Churning change in processing dream

By Dairy News

TWELVE MONTHS ago, the owners of Gippsland Jersey were notified the milk factory they were using would no longer be able to process their milk.

“Having our own processing facility has always been part of the Gippsland Jersey dream,” co-owner Sallie Jones said.

Gippsland Jersey co-owners, Steve Ronalds and Sallie Jones, founded the then single origin milk brand out of the milk crisis in 2016.

The pillars of the business include returning a fair price to a dairy farmer for their herd’s milk and shining a spotlight on mental health and wellbeing.

Mr Ronalds’ Jersey herd, located on his farm at Jindivick, provided the single origin milk for Gippsland Jersey. However, the business partners always had the vision of growing supply as demand for their full cream Jersey liquid milk product grew.

More recently they recruited the well-known Wallacedale Jerseys (founded 1947), of Poowong, to supply milk.

Early last year, the milk processor they were using gave four weeks notice.

“They were going to stop processing our milk,” Mrs Jones said.

An interim solution gave them room to crowd-fund and achieve a longer-term solution, which opened in late January this year.

Mrs Jones’ late father, Mike Bowen, was a visionary who wanted to value add his herd’s milk.

He built a factory in the 1980s at Lakes Entrance, on his Jersey dairy farm, to process his herd’s milk and make ice-cream. The product was further value-added with the family selling ice-cream direct to customers from a retail shop in Lakes Entrance.

Sadly, a few years ago Mr Bowen was found on his farm after taking his own life.

The crowd funding effort by Gippsland Jersey 12 months ago was successful, but the work was long and laborious.

Steve Ronalds with the direct pour bottling plant he purchased from orange growers in Griffiths, NSW, and installed at the recently commissioned milk factory.

Mr Ronalds moved his family (wife, Bec, and children) to Lakes Entrance so he could work full-time on the factory rebuild and install the necessary equipment. It has taken most of 12 months. He left his herd at Jindivick in the capable hands of a sharefarmer.

“There’s lots of different pieces of equipment; a cream separator and an homogeniser from the 1970s, a butter churn from the 1950s and a brand new pasteuriser,” Mr Ronalds said, on a tour of the factory with Dairy News Australia.

“The direct pour bottle filler was bought from farmers in Griffith, NSW, who were using it for processing and bottling oranges into juice.

“I built the cleaning equipment from scratch.”

Two freezers and two coolrooms have been converted into one coolroom; the factory walls and ceiling were repaired where necessary and repainted.

The butter churn, like other pieces of equipment, has a story — it was originally from the Korumburra butter factory, was bought and used by Naomi Ingleton of King Valley Butter, who sold it to Gippsland Jersey. It has enabled Gippsland Jersey to diversify into making its own branded butter.

“Fortunately, Naomi has shared her own butter recipes with us,” Mrs Jones said.

The refurbished factory employs a minimum of five workers each shift. The workforce is expected to expand as Gippsland Jersey diversifies its product range and begins recruiting more farmer suppliers to meet increased market demand. The owners are in the process of recruiting a third dairy farm to supply milk and have forecast a need for six farms supplying the brand.

“We’re currently set up for 2500 litres/hour and can increase to 4000 litres/hour easily, with a bit more milk storage,” Mr Ronalds said.

“We had the opportunity to buy the equipment and be mentored in creating butter, so we thought we’d value-add with cream, butter and ice-cream.

“Our milk is supplied by Jersey cows; it’s natural to want to make butter and ice-cream out of it.”

He said the biggest challenge of moving from a single origin to a multiple supplier model was relying on farmers to guarantee quality. Milk is picked up two to three times weekly from across Gippsland, to be delivered directly to the factory at Lakes Entrance.