DARYL AND Sue Bryce tried retiring 18 years ago — it didn’t work out.
Daryl was 52 at the time, Sue was 50. They thought they could retire to the outskirts of Warrnambool, do a bit of caravanning, relaxing and fishing.
It was good for a while, but as the city expanded and started to lock them in, the lure of the land was too strong.
Six years ago, they returned to dairy farming after a 12-year hiatus and now, at 70 and 68, they’re still going strong.
“We got tired and moved into the edge of town to retire, but the township started building around us and all of a sudden you have neighbours that are really close,” Daryl said.
They had sold their herd and their Naringal farm, ending all ties to the dairy industry, though their son Greg has a farm at Nullawarre.
Despite such a long break, the bug was still biting and they found a suitable small farm at Cudgee.
“I was going to buy this farm and lease it,” Daryl said.
“Our son Tim decided to milk a few cows, so we went back into it.”
Although less than 50ha, the Mt Pleasant farm south of the Princes Hwy had good soil, irrigation and a good dairy.
“We had been 12 years retired, but Daryl always loved the land and the Jersey cows,” Sue said.
The plan was for Tim to do most of the work, with Daryl and Sue as back up.
“It was good because we were only milking 100 cows, which was enough to keep him going and a bit for us as well, but Tim got a partner and they got married, so it wasn’t big enough for two families,” Daryl said.
The farm across the highway, with nearly 100 hectares and connected by an underpass, came up for sale and they bought it.
Its old dairy wasn’t suitable and it didn’t have irrigation, but the mix was perfect. About half the northern side is used for the milking herd and the rest for dry stock.
The Bryces are now milking about 230 and have about 380 in the herd.
“We have been building the two farms up,” Sue said. “We had to start all over again, start a new business from scratch.”
Having Jerseys was an essential part of the deal and they were able to buy a good herd from Simpson, although they didn’t get back into showing.
“I mostly missed breeding the cows,” Daryl said. “That’s what I like the most; not the milking side of things.”
The biggest change they noticed in their absence was the attitude of processors.
“They’re not as loyal today,” Daryl said. “Seven dollars is good, but when you look at the costs, it should be probably $9.”
The former Saputo suppliers are now with Bega, seeking better prices for Jersey protein and lamenting the poor prices paid through winter.
“Young farmers starting up small don’t get the same prices as the big suppliers,” Daryl said.
“I believe everyone should get paid the same. There needs to be a lot of changes to encourage young people to get into the industry.”
Daryl also believes factories should better recognise the value of milk solids in their payment systems.
“There are only a few factories paying 50:50 fat to protein ratio, which is where I believe it should be,” he said.
“Quality control is much harder today. We get better quality and so we should get a better price for it, but that’s just not happening.”
During his absence, Daryl noticed improvements in cows, but not in pastures.
“I don’t think pasture species have improved at all. With the drier seasons, they’re not hanging on as well. We’ve had some that burn out in the hot weather and we have to sow them every year.”
Cows are another matter, and that’s where his heart really lies.
“Introducing North American bloodlines improved it a lot,” Daryl said.
“I like the dairyness of the Jerseys and their ability to milk.
“They’re producing better and living longer as well. Loyalty to your cattle is the key to success.”
The farm is achieving about 5 kgMS fat and 4 for protein most of the year.
“That’s good, but factories should be paying for it,” Daryl said.
“The factories say they can’t change it overnight, it will take three or four years, but AB companies are changing their bulls’ fat and protein percentages. They are ahead of the factories.”
The cows are producing about 20 to 21 litres, peaking around 23 to 24 litres in spring.
The farm had split calving, but is going out of spring calving because there’s not enough money in it.
“We’ve been offered 80 cents a litre incentive for any extra production from November to July ahead of the previous year, but most of that would be lost to extra feed costs,” Daryl said.
“That’s why we’re going out of spring calving.
“There’s a little bit extra in it to keep the factory kicking over, but it’s not worth it.”
On the back of a good season, which saw nearly 1000 rolls of silage cut this year, the farm is looking pretty good.
Tim does most of the milking, though Daryl steps up during harvest, Tim’s wife Kate rears the calves and Sue helps with babysitting.
It is a family affair with everyone contributing.
However, thoughts of a second and permanent retirement sometimes return, though there’s no timeline at this stage.
“It will have to come to a time when you think about the caravan and the fishing rods,” Daryl said.
When they retire, it won’t be to the city.
“There are two houses on the farm, so we can stay here. Tim can hire a worker in my spot.”