which has all directly led us to where we are now. Running our little herd of milkers up on a spectacular mountain in Harcourt. We give thanks to all those who have come before us.
Things are ticking along smoothly at Sellar Farmhouse Creamery at the moment. It’s a dairy farmers dream season with this early autumn break. Getting the rain while there is still a bit of heat and the soil is still warm may give me an extra few months worth of grazing feed.
I had been waiting to see if Berta had a heifer to make the decision on buying a new cow but as she had a bull calf, Otis, I decided to buy another Illawara Dairy Shorthorn who we’ve named Ginger. She’ll be calving in mid May which hopefully should tide me over the winter months with milk supply until Norma calves at the end of October.
Now, with a close to full herd, I thought I’d do proper introductions, as they are at the core of SFC. Running such a small herd means that the individual characteristics of each cow’s milk is very noticeable in the flavour. Cow’s are named by family lines so in future years it’s easy to recognise who is related to who.
Firstly a quick intro about the two main breeds I have in the herd which together create our delicious milk:
A small to average sized, classic dairy cow. Caramel colour often having a darker winter coat with black areas on face, neck, tail and feet. Black colour pigment: visible around eyes and nose. The Jersey cow has the highest butter fat content of the mainstream milking breeds in Australia. She is the best converter of feed into fat and her milk has a yellow appearance when on pasture. A very rich, simple and sweet flavour. Being a higher production cow they have a habit of producing milk first and then looking after themselves which can lead to higher risks of milk fever, weaker immune systems and struggling to keep weight on after calving.
I have two types of Dairy Shorthorns in my herd; the classic English dairy shorthorn and the Illawara dairy shorthorn which is an Australian Breed created by breeding a small amount of Ayrshire and Devon blood into the classic shorthorn. The Illawara is considered to be a straight dairy breed as opposed to the traditional dual purpose Dairy Shorthorn. Both animals are known for their roan markings, they can range from pure white to pure red and everything in between. Red or white colour pigment around the eyes and nose. A medium size animal who is far beefier than a modern dairy cow; looking after herself at the same time as producing milk means they are known for easy calving, resilience, strong mothering instincts, fertility, grazing efficiency and calves which can be raised for meat. Their milk is white with a savory, complex flavour. While there are very few purebred herds of either left in Australia, they were previously one of the most popular breeds.
Named by her previous owner after Roberta Flack, she was our first cow and the start of the singer family line. Now in her 8th lactation she is about 10 years old. Berta is a mix breed, most likely a large percentage Holstein meaning she has a large boney build and definitely produces milk before looking after herself. Reaching 43ltrs a day at peak she has one massive udder which can leave her quite vulnerable. Her milk is similar to the shorhorn in flavour. Berta is the most beautiful creature to behold; calm, affectionate with very strong mothering instincts. She was the matriarch but seems to be dominated by Joyce and Olive currently. At the moment she is feeding Otis during the day. Berta is one of the few cows who comes to her name when called.
Olive is a classic Jersey. Born and raised on the corner of Danns rd, daughter of the infertile Daisy, she will be the start of the edible tree family line. 5 years old and hopefully 6 weeks pregnant with her second calf. A very good milker who held condition after calving and is still producing 12ltrs in the morning after 10 months in lactation. A very rich yellow milk which sometimes you could mistake for straight cream. Olive is very cheeky, she loves to steal food and sneak into areas she shouldn’t. She’s known as boomba as she was so fat before calving. Currently Olive is dominated by Quartz and Iggy. Olive has a very husky jazz moo.
Joyce arrived last August and has been a complete no fuse cow to work with, even if she is the grumpiest old bag. Joyce is the beginning of the Buffy line. She’s a 9 year old Illawara dairy shorthorn who came from a certified organic dairy nearby. True to her breed she had an easy calving with Rupert and once she understood that her milking routine would now happen in a mobile parlour in the paddock she has been a dream to work with, often putting herself back in the stall after milking if I leave the gate open. Her breed combined with her age means her milk is very complex and savory. Last weekend Joyce had a trip to a beef shorthorn bull, so fingers crossed she holds. Joyce doesn’t moo, she yells.
