The impending closure of the dairy on Sherringham Farm means there are now only two working dairies in the Narooma Tilba area.
Robyn Lucas will stop milking later this month with a dispersal sale of the majority of her herd to follow.
Ms Lucas said it would be one of the saddest days in her life and she will miss the dairying lifestyle and her cows terribly. The lease on her property is not being renewed.
She has been very active in the Cows Create Careers program, every year hosting agriculture students from Narooma High School, and she also employs other young people with learning difficulties.
Robyn said she has focussed on becoming more productive with fewer cows, with an improved feeding regime and better breeding, and having fewer cows was also better for the land and environment.
“The cows are my family,” she said. “You are breeding them, birthing them and the cow I am cuddling up to here, I pulled her out of her mother so I literally gave birth to her.
“In this industry, you are working 365 days a year, and not just milking but all other aspects of farm life.”
One hundred years ago, there would have been dozens of dairy operations in the Tilba area as each small farm milked its own cows by hand with many producing their own cheese that was shipped as far away at Sydney.
The closure of the dairy on Sheringham Farm will leave only Woodville Farm at Corunna and Mountain View Farm at Tilba as the remaining working dairies in the district.
Woodville is operated by Geoff and Elizabeth Hopkins and their son Graham with their relatively small herd of 110 cows, of which 80 to 90 are milked at any given time.
Geoff Hopkins said he had been supplying Bega Cheese since 1968, and as far as the big milk companies went, he said they were pretty good to the farmers offering the highest milk prices possible. They also subsidised a vat and complete milking plant inspection every year.
“It’s a bit sad to see another dairy closing and we have been here since 1960 and before that we were at 1080 at Mystery Bay from 1958 before selling that property to old Jeff Bate,” he said.
At age 76, Geoff is keen to continue for as long as possible and his son Graham also had a great love of cows and the dairy industry and so would continue on for the next generation. Their herd was small but they also had no debt.
He was hopefully milk prices would improve soon as world markets stabilised. He also pointed out that Bega Cheese purchasing the Vegemite brand was a big positive and it was great to see the two icon united.
“People have been saying to me, well done for buying Vegemite,” he said.
The recent drought had been making life difficult for all South Coast producers, but Woodville Farm was in relative good shape as they had worked with the Catchment Management Authority to fence off a gully and build six new dams.
The current dry spell had been pretty bad but he had seen worse. They were able to purchase hay from out west and the use of cow manure as fertiliser also meant his paddocks were doing better.
“I reckon our section of land along Corunna Creek was probably the greenest unirrigated patch anywhere between Nowra and the border, because it is sheltered from the wind too,” he said.
The only other working dairy farm in the Narooma district is Mountain View Farm at Tilba Tilba, operated by Eric and Nic Dibden.
But they have taken a different path, marketing and value adding their milk by taking over the ABC Cheese Factory and starting the Real Tilba Milk brand.
“If we had not taken that route, I reckon we would be closed by now,” Mrs Dibden said.
The Dibdens did however continue to supply Bega Cheese as their production allowed and it was an important part of their business plan.
The closure of dairies around Australia was a real concern with low milk prices, ongoing drought, increasing land values and a lack of succession planning all contributing.
She too it was sad that another dairy in Central Tilba was closing.
“I wish Robyn all the best, she worked like a Trojan for the farm and industry and is a very hard working lady.”
Ms Lucas said she would keep a handful of her mixed herd of 150 cows, which consisted of Holsteins, Jerseys, Illawarra’s, brown Swiss and Guernsey cows, on another property in the district and was not leaving the area.
She hoped the majority of her herd would go to other working dairy farms and continue to provide milk for other producers and was counting on a big crowd at her dispersal sale on Wednesday, February 15.
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