Dairy comes down to attitude

Dairy comes down to attitude


Dairy
Edward Conheady and his son William, 27, on their Noorat dairy farm.

Edward Conheady and his son William, 27, on their Noorat dairy farm.

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EDWARD Conheady’s enthusiastic tone of voice when discussing one of his favorite subjects - the dairy industry - captures the attention of others, like insects to an elaborately woven spider web.

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EDWARD Conheady’s enthusiastic tone of voice when discussing one of his favorite subjects - the dairy industry - captures the attention of others, like insects to an elaborately woven spider web.

It’s difficult not to feel optimistic about the future and this is apparent in his seven children (five boys and two girls), many of whom have studied agriculture and hold a strong interest in the milking trade.

His son William, 27 - who helps to manage the family farms at Noorat and Garvoc – describes his father as an “eternal optimist”.

But Mr Conheady is a perfect example that a positive attitude can accomplish great things.

He and wife Geraldine have lifted their cow numbers seven-fold since 2002, from 240 to 1700.

Today the family manages four farms in south-west Victoria, which have been purchased over a period of seven years.

Each farm has a manager, but the Conheadys oversee the entire operation.

On top of these properties, dry cows are run on country at Mortlake, where silage is cut for fodder.

The business has maintained stable production levels and the family have now reached a position where they will be able to start placing more pressure on cows to perform.

“Needless to say it has been challenging, but I’ve never regretted anything,” Mr Conheady said.

“The hardest part has been growing the cow numbers. We didn’t realise that our workload would go up accordingly.”

A total of 500 heifers, plus 180 bull calves are reared every year, which has created an enormous job for the family.

The bulls have provided a different income stream for the family, while all heifer calves are reared on their respective properties and then weaned onto an additional farm at The Sisters.

The calves are transferred in late May to the Mortlake farm where they stay until 15 months of age and enter an AI program.

The cycle finishes at 22 months - just before calving - where the heifers finally return to their home farm.

And then there’s harvest time, when the Conheadys cut more than 1200 hectares of silage and hay for the cows.

“This all has to be managed properly, but William has been a great help in this area,” he says.

“Everyday we are learning.”

Being dryland farmers, the family relies heavily on silage production, with an estimated 6000 tonnes produced annually.

“Silage has become an integral part of the business,” Mr Conheady said.

“It has high protein levels and is a third of our milkers’ diet from mid-December through to autumn.”

He is forever conscious the operation is grass-based, milking his cows accordingly to take full advantage of the spring production and running autumn-calving cows.

“We are trying not to lost sight of that,” he said.

“Spring is the lowest price for milk, but it’s also the lowest cost of production.”

Over the next few years, the Conheadys will shift their focus to lifting production and cow quality.

“We have so many young replacements coming in that we can be very selective now,” he said.

“We’ve never been at this stage before. It’s going to help us dramatically.”

Although the family is an example of success during what has been a very volatile time in the dairy industry - both climatically and economically - Mr Conheady remains humble about his achievements.

“I’ve always said that opportunity knocks within tough times,” he said.

“We’ve had seven years of growth when most were leaving the industry.”

It might be summed up by his son William, who says his father always reminded him “to look at the big picture”.

“You can’t get bogged down. It really does come down to your attitude,” he said.

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