Farming dream finally a reality

By Dairy News

AFTER 22 years of blood, sweat and tears, Kelvin and Shelley Matthews are finally living their dairy farming dream after recently purchasing a 100 ha farm named Pete’s Park, just outside of Cohuna.

Kelvin first started working on a dairy farm when he was just 16 (he is now 39) and along with Shelley, have finally worked their way up to where they are today — farm ownership.

They are excited about the prospect of making their own decisions, running their own farm and building an asset base in an industry they love.

“We are passionate about the dairy industry and farm purchase has always been our end goal, Kelvin said.”

“We have both given a lot up over the years to get here and it is really exciting to be finally on our own farm.”

The couple moved onto the farm in November and settled in December.

On their previous farm seven years ago, the couple entered into a lease purchase arrangement for half the 440-cow herd, with any herd growth split 50-50 between the two couples.

It was the perfect starting point and gave them a much-needed foot in the door of farm ownership.

“We started out purchasing 220 cows and they have been our greatest asset growth,” Shelley said.

By the time it came to find their own farm, they had the herd and all the machinery including tractors and silage gear.

“Our machinery owes us nothing now which is great, but it was still pretty hard to get a bank on board because we don’t own water,” Kelvin said.

Seven years ago the couple entered into a lease/purchase arrangement to buy half the herd of their previous employer — the decision helped them achieve their goal of farm ownership.

“It wasn’t until we found a bank that actually understood farming that we had some success —one bank was more concerned about the income we could generate from renting out the second house than what the farm could actually do.”

Kelvin said while they may not have any water, they do have an established relationship with fodder grower Adam Gould which they feel will be a key aspect of future management.

“We need to find ways to work around water and I think long-term relationships with fodder growers is a good start.”

It was a bit of a gamble, but the Matthews had already sourced 740 tonnes of silage delivered to their farm for $240 tonne before they even had the finance for the farm secured.

“Having eight-months’ worth of feed for the cows has been an important start for us and once we found the right bank manager, he could see the value in the silage as well,” he said.

Kelvin said working with growers who understood the nature of your own business and cash flow restrictions was also important.

The couple looked at five or six farms in the area before finally settling on Pete’s Park.

“Some of the farms had been out of dairying while others were still going, it was a bit of a buyers’ market and we certainly had plenty of choice, but we had our eye on the Cohuna area because that’s where we wanted to farm and raise our family,” Shelley said.

Kelvin said once finances were sorted the process of purchasing the farm was seamless.

The one man 12 double up dairy is doing the job for the 240-cow herd.

“It helped our stock agent Al Mitchell was an ex dairy farmer, so he was really good to liaise with, as were the previous owners and it has been very helpful having them around to ask where water lines run and any other questions we have.”

Around 70 per cent of their farm is irrigated by a gravity fed pipe-and-riser system which was a huge drawcard when it came to making the final decision for farm purchase.

The couple also liked the possibility of the opportunity to expand in the future and is currently looking at leasing a nearby property.

The 12 double-up dairy is adequate but will be restrictive when it comes to increasing numbers down the track. On the positive side it means only one person is required in the dairy, freeing up the other person to get on with other jobs.

“We had a shed test on the day the cows were being trucked over for their first milking and we found out we had no vacuum, so that was a little bit interesting for a while until we ended up with a loan one from National Herd so we could at least start milking,” Shelley said.

The herd came from a rotary, so the first milking was a little challenging; four hours and a mountain of poo later it was complete.

Today the cows move effortlessly through the shed and both Kelvin and Shelley have got used to a slower pace around the dairy.

“We will keep plodding along with the shed and we do like it is a one-person operation, it’s nice not to have the hassle of finding milking staff and just get on with the job ourselves.”

When it came to milk processors the couple chose to supply Lactalis who were $100 000 better on the bottom line than any other company.

“We are locked in until July 1 and then we can walk away and find someone else if we want to, but milk price is looking pretty positive moving forward,” Kelvin said.

The couple is determined to support the local retail sector and was recently told by the local vet that it was nice to see a new farming family come into the area.

Looking to the future, the Matthews are planning on growing annuals on the old permanent pasture and maybe some vetch on the land across the road. If they are lucky enough to lease the block next door, they will grow cereals there.

They have a simple plan — to grow as much fodder as they possibly can and adjust the plan with each season as it comes along.