ABOUT eight years ago, a combination of high feed prices, low milk prices and a family illness ahead of the drought forced the Zarantonello family at Jervois, South Australia, to cease dairying.
Since then, Rodger Zarantonello has run beef cattle, and bought more river flats and highland ground for cropping and hay production.

But in about a month’s time from now, the family’s dairy will roar back to life when the Zarantonellos start dairying again.

The main reason for the decision to re-start the dairy has been the interest shown by Rodger’s eldest son, Joel.

After Joel finished school he did an agricultural exchange program in Canada, fuelling his passion for farm work.

In between swings working in the mining industry, he helps Rodger on the farm at home and has shown interest in coming back to the farm to work.

“Doing what we were doing – running beef cattle and cropping – was not viable where we are when we’re set up for dairying,” Rodger said.

“We were milking 300 cows and not long before we stopped, we extended the dairy to a 20-a-side double-up.

“Since we got out of dairying I always thought, ‘you never know what might happen’, and the only way I thought we could make it work with Joel coming back on the farm is if we start milking cows again.”

Rodger has noticed a considerable difference in the attitude of milk processors since they left the industry.

While he has not yet decided which processor he will sell his milk to, he says they are all “screaming out” for milk.

“Years ago when we got out they were all saying ‘if you don’t like it, get out’,” Rodger said.

“Now they’re all chasing more milk, so they’ve certainly changed their tune a bit.”

He cites the improvement in milk price as another reason they will start milking again.

“I wouldn’t do it if the milk price was still like it was eight years ago,” Rodger said.

“Nowadays I do all the hay and grain myself, whereas we used to buy it all in, so by doing that and not buying in from outside sources it will be different.”

The Zarantonellos now own about 100 hectares of river flats, which Rodger has laser-levelled, and just more than 400ha of highland for cropping and hay.

Rodger said they had organised to buy 50 cows at first, and would gradually build up numbers to a milking herd of about 150.

It is a similar story at Mount Compass where Perrin Hicks is going it alone after years of working on other people’s dairy farms.

His father bought a dairy when Perrin was 18, but for the past five years it had been leased.

Perrin said it was his overwhelming passion for the industry that had pushed him to run his own farm.

“I couldn’t describe the amount of excitement I have about running my own dairy,” he said.

“It is a passion born years ago when dad bought the farm, and from working for other people.

“That has been invaluable in building my experience and now I’m 37, I’m ready to dig in and give it a go.

“Tough times or not I would still be doing it.”

The farm comprises 190ha with a six-a-side double-up herringbone dairy, which Perrin will extend out to a 10-a-side.

He will start with 160 cows when milking kicks off in July before building up to about 200 milkers.

“The challenging part is the topography of the land is a bit steep at spots and not really the sort of land you can feed out on that easily, so it will be mainly a pasture-based system,” Perrin said.

Source : The Australian Dairy Farmer