A DECADE ago, Grayden and Lachie Russell knew a lot about the heat and dust of Mildura but nothing about the green grass and farms of south-west Victoria.
Now Grayden, 23, and Lachie, 19, are firmly entrenched in the dairy industry, working together on Brendan Rea’s dairy farm near Allansford.
“Before we moved here, I’d never even seen a dairy cow,” Lachie said, but a twist of fate introduced them to the industry.
When their father moved to Warrnambool for work nine years ago, the family rented a house on the Rea farm.
“It was a bit different; a lot colder than Mildura,” Grayden said.
“We didn’t really see a lot of green grass in Mildura,” Lachie said. “We came down this time of year and there was green grass everywhere.”
Grayden, 15 at the time, was asked if he wanted to milk once a week.
Over time he started doing a few more shifts and helping with other farm jobs and when one of the full-time staff members left, he was offered a traineeship.
When Grayden had a year off Lachie took his position, after the 12-month break Grayden was again offered a job.
Neither brother had previously considered dairy as a career option.
“I never had any intention of working on a dairy but then Brendan offered me a milking on a Friday afternoon,” Grayden said.
“Dad used to pick me up from school at lunchtime and I’d come out here and milk. I liked the cash and enjoyed the work.
“On school holidays I might do four or five milkings and it got to the stage when I was about 16, I’d do all the school holidays. If they were busy, I’d help fencing and other jobs.”
After branching out for a year to work on a beef and sheep farm in South Australia, Grayden has come full circle and sees his future in dairy.
“I’d never leave again; this is my life now,” he said.
Working together isn’t a problem for the siblings. “We’ve always been pretty close so working together is good,” Lachie said.
“We get along, no problem.”
Grayden and Lachie’s parents have now moved to Melton for work but the boys are staying put.
Grayden and his partner are expecting a baby and last month moved out of the farm house but Lachie remains on site.
Another trainee has just joined the crew and the brothers work alongside a veteran of more than 20 years on the farm.
There are no designated titles and Brendan Rea encourages the four to work together to manage all the jobs.
“Brendan doesn’t put titles on us and likes to think of us as one unit,” Grayden said.
“We’re all happy with that. We just chat about what we’re doing, do it and then catch up to decide what we’ll do next.”
It’s a busy high-production farm, with a maximum 800 cows on 325ha. It runs smoothly, achieving solid figures.
“We max out at 800 then we start drying off again for spring,” Grayden said.
The herd is virtually all Friesian with only a small number of crosses.
Although in a high rainfall area, 40 ha of the farm is under irrigation.
“While we’re drying off, we still only get down to 400 to 450 so the irrigation is handy over summer,” Lachie said.
They feed year-round to maintain production and the high stocking rate of about 2.5 cows per hectare.
“We’re a high production farm and we’re pumping the feed into them,” Grayden said.
“We’re flat out with urea and ProGibb.”
Production sits about 21 500 litres a day at the moment while drying off cows for spring calving but can get up to 23 000 when things are perfect. The herd average is about 32 litres per cow.
They feed about five tonnes of grain per day across the herd when at full stocking rate, plus hay depending on amount of pasture in each paddock.
The herd is divided into high production and low production groups based on statistics obtained from the dairy computer system, installed as part of the 60-unit rotary built about nine years ago.
“That makes it a lot easier; we can adjust the feed to fit what she’s producing,” Grayden said.
Over summer in particular the cows are fed near the dairy to avoid lost production from excessive walking, with summer crops being drilled heavily to cope with the high stock numbers.
Heifers usually calve from February 14, and the cows start a week later and calve till the last week of May. About 100 to 150 cows start spring calving in early August. The farm achieves a 70 per cent in-calf rate with AI and then uses bulls for four weeks to clean up.
The brothers are keen to learn and contribute more.
Grayden has completed his Certificate IV in Agriculture and Lachie his Certificate III, and both are encouraged to attend field days.
“If we’re learning, Brendan’s happy to pay for it because it progresses us as farmers,” Lachie said.
“Running an 800-cow farm when you bring in so much feed is a big thing. Farming changes and we can bring back that new knowledge from doing those courses.”
Although it wasn’t in the initial plans, their parents accept their career choices.
“I think Mum and Dad are happy now; we’re keeping busy and happy,” Grayden said.