PAYING BACK a debt was high on the agenda for Michael Shipton when the New Year’s Day bushfires hit the Bega Valley on December 30.
Four years ago, Michael and Ancret Shipton, of Candelo, NSW, lost 70 cows to facial eczema.
Quaama dairy farmers Richard and Debbie Platts turned up with 45 cows to add to the Shipton herd.
“They turned up with 45 milkers and gave them to us,” Mr Shipton said.
So when the Shipton dairy farm escaped harm from these bushfires but their neighbours, family and friends were reeling, with livestock, fences, pasture and buildings burned, Mr Shipton jumped in to help.
The young family offered their full hay shed to local dairy farmers.
“The two most distressing things for a dairy farmer are not being able to milk and not being able to feed your cows,” he said.
“It was easy to say, go to my shed.”
Bega Cheese organised the trucks, covered the cost of freight and co-ordinated delivery to 20 of its affected suppliers.
Mr and Mrs Shipton also paid for a B-double of oaten hay to be brought in from Brown Mountain and distributed among fellow dairy farmers.
“We paid for the hay and our transporter, Belubula Valley Hay from Canowindra, covered the cost of freight,” Mr Shipton said.
Along with farm worker Jeremy Spindler and electrician Rod Camilleri, Mr Shipton took the Shipton’s mobile generator on tour.
The 25KVA stand-alone generator, on its own trailer, is normally used to power the centre pivot.
They also took jerry cans of fuel with them, so other farmers could boost their own supplies.
“The generator is quite handy around the farm,” Mr Shipton said.
“We went to four dairies and Rod wired in the generator and we helped milk the cows.
“Everyone only missed one milking, before the power was back on.
“Then Rod went back and rewired their dairies, so they were back to normal.”
Mr Shipton and Mr Spindler also spent two days helping friends, Aaron and Emma Salway and Tim and Leanne Salway, at Cobargo, whose brother and father, Patrick and Robert Salway, died in the bushfires.
All of them have dairy farms hit by bushfires and losses include a considerable number of dairy cows.
“They have a lot to deal with and Jeremy and I went up there for two days, cleaning up and fencing,” Mr Shipton said.
“We’ll go back to give them more help soon.
“Because of the help we received from the Platts, we wanted to give back.
“We got to the Salways immediately because they needed help.
“It was important to help people straight away.”
Bega Cheese field officers have been assisting local dairy farmers, with the company quick to organise fodder, fuel, generators, water and other supplies, and getting road access to pick up milk.
Dairy farmers were also reassured they would be paid for the milk they had to dump before a milk truck could get to their farm.
Bega Cheese chair Max Roberts said the processor’s milk loss because of dumped milk was quite small compared to overall production.
Bega Cheese has lost about 700 000 to 800 000 litres of milk that has been dumped on farm, in a milk pool of about one billion litres.
The main reason for dumping milk has been lack of road access by trucks to pick up farmers’ main livelihood.
But he said the loss would not have a major impact on supply; although the stock market had responded by downgrading the company’s share value.
He said the biggest challenge for farmers was ensuring a reliable power supply, so dairies could operate and cows could be milked.
“In our pick-up area, we haven’t lost any cows to the bushfire,” he said.
Fodder donations have also ensured many people have been able to look after their cows.
“As of yesterday, police escorts have been able to provide escort to milk trucks to pick up supply,” he said, in early January.
Bega Cheese support to individual farmers is to identify the best value for support — fencing is a priority and a permanent temporary electricity source is the next item on the list.
Some farmers are hopeful large generators will be available from the ADF, along with the skills to connect dairies to this power source.