FIVE YEARS ago Dean and Sarah Kendrick took a huge leap of faith and bought a dairy farm.
Not a strange thing to do really, except Mr Kendrick was a builder in Melbourne and his farming experience was limited to some time spent on his grandparents’ farm when he was growing up.
“I used to go there as a kid and I just loved it,” Mr Kendrick said.
“The memories and the freedom, it was something I really wanted my own children to experience — not just a patch of dirt the size of a matchbox in the backyard of a house in Melbourne.”
In September 2013 that dream became a reality and the Kendricks, including their four children, began their dairying journey on a 50 ha farm just out of Kyabram (although Mr Kendrick did move up three months earlier to learn the ropes from the previous owner).
And it seems all family members have embraced the change and now love their life in the country.
Mrs Kendrick laughs as she remembers in the early days, Mr Kendrick heading off to get the cows for milking followed by the dogs and a line of children on motorbikes.
“Our neighbour used to kill himself laughing when he saw that,” she said.
The decision for the family to buy a farm was not taken lightly and it did take them two years to make the move.
Their wish list was to stay in Victoria and they liked what they saw at Kyabram — its close proximity to town and good dirt were attractive, but so was the fact it was a smaller farm.
“At 50 ha it could be attractive to anyone and easy to sell if we ever have to but I am hoping that won’t ever be the case,” Mr Kendrick said.
“We want to build up something for the kids down the track, something that is sustainable and viable and I would love to be farming with my son or daughter one day in the future.”
Starting out with nothing wasn’t easy, but the couple has made the dairy dream come true over the past five years through willpower, determination and lots of hard work.
“We started out with no tractor and no cows,” Mr Kendrick said.
“We had nothing and knew nothing and it really was a massive learning curve for us all. We chucked ourselves in the deep end and really challenged ourselves, but I always knew in the back of my mind it would be worth it.”
The couple initially bought a herd of 80 cows, picking up an extra 20 here and there. This season they will be milking about 150 split-calving cows.
Mrs Kendrick does most of the milking, a job she surprisingly found she loves.
“I get a real kick out of watching our cattle grow, especially the heifers coming through, and life is so much quieter in the dairy then a house filled with four children.”
Mr Kendrick feeds the calves, along with help from whoever of the four kids is available at the time, and it really has been a family effort to get to where they are today.
The couple has invested heavily in upgrading the dairy and spent quite a bit of time improving pastures and installing Padman stops to the irrigation infrastructure.
The pasture consists of 30 per cent lucerne, 40 per cent permanent pasture and 30 per cent annuals — a mix Mr Kendrick is pretty happy with.
“I have met lots of great people who have been happy to share their information and experience with me, along with our farm consultant who has been great as well,” he said.
“We are starting to see some of the rewards now as our pastures improve and our heifers start to come through the herd and it really is a great feeling.”
Over the next 12 months the Kendricks would like to be able to automate their Padman stops to help reduce some of the workload. Long-term they would like to build a feed pad to take some of the pressure off their pastures during wet months and to cool the cows off during summer.
Like most northern Victorian farmers, the Kendricks are feeling the pinch of tight times.
“The first couple of years were good but the last two have been very tough and the biggest worry we face in our future is water,” Mr Kendrick said.
“When we moved here we did buy some permanent water so we have a little bit up our sleeve, but it certainly is the biggest threat to our business moving forward.
“It is a terrible feeling to struggle to pay your bills, especially when that has never been the way we have done business before. The milk price isn’t keeping up with the cost of production, which is putting pressure on everything.”
The couple says dairy farmers are a resilient group and only the tough ones are left in the industry — but there is a limit to how far and how long people can struggle.
“We would like to build stock numbers up but the bigger you are the harder you can sometimes fall so it’s all about growing our business to a sustainable point,” Mr Kendrick said.
“It doesn’t seem to matter whether you milk 200 or 600 cows, everyone seems to have the same worries and concerns at the moment.”