Dairying Done Differently - The Changing Face of Agriculture in Girgarre.
Farming is a tricky business at the best of times. Variable seasonal conditions, low returns and prolonged drought are just a few of the circumstances, not of their own making, that can easily set back the long- term plans of any farming enterprise. However, farming families tend to be in the industry for the long haul and the inevitable downturns of the industry may dampen spirits but they do not necessarily curb the desire to get ahead. To prosper requires more than sheer hard work. It requires the ability to think broadly, dream big and take up opportunities when they arise. Downturns are more often than not the drivers of innovation and diversity, not the opposite.
Established on good soils well suited to irrigation, dairying is the industry that has sustained the Girgarre district for over 100 years. While dairying has historically meant milking cows, in recent times two local farming families are a good example of forward thinking and determination to do well. Taking a risk and diversifying into some more exotic animals not often seen in large numbers in this part of Australia, these two families have embraced the opportunities that came their way, stepping right outside the square, creating a lot of local interest along the way.
Megan Williams, a born and bred local, grew up on her family dairy farm in Girgarre. At the age of 20 she left for adventures in the Northern Territory where she met her husband Chris. While working together in the territory, both Megan and Chris developed a love for camels and dreamt of one day establishing a commercial camel milk farm. They took over management of Megan’s family property 6 years ago and the dream became a reality. Building up a herd while sourcing markets; developing a line of value-added products and establishing a successful on-farm shop and tourism business was a huge gamble requiring a great deal of courage and tenacity.
There were many challenges along the way. When they began, camel milk was unknown as a food source, meaning the wider public had to be educated and no market for fresh camel milk existed. However, they’ve persevered, gradually establishing a niche market, creating outlets in most Australian cities and exporting to Thailand and Singapore. The future is now bright for Chris and Megan and their three young sons. They have recently signed two large contracts, allowing them to increase supply to both the Australian and Asian markets, and paving the way for continued growth. Increasing herd numbers and building a purpose built dairy to cater for the expansion, will see milk production triple over the next few years, providing employment opportunities along the way. It is the icing on the cake; a just reward for the years spent developing their dream.
The on-farm tours and shop are closed to the public at the moment due to the Covid-19 restrictions. However, sales of the comprehensive skin care range, plus fresh and dried milk products are still available online. They can be viewed at www.camelmilkco.com.au or by contacting the shop on 03 5854 6323.
No Kidding - Change Is Good!
Nicole Griffiths, another born and bred local, and husband Andrew decided to leave the dairy industry they knew so well two years ago. Taking over the management of a large dairy goat herd, another exotic animal not seen in large numbers in the Girgarre district, their thirty years experience in the industry stood them in good stead. They embraced their new role with enthusiasm, overseeing the milking of 800, predominantly Saanen goats twice each day in a standard 30 swing-over dairy shed adapted to accommodate the smaller animals.
While handling goats is quite different to handling cows, they are an easy to manage animal with few metabolic problems. Andrew and Nicole soon came to love their naturally friendly, if somewhat unpredictable, personalities. Life is busy all the same, raising the next generation of milkers is a full on job as multiple births are common, kidding four times a year soon builds up herd numbers. Septembers’ drop alone increased the herd by 500 young females. Plans to increase herd numbers to 1200 milkers will be a relatively quick exercise. The owners of the farm, TPG Dairies P/L are the second largest supplier of goat milk to the Bubs Australia® baby food company, producing product for the Australian and the Asian export markets. The company’s long-range plan is to expand the dairy goat business in this region to 5,000 goats spread over three Goulburn Valley farms.