Dairy run be­hind bars

In­sight into op­er­a­tions on a prison dairy farm

The Northern Star - Northern New South Wales Rural Weekly - - News - Sarah Hud­son news@ru­ral­weekly.com

We’re also mea­sured against other cri­te­ria like giv­ing pris­on­ers a skill set. — Adrian Cook

MAN­AG­ING a 280-head dairy these days is chal­leng­ing enough.

But do­ing so in a min­i­mum se­cu­rity prison car­ries a whole other set of pa­ram­e­ters.

Since Dhur­ringile Prison first es­tab­lished its dairy in 1995 – on 170ha near Murchi­son in the Goul­burn Val­ley, Vic­to­ria – Adrian Cook has been the farm man­ager.

About 200 litres of milk per day sup­plied to the fa­cil­ity’s 330 pris­on­ers (pas­teurised on-site) – and the re­main­der sent to Tatura Milk (about 6500 litres daily).

And, he added, labour has never been a prob­lem, with up to 20 pris­on­ers work­ing in the 24-unit con­ven­tional walk-through dairy, as well as about 40 in­mates work­ing on the farm. Be­ing a State Gov­ern­ment-run fa­cil­ity, he has a ded­i­cated an­nual bud­get, which sees the farm up­graded, in­clud­ing planned 130ha of pipe and rise ir­ri­ga­tion.

This will com­plete the en­tire prop­erty’s ir­ri­ga­tion net­work, which has a 660 me­gal­itre en­ti­tle­ment. The farm also has about 120ha of pas­tures ren­o­vated or over-sown an­nu­ally.

Yet Adrian has chal­lenges no other dairy farmer faces. Pris­on­ers need to be per­pet­u­ally trained, with new in­mates with no or lit­tle ex­pe­ri­ence work­ing in the dairy for three months up to two years, while skill lev­els “vary con­sid­er­ably”, as do mo­ti­va­tion lev­els.

“We try and run as much like any other dairy as pos­si­ble,” Adrian said.

“We try and turn a profit but at the same time we’re also mea­sured against other cri­te­ria like giv­ing pris­on­ers a skill set.”


ADRIAN has worked at the dairy since its out­set. He sourced the Hol­stein foun­da­tion stock from Rock­wood Park dairy and now buys Clover­ton Bri­tish Friesian blood­lines from Fin­ley NSW and Coom­boona Hol­steins in north­ern Vic­to­ria.

For the past two decades, the dairy has used the World Wide Sires mat­ing sys­tem, aim­ing for vary­ing traits from teet place­ment and length to feet and leg con­for­ma­tion: “we’re con­tin­u­ally im­prov­ing, with dif­fer­ent is­sues at dif­fer­ent times”.

The herd is mainly Hol­stein with a few Jer­sey-cross, with Jer­sey bulls used over heifers. A split herd sees join­ing on Novem­ber 1 and then June 1, with ar­ti­fi­cial in­sem­i­na­tion fol­lowed by a mop-up bull.

Early on, Adrian gained his AI ticket and does the AI work him­self.

Adrian also worked hard to learn on the job vet­eri­nary skills, and is now able to treat herd feet prob­lems and some health is­sues, while he also teaches pris­on­ers these skills.

“I’ve just learnt by look­ing over the vets’ shoul­der and now try to treat as many things my­self, so we sel­dom need the vet for is­sues like feet.”

Train­ing for pris­on­ers runs through­out the year, all so they can find work in the in­dus­try when they leave prison.

Cour­ses are run by Box Hill Tafe and in­clude ba­sic dairy cer­tifi­cates, and farm skills such as trac­tor and chain­saw op­er­a­tion and fenc­ing.

“Cour­ses are open to any pris­on­ers,” said Adrian, with Dhur­ringile fo­cused on wood and metal work skills for most in­mates.


DAIRY pris­on­ers work on a six-day ros­ter, while farm pris­on­ers work a five-day ros­ter. About five milk­ers work from 5.30-8.30am and then 3.15-6pm, fol­lowed by other dairy jobs such as calf rear­ing and feed­ing.

On-farm pris­on­ers work on pas­tures, ir­ri­ga­tion, weed­ing, fenc­ing and trac­tor work.

Flood-ir­ri­gated pas­tures are a mix of peren­nial and an­nu­als, in­clud­ing lucerne, and sub­clover, with shaf­tal and rye-grass cut for fod­der.

Sup­ple­men­tary maize silage and ce­real hay are pur­chased.

Stock num­bers peaked in 2001 at 380 cows and dur­ing the drought dropped to 170.

The herd is milked twice a day, with the av­er­age cow pro­duc­ing 7500 litres per lac­ta­tion.

Av­er­age but­ter­fat is 4.07 per cent, pro­tein is 3.42 per cent and cell count is 180,000-200,000 cells/ml.

Dhur­ringile was orig­i­nally a 68-room homestead for a farm and was built in 1877.

The prison dairy ini­tially used one of the orig­i­nal out­build­ings for a four unit walk-through dairy, which was quickly up­graded to eight units and then a new 24 unit walk-through dairy built in 1997.

Ear­lier this year they built a 96m x 25m shed, with one sec­tion used for calv­ing down cows, with a fu­ture po­ten­tial to use cam­eras for ob­ser­va­tion of night-time calv­ing. Adrian said given it is a state-run fa­cil­ity, it aims for best prac­tice, on a bud­get.

“I’ve had some feed­back where I’ve spo­ken to farm­ers who now em­ploy some of the peo­ple we’ve trained and oc­ca­sion­ally I’ll meet oth­ers who tell me they’re now work­ing in the in­dus­try.”


IN­TER­EST­ING FARM: Adrian Cook is the man­ager of Dhur­ringile Prison’s dairy in Vic­to­ria.

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