I flew out of Birmingham airport on the 26th August on yet another jaunt to Australia. I arrived in Melbourne in the early hours of the 28th where I was met at the airport by a family friend Jo Pummeroy. I was then taken to Croydon a suburb of Melbourne that has the picturesque Dandannong hills as a backdrop.
I was so grateful to have somewhere so close to recharge before setting off again the next day with Jo and her partner Johnny. As we moved West towards Horsham the weather improved from the cold and wet seven degrees of Melbourne. This area had not had enough winter rain which meant the crops were suffering. I had three days at Horsham with old friends of the family, Jo's parents, Ray and Molly Pummeroy. Ray used to own the local abattoir and two butchers shops, they have a few paddocks around the house where they used to fatten a few sheep. When Ray says a few paddocks he means three hundred acres! The main tourist attractions in this area are the Grampian Mountains where you will find the Mackenzie Falls and Halls Gap. Jo and Johnny then took me on to Murray Bridge to stay with Neville and Marie Mueller.
I sometimes wonder if Neville and Marie are going to get sick of the sight of me! Some say it is my second home having stayed with them at least four times but it is hardly surprising that I keep returning when I am looked after spectacularly well. I had not been here long when Neville took me to Warren and Cheryl Doecke's farm. The visit was brief to check on Neville's show cows that he was taking to the Royal Adelaide show. But I was thrilled to get the chance to remind Damien who won the Ashes!
I noticed on my arrival back at Mueller's that the ute was loaded so it was no surprise that the next day we made the hour long trip to the show ground to take in the cattle feed and set up the kitchen. The kitchens that the dairy exhibitors set up have to be seen to be believed, Marie and daughter Katherine catered for up to twelve people which included the Cochrane team members. We also sorted out the bunks in the cabins which was to be my home for a week. The next day we went out to Neville's patch of ground at Ashville, the paddocks here are approximately two hundred and fifty acres each and carry about twenty five cattle per paddock. Stock numbers where down to one hundred and eighty six at the time but as there are some three thousand acres they take some finding! One heifer had escaped into the neighbours but the Aussies seem to be as good with a ute as a cowboy on a quarter horse at sorting cattle. Mueller's had recently sent fifty four fat cattle to slaughter all on one B Double truck, the beef trade was currently on a high and Neville had a smile from ear to ear! They would have come to some serious money in the UK but our input costs are dramatically more.
The next morning twenty eight cattle left Springvale farm on a truck which comprised of seventeen cattle from Doecke's herd and eleven from Mueller's. That evening when the Cochrane's cattle arrived we helped them settle in after Tim and Tom had had a marathon nine hundred mile, twenty hour journey over two days from New South Wales, this included an over night stop at a friends farm to rest and milk the cattle. Their father Geoff Cochrane followed with a ute and more supplies when Tom announced over dinner that three Sheila's had rocked up to help with the Kangawarra and Eagle Park teams. I was helping the Glenhaven team from Mueller's who only had a handful of pedigree cattle left but Neville's passion for the breed is unwavering and he landed two firsts on show day. The first three days at the show were spent doing the basics with the cattle and chatting with Illawarra breeders that I have met on previous visits. I was delighted to see faces like Jock Johnson and Tony Hayes from Queensland and Victoria branches. I was most surprised on Sunday morning when I bumped into Malcolm Douglas who certainly made an impact when he came to the UK on the 2010 World Conference. Malcolm was on beef transport duties as the breeds alternated throughout the show period.
I was beginning to realise how different the Royal Adelaide show is compared to the ones in the UK. Located close to the centre of Adelaide which has a population of 1.25 million the show goes on for two weeks in which it attracts some five hundred thousand spectators. Although there are thousands of stock on display including horses, sheep, pigs, poultry, dogs and rabbits the acres of stalls, fair ground rides and ring entertainments are the main enticements to the thirty odd thousand a day visitors. Agricultural trade stands are few and far between. I would describe this spectacular as Alton Towers with livestock. I was amazed how the cattle became accustomed to the noise from the monster trucks and V12 utes revving up outside the sheds and the nightly firework display. The first function in the Hocker (marquee) was on the Sunday evening when a BBQ was laid on for the exhibitors. On monday there was a young handlers work shop followed by a young handlers competition. On Tuesday the Holstein, Ayrshire, Guernsey and Jersey Juvenile and Dry classes took place. Because the Illawarra's were the feature breed this year, all their classes took place on the Wednesday, Judged by Matt Hayward. I lost count how many people quizzed me about what Matt would be looking for in the ring but there was certainly no complaints as he did a great job. Matthew also judged the young judges competition on the Thursday morning and he proved to be a very good selection for this task, receiving numerous plaudits from the young people for how he interacted with them.