Luna arrived from Guildford as an 18 month pure A2 jersey heifer. Shortly after her arrival, we got her in calf to Satellite and she had Stella last October continuing the Astronomy line. Both Luna and Stella are a little mad, with a quirky energy, but very affectionate. When Luna arrived she’d had very little person contact and I couldn’t touch her, she now is the first cow to come to you for a scratch and comes to her name for milking. They both love a head and brisket scratch, are darker colouring in winter and have a very dainty build. Luna had milk fever after calving and serve edema which led to her losing the use of one quarter of her udder. She has made an incredible recovery and is my best producer, per quarter, now with a classic rich and creamy jersey milk. Luna will probably remain my most vulnerable cow around calving.
Quartz also came from Guildford last year, as an 18 month pure dairy shorthorn heifer. We chose the mineral line as her registered breeding line was Molly and we made a very loose connection to molybdenum. She had a straight forward calving with Onxy last December. Quartz wouldn’t let me near her when she arrived and prior to calving I didn’t know how I would ever tame this cow. Both her and Onxy have a very different energy to the rest, she often does her own thing, can be a little vague and get left behind a bit. She has a very gentle soft nature and loves a good butt scratch. At times she has come into milking by calling her name, currently she just looks up and decides not to, but is easily lead in. Her breed and age makes her milk very simple, clean and savory. Quartz can get picked on a lot however she dominates Olive so theirs always someone to steal from.
Iggy has recently joined the milking herd. The first calf I had on the property, born to Berta with a dairy shorthorn sire. A combination of following the singer line and my fathers nickname being IG. Iggy was a teenage tart who broke in with the neighbours bull, Patti was born 6 weeks ago. Iggy has been my first experience of working with an animal I raised and so far so good, although she can have the attitude of a spoilt brat at times. She lead easily into the stall on day one of milking and while she’s a bit of a kicker, she’s actually doing really well. She hasn’t lost condition at all and had such an easy calving I didn’t know it was happening an hour before hand. She’s currently giving me 8 ltrs from 3/4 in the morning, Patti has the other quarter and the day milk which like quartz is clean, simple and savory. Iggy is quite bossy and dominates everyone except her mother who puts her in her place.
Ginger arrived a week ago as a 5 year old Certified Organic Illawara dairy shorthorn. Finally I have a roan shorthorn and she even has a love heart on her schnoz! So far she seems perky, if still a little weary of me. Her and Joyce seemed to remember each other and hang out together. She will calve in mid May so we still have a few weeks to build trust. This morning we had first contact when she let me give her a good butt scratch, I think she’s starting to see the point in being friends.
Norma Jean was our adopted jersey calf who Berta raised along side Iggy. Marilyn Monroe was also adopted and while she did sing she mainly acted so Norma will split off into a film star line. She arrived as a 24hr old angel who has certainly learnt to hold her own. She lets you know how unhappy she is about not being with Iggy currently and having to baby sit all the young weaned animals. She has a very high pitched moo which adds to her demanding nature. She is 3 months pregnant and I can’t wait for her to join the milking herd.
This is definitely the short version! My herd have become family to me and following on from years of breakfast conversations about the herd at Holy Goat, I could talk about them all day!
These ladies make me so happy, sometimes grumpy, sometimes sad but always full of love for what I do. I wish everyone could experience the feeling of building a relationship of trust with an animal who could very easily dominate you if they pleased. It is a beautiful and humbling experience. The year before I left Melbourne on this journey, a lady said to me ‘if everyone milked a cow in the morning, the world would be a much more peaceful place’.
