From milking 32 cows to running a dairy factory

By Sophie Baldwin

It is fair to say farming runs through the veins of the Cochrane family.

John is a fourth generation Queensland dairy farmer; his two brothers and two sisters are all farmers and his wife Margaret comes from a long line of farmers as well.

That love has flowed on to John’s children, nieces and nephews — with 14 out of the 19 next generation also involved in agriculture.

“I guess you could say we are a dedicated farming family,” John said.

That dedication to stay in the industry saw Margaret and John, who farm in Mary Valley (two hours north of Brisbane), purchase Kenilworth Dairies in 2017 — a cheese, yoghurt, mousse, ice-cream and soon-to-be milk processing facility.

“I supplied Parmalat and sat on the board for 31 years and nine years at the Queensland Dairy Farmers Organisation and it became apparent to me, if I didn’t value-add to my business, our family farm was in jeopardy and we could become another exiting statistic,” John said.

The contraction of the Queensland dairy industry has been significant over recent times with production to drop below 300 million litres this year, with the number of dairy farmers plummeting from 1545 prior to deregulation (2000) to less than 300.

John said while it had been a huge awakening adding processing to their own dairy business, it did give them certainty in their future and hopefully those of other dairy farmers in the area, as production expands at the factory and they can take on additional suppliers.

John and Margaret began their farming journey together as a couple when they leased and later purchased a dairy farm in Coles Creek, milking 32 cows.

“The last dairy farm we purchased was the 17th we had bought over the years — we have bought and sold and traded our way up,” John said.

In 1993 the couple purchased Kevindale — a property located on fertile, flat river country John had been dreaming of owning since he was 11 years old.

Kevindale was named after Margaret’s brother who was killed in a car accident in 1980,” he said.

“We started out milking 180 cows and, in our peak, got up over 1100 which at one point made us the biggest farm in Queensland.”

These days two other farms, Dagunvale and Moy Pocket, have been added to the Kevindale, portfolio and together 1100 cows are milked across a milking platform of 344 ha.

Dagunvale is home to son Kelvin, wife Ronnie and their three boys: Elijah, Miles and Ryland. They milk 450 stud cows in a 50-unit rotary dairy, while Moy Pocket was originally leased to specifically provide milk to the Kenilworth factory.

Today Moy Pocket milks about 120 Holstein and Jersey cows and still supplies Kenilworth.

“We run, Holstein, Jersey, Brown Swiss and a commercial crossbreed herd because we are always chasing high quality milk for cheese,” John said.

“We calve all year round to create a flat milk curve, which is important when you supply a domestic market.”

The cows graze pasture all year — kikuyu over summer and rye-grass over winter.

“We have good access to water and can really pump out the grass. One of our main challenges is the cost of power,” John said.

The flat river country has been affected by recent drought, while several floods from 2011 to 2016 also devastated farmland.

John has always taken pride in producing the best quality milk he possibly can, and producing dairy products through Kenilworth Dairies is now another source of pride.

The Kenilworth Cheese Factory was established in 1952 by the Kraft Corporation to manufacture bulk cheese. The factory was closed in the 1980s, with the move leaving many in the local community unemployed.

Local support saw the factory reopen for business in the late 1980s as Kenilworth Country Foods. It is now in its third reincarnation as Kenilworth Dairies and currently employs more than 50 people.

A recent investment by the family of more than $1.2 million will see the factory bottle milk for the first time, something that has always been another dream of John’s.

“A lot of people are looking to support a true Australian processor,” he said.

“It has been a big investment and not one we have made lightly, but we honestly believe customers want a good quality, local and fresh product.”

John hopes production through the milk line will increase quickly, enabling him to offer other farmers in the region a chance to supply the company.

“When the dairy industry crashed in 2016, we had to temper our business so we could still be here in the future.

“There have been some pretty tough times over the years and the road from owning a small farm to a big one has been full of potholes along the way, but we are dedicated to farming and looking forward to seeing where we go in the future.”