In dairying for the long haul

By Dairy News

WHO SAYS age is a barrier? Not Stephen and Jessica Searle. The Cohuna dairy farmers are still putting the cups on a Brown Swiss-Friesian cross cow who turned 17 this year. The old girl recently calved and while she is starting to slow down, she has spent many years among the top cows in the herd, testing with an average production index of 129.

“She has been an extremely good milker, she has never had mastitis and she keeps getting pregnant — she has well and truly earnt her retirement when the time comes, if she doesn’t drop dead in the yard one day,” Mr Searle said.

He said she has had 12 calvings, resulting in seven daughters.

“None of them have had the longevity that she has had though. One disappeared on agistment, one died, one we had to cull early and one daughter is about nine and starting to give out already.

“We have 12 descendants in the herd which includes daughters, granddaughter and great granddaughters.”

Mr Searle describes her as a very easygoing cow and low-fuss, who is happiest eating grass and making milk. She is not overly interested in a pat but she does like to lead the way into the dairy, but only on the right hand side.

“She has milked in three sheds over the years Stephen Searle purchased a dairy farm five years ago. He runs a mixed Friesian, Jersey and Brown Swiss herd at Cohuna and that has never worried her. Her feet are starting to bother her a little bit and last year she had retained membranes — that was her first piece of treatment in 13 years.”

Mr Searle has been involved in the dairy industry all his life. He grew up on a dairy farm at Macorna and was able to establish his own herd by taking ownership of every third calf that hit the ground.

“I was able to go and build my herd up from there. Today we have a mixed breed herd by choice but the main components are Aussie Red, Jersey and Friesian.”

Stephen and his wife Jessica purchased their own 121 ha dairy farm at Cohuna six years ago.

“We wanted to be close to family and the price of this farm was reduced at the time when we were looking to buy. It is a nice farm but it was rundown,” Mr Searle said.

This season the couple will milk 170 cows, not too far away from the goal of 180. The herd is 50/50 spring and autumn calving. Mr Searle said milking that number allowed them to do 90 per cent of the work themselves.

“We don’t have any employees or a mixer wagon and we find this number works well for the pasture we grow and the grass-based system we run.”

Pastures consist of clovers and Italians, some lucerne and summer crops including triple SSS sorghum. The couple uses the temporary water market.

“We don’t have the reliability of owning permanent water — it is a capital outlay we couldn’t afford so we are exposed to the risks of the temporary water market,” Mr Searle said.

“We have found the last few years financially challenging but hopefully demand will outstrip supply in the future and things will turn around.”

Mr Searle said he was not really sure of the one thing he loved about dairying in particular.

“I get excited about picking AI straws and the whole process of breeding cows. I am happy when the cows are milking well and eating grass and I enjoy the feeling of working in the wide open spaces.

“It has always been a dream of mine to own my own farm.”