11-year employment to farm ownership journey

Employee to dairy farm owner in 11 years


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BUSINESS OF DAIRY: Rebecca Casey has finally achieved farm ownership at Buffalo, South Gippsland, with her husband Glenn.

BUSINESS OF DAIRY: Rebecca Casey has finally achieved farm ownership at Buffalo, South Gippsland, with her husband Glenn.

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Rebecca and Glenn Casey work a 160-hour week between them but all that's about to change for the South Gippsland share farmers who have found a way to step into dairy farm ownership.

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Their lives are about to change forever.

Rebecca and Glenn Casey share farm at Inverloch on the South Gippsland coast and have bought their own 57-hectare farm at nearby Buffalo.

The purchase last November signalled far more than financial security for the family, who will dramatically downsize their farm business from the 338-milker, split-calving operation they currently run.

Over the next three to five years, the Caseys will build a house and move to their Buffalo farm, with Mr Casey milking a herd of 80 to 100 cows and Ms Casey growing her farm and small business consultancy, Nature of Business.

"I'm going to be more 'virtual' than hands-on," Ms Casey laughed.

"It's not all about pushing production, it'll be a lot more relaxed when we get to Buffalo full time.

"Milking so few cows and only calving once a year, we'll actually get holidays.

"It's a lifestyle choice for us."

The change of pace will be welcome, since the Caseys' journey from employment to farm ownership has been paved with hard work and lots of it.

The couple works about 160 hours a week at the 240ha Inverloch share farm.

If you don't count pocket money for sons Jack, 14, and Archie, 11, who sort out the hay, grain and water for the calves every night, there is very little paid labour.

A Certificate III student does one milking in the afternoon and a day's work.

"We do almost all of the work ourselves because, if we were to employ staff to do everything that we do ourselves, we're not actually building our own wealth, we're just farming," Ms Casey said.

While they milk together, like many dairy farming couples, the Caseys have complementary roles.

Mr Casey can name the sire, dam and grand-dam of any cow in the herd and his attention to detail in the dairy shed has reaped the partnership eight milk quality awards in a row, with the bulk milk cell count sitting at around 90,000 cells/mL.

Ms Casey is the chief calf rearer and business planner.

She is rearing 174 calves this year and the livestock trading account is an important part of the farm business, representing up to 25 per cent of gross income.

Livestock sales also help to reduce the risk profile of the business, which pleases Ms Casey, who is the first to label herself "conservative".

That conservatism was reflected in the decision to purchase a small dairy farm close to home.

"South Gippsland land prices are phenomenal but it does rain here and we didn't want the farm business' risk to rise too much by looking outside the area that we know so well," Ms Casey said of the district, where average rainfall totals of 1000mm are common.

"A dairy farm big enough to suit the amount of cows that we milk would be worth well and truly in excess of over $2.5 million.

"I wasn't comfortable with that at all.

"I've had a rule of thumb that my debt level will never be over $5,000 a head per milking cow and that would have been much higher."

In her role as a farming and small business consultant, Rebecca Casey regularly saw highly-leveraged dairy businesses across Gippsland.

"I'd say they're averaging more like $7500 to $8000 a head and about half of that is short-term debt that's been accumulated in the last few years thanks to the dairy crisis, difficult weather and the really high cost of feed."

Ms Casey said Gippsland's season had been incredibly patchy; while East Gippsland farmers were still in drought, South Gippsland was wet.

"We have had rain in massive dumps - including 189mm in August - and nothing in between," she said.

"Mother Nature could turn the rain off until May next year but it's been too wet to lock up silage until now and we're already in October."

This year's high milk prices had eased some of the financial pain but Ms Casey was urging clients to reduce their debt levels as quickly as possible.

"We have an amazing milk price this year but let's use that to stabilise ourselves for when the next downturn comes," she said.

"It sounds horrible but I'm saying that $7 (per kilogram of milk solids) isn't going to last.

"Being conservative, I'm recommending budgeting for $5.50 and anything over that is a bonus.

"There are still plenty of opportunities to step through the dairy progression like we did and do it without placing yourself under a huge amount of financial pressure."

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