Loretta and Allan Warren might be relative newcomers to the dairy game — they ventured into the industry in 2009 after spending years running a plumbing business — but they certainly haven’t been resting on their laurels.
The couple milks 600 split-calving Friesian and crossbreed cows on 620 ha near Kyabram.
They initially started out on a smaller 200 ha property but moved to their current farm in 2011.
“We moved here because we could consolidate our farming business,” Mrs Warren said.
“At the time the Connections program couldn’t guarantee water supply and, because this farm was located on a backbone channel, it offered us water security which was essential for our future.”
The farm was previously used for cropping so it offered up a blank canvas, although it did have an old 50-unit rotary dairy which has been refurbished.
Twelve months ago, the rising cost of electricity prompted the couple to install a 40 kW solar panel system on the roof of the dairy. The system consists of 160, 260 watt panels. They chose not to install battery storage and may do that at a later date.
“We investigated solar for a couple of years before we went ahead — it is quite a significant investment, but it is an investment that will well and truly pay for itself over time,” Mrs Warren said.
It costs the Warrens about $13,000 in repayments annually and they have saved about $8500 off their power bill this year. Mrs Warren did expect the savings to be higher, but there were a few hiccups with the initial solar start-up which impacted on solar usage.
The afternoon milking is usually started by 3 pm, which takes full of advantage of the afternoon sun.
“We have always milked early as that gives our employees a chance to spend time with family and friends. Now, with solar, we have the extra bonus of utilising the sun and our summer milking is very low cost and with the price of power set to go up in the future, our savings over time will be even greater,” Mrs Warren said.
The Warrens recently completed an energy audit, through funding from Sustainability Victoria, and they are looking at the opportunities to reduce energy consumption.
“We are certainly looking at the audit’s recommendations and utilising the 1:1 funding available for putting in place any of the recommendations,” Mrs Warren said.
She said solar power fitted in with their green ethos for dairying by reducing their greenhouse gas emissions.
“We love dairy farming and our cows. We place a lot of emphasis on healthy soils, healthy bugs and healthy grass, through our composting program, which produces fewer weeds and helps with water retention and drainage. We aim to look after our land and ecosystems and we have a number of tree plantations and wildlife corridors.”
The Warrens have no regrets about embarking on a dairy career later in life and, in preparation for the big change, reared 150 heifer calves so they had a herd when they started.
Mr Warren grew up on a dairy farm and it was always a dream of his to end up back on the land and Mrs Warren has surprised herself by how much she enjoys the demands of life on a dairy farm.
“It is interesting that’s for sure,” she laughed.
“I feel a real sense of achievement growing a clean, green product for consumers. Of course there are ups and downs and challenges but at the end of the day the buck stops with us and we really enjoy the work we do and the dairy industry.”
The Warrens are focusing on producing as much home-grown fodder as possible and place a lot of emphasis on caring for their stock and providing a good work environment. Most of the staff has been employed with them for between two and seven years and they are viewed as an integral part of their business, saying “without them we cannot move forward”.
Due to the current water climate, the Warrens are gradually moving away from permanent pasture and instead are focusing on annuals and crops to assist with water efficiency.
“We have been on the farm for six years and this is the best harvest year we have had. So far we have conserved around 1400 tonne and we have some maize and sorghum planted for summer.”
Mrs Warren said receiving 120 mm of rain in December wasn’t ideal and about 25 ha of their summer crop was affected. “We are hoping the damage is only minimal.”
Mrs Warren is the secretary of the West Goulburn UDV/VFF branch and firmly believes in the work the UDV/VFF does.
“Our branch aims to keep all farmers updated on opportunities and threats to our industry, and provides us with a channel to voice our views and needs,” she said.
“I would like to see more farmers attending our meetings and investing in a UDV/VFF membership. After all it is our future.
“Many farmers don’t realise the benefits our representative bodies negotiate on our behalf, like saving the diesel rebate and primary producers’ rego, along with providing a strong voice around the many voices of animal and environmental activists.
“They do a lot of behind the scenes work to ensure primary producers get some breaks and I feel they are well worth supporting.”
Looking to the future, the couple may increase the herd to 700 and is continually looking at ways to improve the business.
Chief calf rearer Maddie Glad does a great job of managing the calves from birth through to weaning.