FOUR weeks ago more than three years of planning came to fruition for Dale and Paula Fortescue, Eungelladale, Eungella, Qld, when they launched their own branded milk.
With a processing plant on farm, Mr Fortescue’s daily work begins at 4.45am for milking, and now includes pasteurising the milk, bottling the milk, and the second round of milking – plus local deliveries and all the paperwork that goes with the business.
He said he would not have it any other way though – after the business almost “broke” during the supermarkets’ $1 milk crisis, which impacted so much of the dairy industry.
The Fortescues run about 120 Friesian, Jersey/Friesians, and pure Jersey milkers on 60 hectares in Eungella, 90km west of Mackay, plus another 40ha of leased country in the region for their dry cows and young heifers.
Mr Fortescue grew up on a dairy farm and said he came back to the profession after what he called a “midlife crisis”.
”At that time the dairy industry was doing relatively well, they were getting reasonable money for their milk,” he said.
“That lasted for about five years and then through the cheap milk with Coles it was almost the end of dairy really – it made it hard to keep going.”
Mr Fortescue said the business was in dire circumstances when they turned to crowdfunding and the local community to get the factory off the ground.
Even now, four weeks into producing about 500 bottles of milk per day, there are plenty of improvements that need to be made – including a labelling machine.
Currently, Mr Fortescue's father is labelling every bottle by hand.
“A lot of things are manual and need to be automated but you have to crawl before you can walk,” Mr Fortescue said.
“Nearly every bit of milk I’m producing is going in the bottle at the moment.
“It started off sort of slow; we were just happy to get there.
"We were squashing a lot of bottles going through the machines, my wife had to take some chill pills, but it has been a good learning curve.”
The milk is being distributed by the local arm of Bidfood.
“It’s a big thing off our shoulders because we didn’t know how I was going to milk, bottle, and deliver all on the same day,” he said.
Mr Fortescue's end goal for the operation is to open a cheese factory, which he hopes to turn into a tourist attraction.
The factory will also be built at Eungelladale, which is conveniently located next to one of Eungella’s free camping and parking areas.