Breath. Its something I think we all need to remind ourselves currently. What an unknown time we are in. The reason our little crew of farmers up at HOFC chose this career path was to help build a more resilient food system and to provide our community with local, nutrient dense food. It’s long hours for far below minimum wage but it’s become part of who we are and has some very great perks; this mornings milking with my little herd, in my favorite paddock had me feeling more fulfillment and love than I could ever ask for.
But s**t got real! It’s no longer a sexy tag line of community resilience, it’s time to stand up and prove it’s worth. Every week at the farmers market it gets a little slower, more pre-orders, stricter rules, new locations and space set up, but our customers seem to get it more than ever. From the Coop here we are providing food to at least 200 households within the Castlemaine region as well as offering employment to 6+ casual staff. We take our role very seriously.
For industries like dairy processing many of these strict hygiene protocols are an everyday undertaking already. Our factories are always on lockdown from the outside, invisible, potentially fatal risks. Good food safety is not about ticking boxes for compliance, it’s about understanding risks and mitigating them.
My 77 page Food Safety Program is a rather dry document that sets out the rules which together Dairy Food Safety Victoria and I have created for my business.
The first section is the HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) plan for each product. Going through the steps involved: collection/receival of raw milk, pasteurisation, chill, packaging, refrigerated storage and the dispatch/transport/sales, we break apart all the potential risks and their severity to the food safety of the product. We then work through responses to make sure they are all risks are recognised and rectified before the customer opens that bottle. Being able to foresee problems and avoid them is probably a key to all successful businesses.
The second section is the SOP’s (Standard Operating Procedures) for the running of the dairy. This helps in training staff and making sure everyone is on the same page as to what is required and in what order. I have 16 SOP’s for the factory side of the business, from general hygiene, bottle and equipment washing, to food recalls and microbial testing schedules. Then there are 9 SOP’s for the farm side of the business, from the dairy milking to animal traceability. It has been invaluable writing these SOP’s for me to really think through best practice and efficient hand overs.
In the bottled milk world my two main risks are baterial; E.Coli – which is found in the lower intestine of warm-blooded organism, which surrounds me outside in cow manure, and Listeria monocytogenes which can be found in soil, water, vegetation and the faeces of some animals and loves moist environments such as drains when introduced. The latter is the reason pregnant women are advised against eating cheeses with a high moisture content.
Entering this time of the Coronaviris pandemic, I have been able to adapt many of my dairy production protocols for the outside world. Where possible, opening doors with my little finger or elbow. I play a game of interrogation with my hands; ‘and where have you been between scratching the cows and opening the door’. I keep a mental record of everything I’ve touched and what may have touched that before. I wash my hands before starting or recommencing handling of food or clean packaging or equipment intended for food. I treat gloves as hands when it comes to hand washing and I catagorise things as clean or dirty.
Back on the farm things are going well. My version of panic buying has been pallets of bottles and semi loads of hay. I now should be set for most supplies for 6 months if I need to bunker down.
We had a rough few weeks after Berta calved with Otis (Reading). Then 4 weeks later Berta became a grandmother with Iggy having a very non eventful calving 10 days early with Patti (Smith).
I’m now milking 6 and so grateful that I get to spend these difficult times hanging out with these girls, with ample space, clean air, water and access to food produced by people who farm for reasons far beyond a job.
take growing food and feeding our community very seriously. We love
doing it, but for all of us at the Co-Op one of the big reasons we got
into farming is because we believe that the industrial and global food
system is extremely fragile and when something like the coronavirus
happens, we can start to see the truth of that.
We take the health, safety and wellbeing of our community and ourselves
seriously and through this ever-evolving situation we are doing
everything we can to both continue to feed you and stay healthy
ourselves. Every week, from produce grown on our farm, we feed well over
200 local households. If we get sick, those people don’t get our
We are taking more stringent health and safety precautions both on farm
and at market (and everywhere in between) to make sure our produce gets
to you clean and safe. We will be trying out a new system at the markets
this week. It will be a little slower, but it’s the best we can come up
with at this point.