On Thursday I attended the AGM of the Illawarra Federal Council where I watched Geoff Cochrane hand over the Presidency to Warren Doecke who had had a fantastic day winning Grand Champion the day before with Springvale Bynette 19th by Glenbrook Distinction as well as the Premier exhibitor award. On Friday a group of us went out on a enjoyable trip to view the Treeton, Glenbrook and Springvale studs before I left the show on Saturday morning with Geoff Cochrane. This early departure from the show meant that I was relieved of helping the Mueller team dismantle the kitchen.
The next eleven days I spent in the company of the legend that is Geoff Cochrane. I have known Geoff for years but I have never spent an extended amount of time with him so we had plenty of time chatting on the first day when we covered six hundred miles on the first return stretch to NSW. Anyone who has spent time with Geoff knows that he has many tails to tell about his times spent in the bush mustering cattle which are fascinating to hear. The beauty of travelling with Geoff is that he does not miss any of the wildlife that is in abundance. With Geoff being a real bushman I was expecting a night under the stars in a swag but not having them with us we settled for an overnight stay in a motel in Cootamundra. Every little one horse town in Australia has some claim to frame and Cootamundra is where the great Aussie cricketeer Sir Donald Bradman was born.
The next morning we headed for Wilruma, this is the twelve hundred acre farm that Geoff's eldest son Tim and wife Natalie have for their young stock. They keep three hundred cattle there all year round and they have no supplementary feeding unless there is very unfavourable weather. We checked all the cattle and sorted out some springing heifers in the ute in which I have learnt to hold on tight to save all the bouncing between seat and roof! Apparently the dents in the ute are from a collision with a feral camel when Geoff was mustering in Queensland. They have numerous feral animals in Australia, there was evidence of feral pigs at Wilruma, feral dogs and feral goats but these are a source of income if caught. After having lunch in the humpy (a small dwelling on a farm which can be used to stay in for a few days, useful for the weekend farmers) we headed to Geoff and Cathie's house in Wogamia which is one hundred and twenty miles away from Tim and Natalie's dry stock property. This is an eight hour round trip to move stock between the two farms and Geoff and myself found ourselves taking on this task later that week.
Geoff and Cathie's house overlooks the excellent dairy farm of their son Daniel, wife Becky and children Isaac, 8 and Chloe, 6. They where busy doing first cut silage which was amazing considering the area had seventeen inches of rain in two days and the fields were under water two weeks before cutting. The following day was another first for me as I had the opportunity to work with Geoff's prized bullock team. I had heard so much about Geoff's bullock team and the demonstrations that he puts on to highlight Australia's heritage. The team consists of five pairs; Heath and Riley, Spike and Isaac, Roan and Gus, George and Stumpy, Ted and Tom the final pair named after the brothers of Meadowhaven fame. Geoff maintains that his greatest achievement in life is taking Gus, a feral steer and turning him into a trusted member of his bullock team. When you consider that Geoff and Cathie have set up three sons on three separate dairy farms which total over twelve hundred milkers and produces over a million litres of milk a year I guess that taming Gus must have been a mammoth task.
Thursday is Nowra market day, one of Geoff's favourite events as he loves the banter with the regulars and the dealing. All cattle have to be in the night before the sale and they are not numbered as there is only three hundred head which include fat cattle, barrens, stores and weanlings, instead there is more of a paint by number system, red for age, green for Johnes and yellow for the purchasers. Cattle prices are currently at an all time high, the top price was one thousand and twenty five pounds for an eight hundred and seventy kilo cow. Even if Cochrane's are not selling they quite often use the market as a base to transport cattle across the country. One cattle truck driver who is employed on a two and a half million acre cattle station in Queensland did thirty thousand miles a year without leaving the stud!
That afternoon I had the opportunity to look at Tim and Natalie's Eagle Park stud with their children Riley 9 who is a keen herdsman to be and Dusty and Cody who helped feed the calves. When Tim and Tom set up their farms, the original Kangawarra herd was spilt as these two sons are keen on the pedigree side whilst Daniel farms mainly kiwi type cross grazing cows. The older cows at Eagle Park still carry the Kangawarra prefix and the farm also boasts some pedigree Holsteins that Natalie brought into the herd when she married Tim. The milk herd of approximately five hundred cows have access to TMR at a feed fence before going out to graze which they do everyday all year round. The conserved forage is grass and maize silage. The Danish bull Fyn Aks has left some very good daughters. Although most of the cows were by Illawarra bulls they had got some Fleckvieh cross cows which Geoff was particularly pleased with as they milk and last extremely well and would suit many commercial dairy farmers. Some cows were bred to a Speckle Park bull and these crosses seem to have a ready market presumably for suckler cows, they were certainly an attractive colour. That night I checked off another first as we went Wombat shooting. Wombats cause major problems for Australian farmers, Daniel had lost two cows that had fallen into collapsing Wombat burrows that year, and if you drive into one your best hope is that the winch at the front of the ute will reach a tree. Because I was the visitor I was given the rifle, I stood in the back of the ute and hung on for all life was worth whilst Geoff drove around looking for the nocturnal critters. I soon got the hang of it as we had one and a half hours on Wombat control for three nights and I enjoyed seeing other wildlife like the Kangaroos and Wallabies.
