Family relishes farming future in safe haven

By Sophie Baldwin

NICK OSSTHUIZEN is 10 000 km away from home.

He might have grown up on a family dairy farm on the Eastern Cape in South Africa but today he is dairy farming on another continent, in a different climate and in a new industry, not that he is complaining — he is relishing the challenge.

Nick and his wife Lyndl moved to Australia after political unrest in their country made it to unsafe to continue dairying.

Dairying is all Nick has ever wanted to do and as a fifth-generation farmer you could say it’s in his blood.

In South Africa his family milked 1200 cows in two separate herds (Jersey and Holstein) across two farms on 380 ha while three dry land properties were used for young stock and dry cows.

The milkers mainly grazed lucerne over summer and rye-grass in the winter.

Pastures were irrigated through centre pivots and the business employed 36 workers.

Political unrest has been swirling through South Africa for sometime and initially it was far away from the Ossthuizen farm and didn’t affect them personally.

Things changed in 2014 when an elderly white South African woman living on a small property in the middle of the farm was raped, dragged around the farm and murdered by a gang.

The farm was targeted and anything that wasn’t bolted down or locked up was stolen.

“They would steal the cables and the copper sprinklers from the pivot; we would go to irrigate and there would be no power or we would turn it on, and water would rush out everywhere because the sprinklers were gone,” Nick said.

The final straw came when early one morning a gang broke into the dairy stole everything including the computers there were footprints all around the house.

“It just became too dangerous in South Africa for us and our young family so we made the decision to look for work in another country,” Nick said.

Initially Nick looked in Denmark but then he decided to apply for some jobs in Australia he saw advertised on Gumtree.

“I applied for a few jobs and didn’t hear anything and then a month later someone contacted me. I spoke to them and the next thing I knew I was on a plane to Australia,” Nick said.

Heavily pregnant, Lyndl was unable to fly and followed her husband out a couple of months later with a toddler, a newborn baby and 75 kg of luggage.

The couple came to Australia in 2016, just in time to experience one of the wettest winters on record.

The initial job they came out for didn’t work out and they have now found themselves in a management position at Katamatite.

The business milks 550 mixed cows that calve in autumn, spring and again in December.

“We run a fresh and stale herd. The cows graze pasture during the day and come up to the pad before milking where they are fed a mixed ration,” Nick said.

Infrastructure includes two feed pads and a 40-bed free stall barn for sick cows and calving.

All the management decisions are made in conjunction with the owners, the Buchanan family.

“It is very different farming in Australia from the soil structure to the pastures. We had permanent irrigation through centre pivots while here in Australia it is mostly flood,” Nick said.

Nick said one of the hardest things he has had to get used to, is now doing the work himself.

“In South Africa we could afford a lot of employees. The dairy industry was valued but we did have our ups and downs and it was never consistent — that doesn’t seem to change no matter what country you are dairying in,”.

They have also been able to build up a small herd of their own which they are milking at the Buchanan farm.

Lyndl is responsible for calf rearing and is a member of the milking team along with other work.

“I am in the process of completing my Certificate III in agriculture and I will go on and do my Cert IV one day,” Lyndl said.

The couple has found a wealth of dairy information that wasn’t available in South Africa.

Looking to the future, they want to continue farming in Australia and are in the process of applying for permanent residency.

“We miss family and friends but our future is here in Australia, we hope to never have to go back to South Africa because it is just too unsafe,” Lyndl said.

“The Buchanan family have been very supportive of us and we will always be grateful for the opportunity and support they give us.”