The current advice from government is that farmers markets are exempt
from the ‘no gatherings of over 500 people’ rule as outdoor food markets
are a vital part of keeping communities fed and healthy. Our weekly
market doesn’t have 500 people in attendance at any one time any way,
but we’re still being careful.
We will continue to adapt our systems, as we need to. But for this week this is how the market will look at our stall:
We will have a ‘number’ system (Deli style) to prevent people having to cue.
We will call out your number and personally serve you so that only our sanitized hands touch your produce.
Please bring a basket, bag or box to carry your produce home in.
We are encouraging everyone to pay by card where possible as handling cash can be unhygienic.
We will be sanitizing our hands frequently throughout the market.
Please make sure you also wash all produce before you eat it.
If you aren’t able to make it to the market or farm pick ups because you
are self isolating, please get in contact. We will deliver if needs be,
though it is definitely not our preference.
If you are unwell or have been around anyone who is unwell, please don’t
come to the market. Get in touch and we can work out an alternative so
you can still get produce. We need to stay well so we can keep feeding
It can be easy to let fear and paranoia take over. We are doing our very best to take a measured, clear and preventative approach to feeding the community.
Stay healthy and well, care for each other and don’t forget to check on
your neighbors and friends. In these times of increased ‘social
isolation’ lets all find ways to stay connected and strong.
The Harcourt Organic Farming Co-op team (Sas, Mel, Tess, Ant, Katie, Hugh and Merv)
Berta the cow really holds a very special place in our hearts. She was the first cow we bought and showed us just how amazing a good cow can be. She was also the first cow I had calve, she sailed through it like a pro and Iggy was born. We had naively planned to have the rest of the dairy up and running by the time she calved 21 months ago so it was unknown to me at the time that I would spend the next 18 months making cheese at home every night and we would have to keep to a strict daily cheese consumption quota.
I’m reflecting on this now as Berta is due to calve again this weekend. Her 8th calf, another Dairy Shorthorn, this time no night cheesemaking and I can actually sell her delicious milk!
Everyone on the farm is working like the dream team, milking is a breeze and with this amazing rain we’ve had I’m feeling great about the season. As Berta gets closer though I’m having more sleepless nights with worry. During her last lactation, one week after Oli’s accident when he lost a finger, Berta got mastitis. It was a very dark time for me, I had many moments of questioning if I was cut out for dairy farming.
Two factors lead to Berta’s mastitis. Firstly my mismanagement of the calves. It was my first lesson in always prioritising the cows health above all others. As she was feeding 2 calves and they had become boisterous in their feeding she had developed a bad cut on her teat. As soon as this happened I should have weaned the calves off her straight away, even if this meant extra time feeding calves and me having to milk twice a day and make more cheese. In the long run this still would have taken less time. I didn’t wean them though, and because of these cuts she contracted mastitis. She made an amazing recovery but it has left her udder in the high risk category for future mastitis particularly in the first few months after calving when she’s producing so much milk.
