Beef to milk expansion

Bass Coast beef farm expands into dairy

Dairy
MOVE INTO DAIRY: GNS Pastoral farm manager Scott Pugh, Anderson, is excited to incorporate a dairy farm into the operation.

MOVE INTO DAIRY: GNS Pastoral farm manager Scott Pugh, Anderson, is excited to incorporate a dairy farm into the operation.

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One beef operation is bucking the trend and expanding into dairy.

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While the dairy industry faces ongoing farm exits, one Bass Coast beef operation is bucking the trend.

GNS Pastoral operates over 560 hectares of farmland in Anderson but next year it will also have a dairy herd.

Farm manager Scott Pugh has worked on dairy farms and is the driving force behind the expansion

The farm owner, Hugh Smith, leases a dairy farm next door and is familiar with the industry.

"I wanted to one day be my own boss," Mr Pugh said.

"I put it to him, 'if you put a dairy in and put me on as a share farmer' - he took a couple of days to think about it then he took me up on it."

Construction is underway and should be complete by March next year.

Mr Pugh said there was once a dairy on the farm, so the existing laneways could be upgraded by utilising a quarry on one of the properties.

"We bought a second hand rotary out of Stony Creek, they've taken it apart and going to rebuild it," he said.

"It'll be one person, 50 stand dairy."

The rest of the infrastructure would be built from scratch and a neighbouring 120 hectares currently used for beef would also form part of the operation, he said.

He had started looking at dairy herd dispersals with a stock agent in the last couple of months, he said.

"I think what we're going to do is buy some late-calving spring cows that we can milk straightaway, and probably buy some in-calf cows to calve at April time," he said.

"We might buy some heifers as well but they're probably a bit hard to find, and we don't really want to have cows calving and not have a shed.

"It'll be whatever we can get to start off with, then we'll probably have straight black and whites."

The dairy industry has faced ongoing farm exits and labour shortages, with many farmers chosing to take advantage of high land prices or make the move into beef.

But confidence within the industry is high and there has been unprecedented competition between milk processors to revise their opening prices for the season.

The latest National Dairy Farmer Survey found 88 per cent of respondents were expecting to make an operating profit this season, with 63pc of those farmers expecting profits to be higher than the five-year average.

Mr Pugh is also confident there is money to be made.

He had engaged a consultant but had not yet signed with a milk processor.

"Surely it means milk prices will be pretty good, because people are going to want it and it's not going to be there," he said.

"I don't know any young people that are getting into it.

"The people we bought the dairy off, I think they just couldn't get workers and the sons didn't really want to milk cows."

Mr Pugh said the dairy would start with a herd of about 200 and look to hire someone part-time.

Eventually he planned to milk about 400 head and employ a full-time worker while he managed both the beef farm and the dairy, he said.

He said there were people available in the area for relief milkings but he hoped to offer accommodation as part of the role to make it more enticing for staff.

The Bass Coast had once featured numerous dairy farms but the region has gradually turned to beef.

Mr Pugh did not disclose how much capital was required to establish the dairy.

He said the beef operation had been performing well over the past few years.

"For the last 35 to 40 years my dad has been managing these farms for my boss' dad," he said.

"It was a steer operation, then three or four years ago when I took over I put it to him that we buy cows and calves.

"We bought them for an average of under $1500, we bought I think 150 to start off with.

"All in calf on the point of calving - in the first year all their calves made their money back and now they're paying for themselves."

It was exciting to see the expansion get underway and he was excited about the future, he said.

"It'll be good to see something a bit different to black cows," he said.

"I'll get to be my own boss next year, so I'm pretty excited about that.

"It gets me ahead in life."

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