Col­cloughs a dairy fam­ily

North East & Goulburn Murray Farmer - - FRONT PAGE - PAGE 10

THEY say that when you fail to plan, you plan to fail.

No such thing could ever be said of the Col­clough fam­ily.

Alice and Justin are one of the few; the next gen­er­a­tion of en­thu­si­as­tic dairy farm­ers.

They are not de­terred by 4am starts, by un­sus­tain­able milk prices or by ris­ing in­dus­try costs.

In­stead, their glass – or in this case, milk pail – is half full.

“We are both from the coun­try, but we were work­ing in Mel­bourne, liv­ing that city life,” Alice said.

“Mum and Dad had the farm - we wanted to get out, and so we started talk­ing about suc­ces­sion.

"The first meet­ing were about tai­lor­ing ideas and ul­ti­mate goals

with­out any pres­sure to make a de­ci­sion.”

Suc­ces­sion is one of the great­est chal­lenges any farmer will ne­go­ti­ate.

Who gets what, and how will it work.

For the Col­cloughs, thor-oughly plan­ning was the first step.

“A cou­ple of months later we met with a dairy con­sul­tant cials, and we de­vel­oped a 12 month strat­egy,” Alice said.

The fam­ily dairy runs across 475 hectares – 200 arable - in the Mitta Mitta Val­ley, with a re­li­able rain­fall of around 950mm.

Two decades ear­lier, Alice’s par­ents had switched from beef to dairy, the more in­ten­sive in­dus­try bet­ter suited to the prop­erty size.

Since the ini­tial change-over, busi­ness pres­sure and poor sea­sons had meant lit­tle room for pas­ture or in­fra­struc­ture im­prove­ment – both big on Alice and Justin’s list.

Think­ing time was on their side, Alice’s life changed dra­mat­i­cally when her dad suf­fered a stroke.

“It cer­tainly ex­pe­dited the process – six months after we first started suc­ces­sion talks, we were back home on the farm,” she said.

That was in 2014. Since then, there have been chil­dren, pas­ture changes, new land and, of course, the Mur­ray Goul­bourn milk fi­asco.

“It’s been a bit of a roller coaster,” Alice said.

“There’s been quite a trans­for­ma­tion since Justin and I took over.”

Now run­ning 230 Hol­stein Friesians on a 16-a-side swingover dairy, the Col­cloughs can see light at the end of the tun­nel.

They have moved to a 50/50 split calv­ing in an ef­fort to “man­age poor join­ing rates and take ad­van­tage of win­ter milk prices”, have em­barked on ex­ten­sive pas­ture ren­o­va­tions and are ge­net­i­cally match­ing cows with de­sired bulls.

"Diver­si­fi­ca­tion is all about how you can sur­vive the in­dus­try, or sea­sonal fac­tors, that are out of your con­trol,” Alice said.

“We are a small fam­ily opera- tion, and we’re try­ing to work out what we are do­ing day to day, what our ideal farm looks like and how we can get there.”

Plan­ning ahead is some­thing the Col­cloughs have great store in, and they know the farm must be sus­tain­able if they are to re­main in the in­dus­try.

Some dairy farm­ers in the North East have gone it alone, ditch­ing the big pro­ces­sors and de­vel­op­ing their own milk brand.

Alice has not ruled out do­ing some­thing sim­i­lar in the fu­ture, but right now said her pri­or­i­ties were de­vel­op­ing a busi­ness that would work long-term.

“We need to look 12 months ahead, three years and five years ahead – look at those big­ger strate­gic things we need to achieve,” she said.

“I’ve got no is­sue with hard work, but you can’t work for free.

“So we’ve got to model our busi­ness so that it ticks all the boxes - fi­nan­cially, en­vi­ron­men­tally and still gives us a life­style; that is our pri­or­ity for now.”

DAIRY IN THE FAM­ILY: The Col­clough fam­ily run a small dairy across 475 hectares with a re­li­able rain­fall of 950mm each year, although this year has proven drier than most. NEW GEN­ER­A­TION: Alice Col­clough, pic­tured right, was the 2017 re­cip­i­ent of the Gard­ner Dairy Schol­ar­ship – she has also taken over the fam­ily dairy farm in the Mitta Mitta Val­ley, prov­ing that some mem­bers of the next gen­er­a­tion are as keen on 4am starts as the last. Alice is pic­tured with (from left) Jane Gehrig, Barry Sul­li­van and Ross Brown.

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