The second factor is her breeding. Berta is a high production cow, we’re talking 43ltrs a day at peak. She’s a big black bitsa, probably mainly Friesian. This has been a big influence on me to move away from these high production breeds. There is a reason the average dairy cow only makes it to 5 years old; when you breed an animal to be so productive in one form it leaves them vulnerable in others. Dairy animals are very vulnerable when compared to an animal breed for meat. A local Dairy Shorthorn farmer explained to me how before the war and the beginning of industrial agriculture, most farmers favoured dual purpose breeds such as the Shorthorn as small farms had to be financial resilience and this was only possible through making an income off all elements of the business; growing out the male calves for meat was a key part of this. So yes, many of these older breeds produce less butter fat than a jersey and less litres than a Friesian/Holstein, but with that comes a more resilient animal from what I’ve seen. Obviously within this every animal is an individual with there own weaknesses and then the way they are managed has a huge impact on their health and strength. However as we have seen with all heritage breeds vs single purpose breeds, whether it’s egg birds or meat birds, high production meat animals and dairy animals, when you breed for one particular trait you leave other traits lacking. The way they are managed over generations also impacts how they respond to conditions. So many of these older breeds will do well on what many would call ‘poorer’ quality feed. I question this ‘poorer’ as many of the dairy breeds respond better to high protein feeds and grain however cows as a species have evolved as grazers and the only grain they would naturally be eating is seed heads on grasses, not kilos at a time. So living in Central Victoria where the pastures are far from ‘high quality’, I need to be looking towards animals who do better on the feed we can grow. After calving, my Shorthorns haven’t skipped a beat and have stayed in beautiful condition, the Jersey and Berta however are much harder to keep condition on as they priorities their energy for milk production, sacrificing themselves.
So I’m feeling a little melancholy about Berta calving this time round. Will she get sick again due to past damage? Will I be able to keep her in such good condition that she will have the strength to fight for herself. In organic farming this is how you manage health, rather than fighting illness yourself, you are equipping the animal with everything you can to fight herself. I’m also feeling guilt, that our industry/culture/society has chased this cheap commodity food to a point where we have created super animals who are such a high risk to themselves. That’s really at the core of animal cruelty to me.
Learning is hard when working within animal systems. It often happens at the expense of an animal, so the key is to never make the mistake twice and to learn from others mistakes and knowledge as much as you possibly can.
So I watch with eagle eyes. This cow has brought me so much joy and wisdom, I hope to be able to do my best to ensure her health, minimal pain and treat her with the greatest respect for, hopefully, many years to come, even if this may be her last calving and she gets to retire.
Now that we are up and running I thought I would spend this post reflecting on the financial cost of setting up Sellar Farmhouse Creamery to date.
The back story is I spent the previous 10 years saving to either buy a property or start a business. Not needing to take out a loan to start the business meant as the build dragged on I did not have the added pressure of owing the bank and it gave us the freedom to stay true to our ethics. I must also add that I have not had to pay rent or household power bills while this build happened as we live off grid in a house Oli previously built.
So what did the build cost? Below is a break down of costs so far but a few explainer notes first.
I have included Oli’s hours which have not yet been paid. Paying him at only $30 an hour will add up to $70,000 so this is not to be over looked as many of the jobs he did I would have paid at least 3 times as much to have a contractor do. I haven’t counted my hours at all but my focus has been much more on running the farm than building. I’ve made note of a few other people who donated large amounts of time/labour, however I don’t think there is a single person who has been involved in this business so far who hasn’t gone above and beyond what was asked. As I always say, none of this would have been possible if not for the generosity of so many people. Words can’t express how grateful I am to them for helping me take this crazy dream and make it a reality!
I’ve added a column to show what was new and what was second hand, much of the materials were second hand which meant that sometimes we got a good deal, and sometimes that good deal was balanced out by the hours Oli spent fixing it up. But we believe very strongly in reusing materials so we wouldn’t change a thing.
The most difficult thing financial was that we hadn’t banked on running a farm for 18 months before selling any product. So while the build didn’t blow out to much, we did spent far more money than expected before some came back in and have put a few projects on hold until the business is up and running.
The repair of our Pasteurisation vat after it was blown up cost $8,607 which was covered in full by the professional’s insurance claim so we didn’t end up out of pocket, just more grey hairs.
So this is what it took beyond the blood, sweat and tears to start up. The next big projects to come are:
the yogurt making equipment
Butter and cream equipment
Solar photovoltaic panels to help reduce our dependency on grid electricity.
Biomass furnace: Oli is currently installing, with much excitement, the biomass furnace to heat the water in winter and to heat the water above the temperature which our flat plate solar thermal can take it in summer.
I’m sure you will hear a lot about this from us in future posts.