Family shines through hard times

07 Sep, 2017 12:40 PM
Farmers live with adversity. Families, too, receive more of their share of difficulties.

"I went to Melbourne for another assessment and there were about 25 people in the room discussing my case. Finally, the senior doctor said, enough of the speculation, this is what we are going to do."

With that northern Victorian dairyfarmer Adrian Dee's 13-hour operation was decided. Some four months before that day in 2008, Adrian was concerned about a spot on the right side of his face and visited his doctor at Kerang, Victoria. The doctor immediately sent Adrian to a specialist in Melbourne who shared that concern and decided to remove that spot and grafted over the wound with some skin from the inside of Adrian's left arm.

Three months later, the growth had reappeared through the skin graft. After that, the above consultation was held and the decision to operate again was made. During that 13-hour operation, Adrian lost parts of his jaw bone, teeth, eye socket and right ear. A considerable skin flap was taken from his right thigh and grafted to his face. He is impaired with vision and hearing on his right side and suffers constant pain as a result of the surgery.

Adrian and Cheryl Dee had moved from Clyde North to Macorna in North West Victoria in 1980 on to a 200-hectare irrigation property that was previously owned by Cheryl's father Phil Robins. They brought with them 80 Holstein cows, and four young boys, including twins. So started a family dairying business that would have many repercussions on the black-and-white breed in North West Victoria as well as other parts of the world.

Today the business has grown to 1100ha, milking 325 cows all year round with 470 megalitres of water entitlement and much dependent on the temporary water market. Some 160ha is under pipe-and-riser irrigation with two pumps both of 20Ml per day capacity. One is situated on the main Macorna channel with the other on a spur off that. There is also a strong inclination to explore other feeding and milking techniques and increase cow numbers.

Farmers live with adversity. Sometimes it is simply more evident with 'drought and flooding rains', to quote Dorothea McKellar. The Dee family, in particular, suffered some awesome setbacks.

They are not high profile people like Neale Daniher, who so wonderfully promotes the concept of trying to find a cure for MND. The Dees are low-key with a great love for their cows and young stock as well as the land they farm.

Yes, the family business they run compensates them adequately and generously, but that fluctuates and some years are difficult. The last decade has been particularly tough for Adrian and Cheryl.

Adrian was diagnosed with skin cancer in 2008. His skin is of that particular pigmentation that can be affected. He usually wears a big hat and is careful of his exposure to sunlight.

His outward appearance has been changed and at times, no doubt, attracts glances from people unknown to Adrian. Inside he is the same. A kind, gentle and caring man who with Cheryl raised four sons and a daughter and expanded their business. Adam and Mark are twins, Colin, Kevin and Clare the other siblings.

They all form a strong part of the Macorna community and the Holstein family, especially the North West sub branch of Holstein Australia, and have all inherited the passion for Holstein cattle. Mark and his wife Mandy have children Hannah and Ryan. Clare and her husband Stuart have children Astre and Kendell and farm Avalon Holsteins, 30 kilometres away. All the youngsters already show an interest in showing.

The Dee farm is red Macorna clay. It is tough farming country, which when it gets wet, it stays wet, and when it is dry, it is like rock. In the early 1900s, this district flourished.

The district then suffered from saline degradation 60-70 years ago before proper drainage works were implemented area wide, with a drop in water tables and improvement of growing capacity of the land.

After the dry years of the early 2000s, with the reduction of irrigation water available and better irrigation practices, the water table has dropped even more and this district is now booming. With the irrigation entitlement from the Torrumbarry system, the Dees produce pasture and annual crops such as maize and cereal crops to enhance water efficiency. Any excess water off the paddocks is reused.

Maize silage is fed at present and the cows are given pasture during the day, and silage, canola and hay mix at night. On first arriving at Clydevale, it impresses with feed, feed and more feed, stored as silage heaps or hay stacks.

As Adrian and Cheryl's business progressed the stud name of Clydevale became better known. Sales of females to other breeders and bulls at artificial insemination centres kept the name before the dairying industry. The children all showed an interest and participated happily.

Colin recalls at a young age being involved in grooming and teaching young cattle to lead and become halter broken. He now is a fitter of the cows. Adam is a breeding consultant with National Herd Improvement.

Mark, Mandy and Colin do most of the herd and farm management and Adrian is full of praise for Mandy with her capabilities and enthusiasm and for Colin who rears the calves, a role he inherited from Cheryl.

The whole family participates, with Kevin included when home from Melbourne.

In about 1990, Cheryl started to show signs of lack of mobility and fatigue. After some testing, it was shown she had some illness without a proper definition. She joked at times she had the 'Robins hips', which were apparently not so good for walking.

All through this period, the business grew and Adrian and Cheryl were the driving force. Adjoining farms were acquired and at one stage when Cheryl's father's block next door, including a residence, came on the market, some water entitlement was sold off to purchase that 240ha parcel of land.

They participated in many shows and fairs, and Cheryl was always enthusiastic about the cattle. They were a selfless couple that contributed so much to whatever they participated in.

As an example, recently the farm hosted two veterinary students for a week of work experience. "Cheryl and I were always conscious of the community supporting us, and we should support that in return with worker exchange programs and work experience students," Adrian said.

Adrian is full of optimism for their business, enthusiastic and looking forward to the future and embraces his family and community.

He was secretary of the North West Holstein branch for 16 years, federal delegate for 20 years, on the Holstein Australia board for 14 years, chair of the national classification committee for five years and national president for three years.

Cheryl was involved as secretary of the Holstein Victorian branch, on the school board and loved the boys playing cricket.

Over time Cheryl's mobility situation worsened, and in 2005 she was finally diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. At last, all were aware of what was wrong but with that also came the realisation of the seriousness and ultimate outcome.

On top of all that came Adrian's diagnosis and treatments. Constant trips to Melbourne became the norm and each time Cheryl went with Adrian. They were long, tiring trips, and more responsibility on the children became reality.

During 2016 the toll on Cheryl simply became too much. On the last trip home from Melbourne Cheryl insisted they attend the "on farm challenge" dinner at Lockington, Vic, such was her determination to stay involved and up to date.

She became practically immobile and was wheelchair bound and hospitalised with pneumonia. Cheryl was unable to attend the twins 40th birthday in December 2015, but was home for some time and for Christmas 2016.

From the New Year onwards she was immobile and contracted her final bouts of pneumonia. She died on February 4.

Adam said: "We all thought Mum would outlive Dad, as the doctors gave him a five per cent chance in 2008."

In March, the family showed the Hullabaloo Bolton Sundae cow at the Holstein feature show at Cohuna, Vic, for a win and repeated that in July at the NHD Victorian Winter Fair at Bendigo, Vic, with best udder and champion cow.

They also showed at International Dairy Week in January and all that had been discussed and agreed to beforehand with Cheryl. At no time did she ever discourage the family to not continue as normal.

This is but a simple and short version of a united family that grew a dairy business, suffered setbacks and trauma and remained remarkably positive and enthusiastic.

In this day of turmoils and constant minute-by-minute vision of troubles worldwide, we often feel hard done by, discouraged and not in control of our own lives.

The love the Dees have for one another, for their cattle and land and the community that surrounds them is a shining example of what could be for us all.

To quote Dorothea McKellar again, "A wilful lavish land, all you who have not loved her, you will not understand."D

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