It’s one of the oldest dairying regions in Australia, but the Shoalhaven Flats near Nowra are losing dairy cow after dairy cow as low milk prices and high fodder costs drive dairy farmers to the wall.
One of the largest dairy farms east of Nowra was de-stocked, with 900 cows gone. Some of them may head to slaughter at an abattoir in Singleton – an eight hour drive.
If you add the 100 cows sold here and there, the loss of cows on the Flats quickly rises to at least 2000.
Dairy farmer Tracey Russell, sixth generation dairy farmer at Brundee, has had the terrible job of being forced to let her low milkers go, as their milk doesn’t cover their feed costs. One of the cows to go on the next truck is the Milton Show Dairy Champion, Boscawen Roy Beauty, a family favourite.
“It breaks our heart to do this, but we have no choice, there are no margins left,” she said.
“It’s not good for our mental health as well, we run everything to the bone and we can’t afford for anything to go wrong.”
Already the Russells have sold 100 dairy cows for slaughter, and another 10 are set to go soon.
They milk 700 Holsteins, it’s a big operation, producing 22,000 litres of milk a day.
The farm supports several families, and has nine employees. But times are tough and Mrs Russell had to cup 700 cows herself this week because staff were off.
The stresses are growing and when a milk collector wasn’t attached properly she “lost it”.
She obtained a $30,000 freight subsidy, but that just paid half her fodder costs for January and February. She is not entitled to anymore. She’s just spent $42,000 on two loads or cracked corn and barley, and with cows eating 10 kilos of grain a day, it won’t last long.
“My advice to people is that they better get used to drinking long-life or powdered milk because if this keeps up there’ll be no fresh milk left in Australia.”