Geoff's cousin Ron Graham, Beaulands Aussie Red Stud collected me on one of the days to spend the day with him and his family. I first stayed with Ron and his wife Brenda in 1996. Day to day management is mostly undertaken by son Sam now but Ron still does the morning four thirty start. The Beaulands stud is the best Aussie Red herd I have seen as they seem to have more success with Scandinavian genetics than anybody else I have come across. Fyn Aks again has worked well across the board and even though the Aussie Red breeders do not use Holstein bulls they have introduced Holstein genetics through the use of Fyn Aks and more recently German Angler bulls. Ron says that he was disappointed with the Scandinavian herds compared to his own when he visited a few years ago but he puts this down to the fact that he only uses bulls with production and linear proofs whereas in Scandinavia they have to use a percentage of test bulls each year. The pasture that Ron's cows were grazing was still a bit soft but when the floods where in the area he only had ten percent of his farm that was not under water. Ron and Sam milk four hundred plus and sell a lot of surplus cattle. Ron also took me to a farm that is a new set up next door that has just brought a line of fifty smart young cows from them. In the afternoon Ron took me to see the milking goat set up that is being run by son Caleb. Ron is very dedicated to this diversification and has had many hurdles to climb in the process of setting it up. Caleb is milking one hundred and twenty goats and is aiming for three litres per goat per day. The milk was going to a processor in Sydney, there are far more problems keeping goats than I ever realised, feral dogs being one of the problematic issues.
Saturday started off taking in the sights of the Kangaroo Valley with some nostalgia for Geoff and some splendid scenery for me. We sat having lunch watching the dressage being taught at the Jamberoo show ground which Geoff was less than impressed with. He probably got on a horse before he could walk and felt that this sort of riding was useless for in the bush. That afternoon we saw another bullock team enthusiast who we helped yoke up his team of twelve and headed up into the bush with the Jinker to drag some timber home. When you leave the bush you have to check yourself for leeches, I was lucky not to have any but Geoff and Ron we not so fortunate.
The next day we went to see the Kangawarra herd that is now run by Tom and Kyleigh Cochrane who have two young children Hayden and Lucy. This four hundred cow stud is mainly Illawarra's with the odd Holstein that originated from Kyleigh's parents. This is another good grass growing farm aided by pivot irrigation. The cows were nicely spread out and I gleaned quite a lot of information on this visit as the Tom has used bulls that we are currently using in the UK like Treeton Pingerley, Treeton Pimp, Llandovery Jinny's Empire and Llandovery Prides Prophet. The Pimp and Fyn Aks daughters were looking extremely well in this herd. That afternoon I went bush walking at the back of Geoff and Cathie's house with the grandchildren, this was a challenge but was well worth the effort for the spectacular views at the top of the ridge. Geoff has spent many days of his life from early childhood exploring miles of such terrain either on foot or horseback and he is a fountain of knowledge on Australian flora and fauna, his grandchildren are very lucky to have such an excellent tutor.
My last full day started off at the Beauna Vista stud of Graham Henry and his family. Son Matt runs the farm now, the herd was looking very well with plenty of good grazing in front of them. Coming into spring they were grazing the rye grass that had been directly drilled into the pastures that autumn. The rye grass will grow during the winter but cannot survive the hot dry summers when it dies back and the Kikuyu takes over. This is the traditional system of most Australian farms that I have visited. Kikuyu is rather like couch grass, not quality grazing but it is a surviver. There was one cow in this herd by White Gates Triple Crown that stood out and some nice young cows by Treeton Pingerley coming through.
I returned home on the 23rd September curtesy of Tim and Natalie who dropped me off at the airport on their way to Madison, Dairy Expo. Once again I had a fantastic time in Australia and I cannot begin to quantify my gratitude to everyone that I spent time with, the hospitality was unbelievable. I am one very lucky pom!
By Graham Madeley