No turning back

By Rick Bayne

OWEN AND Carlie Barry don’t mind taking on a challenge or two.

When the dairy crisis was at its nadir, instead of selling cows they leased a second farm.

In early 2019 they will move onto their first purchased farm at Carpendeit but at the same time they will continue to lease a farm at Weerite, both in south-west Victoria.

Mix this with raising two teenage children and two children aged under three and it’s a recipe for a busy lifestyle, but they are relishing the challenge.

Owen grew up on a farm at Alvie, spent six years on a cropping farm on the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia and worked as a truck driver and milker.

Carlie was from Ballarat and worked in agribusiness and as a Fonterra area manager while also milking in the mornings and evenings.

Delivering grain to farms inspired Owen to return to full-time farming and sharefarming was the logical progression.

He had been approached to do relief milking for two weeks with a 200-cow Jersey herd while also managing his parents’ beef farm at Alvie.

The relief work was enjoyable and a few weeks later he was called back to the farm at Dreeite after the farmer had a heart attack.

Owen suggested sharefarming.

He started in 2010 on a one-third share and went to 50:50 in two years. In 2014 Owen and Carlie started looking for a lease option and found a suitable farm at Tandarook.

“Sharefarming was quite controlled and we wanted to lease so we had more control over the business,” Carlie said.

“We knew our cows had the genetic potential and breeding behind them that if they were fed to their potential could do really well.

“There’s more risk but if everything goes well there’s the potential to be financially a lot better off.”

They milk 300 Jerseys on the 280 ha farm on a 70–30 split calving with the bulk in autumn.

The cows are producing 136 000 kg of milk solids; an average 1.1 kg MS/kg of body weight, or about 485 kg MS/ cow.

“The Jerseys are smaller but they’re more economic and easier to handle,” Owen said.

The move south was difficult for the cows who struggled to adapt to the farm conditions.

“We had issues with animal health and diseases we hadn’t even heard of,” Carlie said.

“The further south you go, the dirt isn’t as fertile. The plants are healthier and your cows are naturally healthier with better soil; down here you have to put out so much fertiliser and then it’s locked up,” Owen added.

In 2016, at the height of the dairy crisis, they leased a second farm at Weerite and bought a second herd.

“After sharefarming when we were trying to lease a farm, there were a few months where we had to cow-park and it was a nightmare,” Carlie said.

“We never wanted to be in that situation again so when the opportunity came up to lease a second farm we did as a back-up if anything happened.”

She admitted it was a risk, especially as the cows weren’t as cheap and easy to find as they had expected.

“We couldn’t find any Jerseys so bought crossbreds and still paid $1500-plus for them, but we saw the potential and we could grow our cow numbers.”

They are on track to have the herd paid off within five years. A young couple is managing the farm for them.

Their lease agreement on the Tandarook property expires next March but the Weerite lease lasts until 2021.

“Nothing will change there,” Owen said. “At our new farm our herd may downsize a bit so any spare cows will go to that second herd and we’ll be able to cull the bottom out of the second herd.”

All the changes have been with farm ownership as the ultimate goal.

“We’ve expanded from a 200 to 300 to 600 herd, the next step was farm ownership,” Carlie said.

“We could see it made sense and we were confident of the figures. Mentally and emotionally, if we had to continue leasing for too much longer we probably would have got out of the industry.

“Leasing is like renting a house. We’ve been lucky both owners have been good with maintenance but you’re limited when leasing.

“When we move to our own farm we’re not going to have a lot of money to spend on improvements but it’s something we can put on our list and work towards. You’ve got no-one else to blame.”

Their herd will be moved to the new 170 ha Carpendeit farm.

“It’s a simple and less labour-intensive farm with good options for putting on a sharefarmer down the track,” Owen said.

“The layout is a lot easier; this is a long and skinny farm and the cows have to do a lot of walking up and down hills. Our new farm is all flat and has a simple layout.”

Both Owen and Carlie have had back issues and say the new dairy — a 13-a-side double-up with cup removers — is a better option than the lease farm’s 25-a-side swingover.

“Our new farm is a one-person dairy and the height is a lot better,” Owen said.

As part of an arrangement with the vendor over a 12-month settlement period, Owen and Carlie have access to 60 ha of the farm.

“Some crops are in the ground now and after harvesting the silage paddocks we will be cropping them as well,” Owen said.

Kale, turnips and chicory have been planted for grazing, barley and Italian rye-grass also with chicory have been planted for silage, and sorghum will be planted in November for silage and grazing.

The aim is to buy minimal feed supplies.

“Ideally, I’d love to have some sort of crop year-round so there’s always feed and I think that farm will do it,” Owen said.

In their four years at Tandarook, this has been the first season they’ve run out of silage, forcing them to buy in hay. This season is shaping up much better.

Despite the difficulties, Owen and Carlie have continued to feed their cows well, including ample supply of grain even though prices have been soaring.

Production year-to-date has been the best they’ve had in the four years.

Their herd is top priority. They use corrective breeding and purchase top-line semen to build strength and capacity, components, type, udder and workability.

Their registered Jerseys have won and scored placings in the Western District Jersey Club on-farm challenge.