Farming is family’s blood

By Sophie Baldwin

COLIN AND Karen Gamble are proud of the fact their two children, Chris and Ashleigh, want to take over the family farm. They just worry what about what sort of future awaits this next generation.

The rising cost of production, water availability and milk price are putting increasing pressure on northern Victoria dairy farmers, eroding confidence and decimating the industry.

The couple hopes there will be better times ahead for the next generation.

“It is really special to see our kids come home to work and run the farm,” Colin said.

“It just reinforces what a great way of life dairying can be. Karen and I must have done something right to have both our children wanting to be involved in our family business.”

Chris, 31, and Ashleigh, 27, will be the fourth generation of the Gamble family to farm at Bamawm, although Karen made sure they both have had a life away from the farm — Chris is a qualified diesel mechanic while Ashleigh has degrees in beauty and teaching.

Both always knew they would end up on the farm.

“It was always my plan growing up to eventually come home and work on the farm,” Chris said.

“I learnt my trade but I soon worked out there was no money working in town. I tried my hand at the mines for a while but the farm is my home and where I want to be.”

Ashleigh said there was nothing better than working where you live.

“I look at Mum and Dad and they are a team. I know farming is challenging and has its ups and downs but it is in my blood,” she said.

The Gambles make a tight-knit family unit and they run their business by focusing on each other’s skills.

Ashleigh’s passion is the cows and the young stock. She is involved with the animals from the moment they hit the ground, she does the AI and is involved in all the breeding decisions.

“I am very interested in genomic testing and if we can continue to breed from the top of our herd and cull the bottom five to10 per cent we will have a great herd in the future,” she said.

“The great thing about dairying is you never seem to stop learning.”

Chris is the maintenance man and grass grower and loves nothing more than looking at a green paddock with grass hanging over the fence line.

Karen does most of the milking while Colin does most of the irrigating.

Each family member steps up in to different roles, depending on the season and who is rostered on. They all work a nine-day fortnight with five days off.

“We all have our own strong points and can jump into other roles when needed,” Karen said.

The Gambles have been focusing on growing their business so it is capable of supporting the whole family into the future.

The milking platform is about 100 ha and they have about 160 ha used for agistment and fodder production, some of which can be irrigated.

They calve four times a year and cut their own hay and silage.

“We don’t use any contractors at all, we do everything ourselves except for some agronomy and nutrition advice,” Chris said.

They are currently milking 320 cows with plans to have herd numbers to more than 450 by the end of the year.

“Our farm is not big enough at the moment to support all of us and we can’t continue to go backwards so we are trying to grow our business to a sustainable and profitable level,” Colin said.

The family made a huge decision to invest in a 400-cow, cement feed pad last year.

It is 120 m long, has a full flood wash, sprinklers and loafing area, and there are plans for a roof in the future.

They carried out the majority of earthworks themselves, which Colin estimates would have saved them at least $50 000 in costs.

“The main reason we built the feed pad was to reduce food wastage,” he said.

They believe they are now saving a couple of bales of hay a day, not to mention an increase in production.

“Last summer production was up — instead of just surviving the heat the cows were comfortable and milking well. They would come up from the paddock, get under the sprinklers and stay cool on the hot days,” Ashleigh said.

Having been farming together since 1984, Colin and Karen are no strangers to the ups and downs of the industry.

In fact in 1985, times were so tough some farmers were shooting their cattle.

“We just had to hunker down and do the best we could, it was just he two of us back then, now there are four of us to think about,” Karen said.

In 2002 they invested in a new 16-a-side rapid exit dairy with computer ID to cut out a labour unit, the same year milk prices reduced by 25 per cent and the decade-long millennium drought had begun.

“It was the worst drought in living memory and that was when we stopped buying the paper because there was so much bad news around,” Karen said.

They hunkered down again and cut costs where they could to survive, and today they have no regrets about investing so heavily in the dairy, as it is now one of the keys to success for their business.

“It was certainly character building at the time to say the least,” Colin laughed.

While there have been many ‘character building times’ for the couple over the years, Karen and Colin are now worried about the future for the next generation. Not just for their family but the whole industry.

“I have every confidence in my kids to run the business and do a great job but the financial returns need to be there for them in the future,” Colin said.

“The way the industry is at the moment every kick needs to be a winner and if you make the odd mistake, it just sets you further back down the line.”

The Gambles all agree milk price is a huge obstacle moving forward, as is water availability in northern Victoria. The increasing cost of water is putting pressure on all farmers’ ability to produce milk.

Ashleigh also believes the industry needs to do a better job of promoting itself.

“Our industry needs better exposure about all the great things we do, including the health and wellbeing of our animals,” she said.

“There is a huge disconnect which needs to be addressed for our industry to move forward.”