Paul Roderick is a fifth-generation dairy farmer with a passion for animal welfare and great-tasting milk. With his wife, Linda, and their two boys, and with his parents just up on the hill, he lives and works on the family farm at Harrisville. Like many dairy farmers, Paul has been negatively affected by the milk wars, but he is determined to continue the family dairy-farming tradition. Paul genuinely loves the farming lifestyle, and every day looks forward to waking up and beginning work.
PAUL & LINDA RODERICK
Your parents live nearby on the hill. Have your family been in dairying a long time?
PAUL: I’ll give you the backstory. My great great grandfather, Thomas Roderick, came from Wales in 1865, and set up a blacksmith’s shop in Ipswich. He was smart enough to marry a lovely woman who was also a local to our area — Anne Parcell. Thomas and Anne forged quite a successful business in Ipswich, and that allowed them to purchase a number of land holdings, which now fall in the Scenic Rim area. This area was formerly the Ipswich agricultural reserve. It was opened up on the guise that those that bought the blocks developed them. So, he and Anne bought this block in 1870 — where the dairy is today. Then, they started to develop it and moved out here in their retirement in, I think, 1890. So, from that time on it was a farm of some sort and there would have always been milking cows here.
From then on, one of his sons took on the farm — his youngest son, my grandfather, youngest of thirteen children, Dad’s father. He ended up here, buying out some of his brothers. To cut a long story short, dairy probably really became a priority about seventy years ago. The farm moved from just milking for cream to bulk milk when we started supplying the Pauls factory in Brisbane, and that relationship stayed from then till now, probably about seventy-odd years, from Dad’s generation and on to mine. So, I guess that makes me fifth generation, and these boys here sixth generation, if the industry can sustain more milk.
How do you meet the challenges of the dairy industry?
PAUL: Being an established family business, we have the ability … The knowledge of the land helps. You know what you are dealing with. You know the seasons and the country. You also need to try to be on the edge of innovation and technology at all times. Not stand still. You are always looking to technology to help reduce your input costs, because we are always doing more with less. I guess that has been a strategy — to engage with technology — over the last couple of generations.
Do you grow crops as well?
PAUL: Anything we grow here — we grow lucerne, corn, barley — it all goes into feed for the cows. We don’t sell any feed off. It all goes back in — value-added, you might say — back into producing milk. We stick to our core business, which is milk production, and try to do that as well as possible.
The area was known for dairying, wasn’t it?
PAUL: Yes, absolutely. The Boonah Butter Factory — Dad quoted it the other day and I think you should check the sources — but I think he said something about a thousand suppliers there at its peak, until it basically finished in the ’80s. So, in the whole area where there were around a thousand, you’d now be lucky to have twenty.
So, there are fewer dairies, but they’ve grown?
PAUL: Yes, we have all had to get bigger. So, saying that, what we do here on one farm is probably the equivalent of what twenty or thirty did then. So, it is about scale, I suppose — having to scale up to meet the requirements.
How many cows are in your milking herd?
PAUL: We milk 260, heading towards 300 soon. We are in expansion again. Beyond that, we probably have the same again in young stock, so there are about 500 animals on the farm. We keep all the heifers and they are reared on the property. They come up and join the milking herd at about two years and progress through.
Are there times you don’t work?
LINDA: Paul is supposed to get every second weekend off, but it doesn’t always work out. Christmas day and all that you can never go too far because he has to milk, morning and afternoon.
PAUL: Being now the boss, the buck stops with me. I tend to fill in some holes with casual labour. But part of the expansion of size was to put on another family to allow some extra management in here. Mum and Dad are still involved in the farm in that they own a lot of the land. Dad still works — he says it is part-time but some weeks it can be forty or fifty hours a week. But as far as the cow management goes, he has stepped aside and now helps out on the farm. So, you really need that size that you can employ some labour to allow you to get away.
I don’t like to subscribe to the mentality that it is a slave occupation, because it is not. But then, I am unusual in that I like work. I like getting up in the morning and I really enjoy the morning stuff. I like getting up at four o’clock when no-one else is up.
What does a typical day involve?
PAUL: On an average day, I get up at four. There’s three of us here in the mornings. Two for milking — I’ll sometimes milk — then one does the feeding. Milking takes about two hours, then cleaning up and feeding calves about an hour. So, it is about three hours we are all here. Then it is breakfast time. I try to be home at seven thirty cause Linda goes to work and the kids are getting ready for school. I usually go home for about an hour and then I come back.
This time of year, you are strip grazing your paddocks, then it is irrigation. You are changing irrigators, you are fertilising, then there’s just a million different things to do. I have a list of jobs in my mind that I prioritise and I try to get through. Maintenance sort of jobs, putting out fires … We milk again at two in the afternoon. I often don’t milk; I am often starting irrigators or off doing something else. They get here, it takes about two or three hours and everyone leaves at about five thirty, and pretty well every day we are going home by six. I go home for lunch for an hour. But if there is something on, like a kid’s sports day, I can go down there. You are your own boss, and if you are good with time management and if you have good staff then you can get away to do some things.
We mostly engage casual staff outside Michael, myself and Dad, because it is good for them and they can come and go a bit. Michael is our co-herd manager. He is good with the cows. We have excellent people. We look after them. We try to treat people how we’d like to be treated and it works pretty well. Try to give them time off. I always ask them what days they’d like to work, not what days I’d like them to work. We can get around it because we have enough people to come and go a bit. I like doing the management of things, whereas Dad likes going off on the tractor when there’s tractor work to do.
You said you aim to keep your cows happy …
PAUL: I guess the whole essence of dairying is: you are looking to get milk. A happy cow, a well-fed cow, a contended cow, a comfortable cow will give you all the milk she’s got and more, because that is what they are bred to do. I always say, the cow works for about two hours a day, gets all it can eat, all the health care provided, and then has a holiday for about two months a year before she has a calf. They have a good life while they’re here, and I guess that is the ultimate of animal welfare, in my mind.
What is the life span of a cow on a dairy farm?
PAUL: The cows have their first calf at about two years, then they begin to lactate and come into the milking herd. The cows then have a calf every year, as they would normally, but we use artificial insemination to manage the breeding and get a better quality of animal. We look for traits that induce longevity in the animals. They are inseminated, and, being mammals, they don’t all calve. We give them the opportunity, then they have a dry period before the next calf — two months. So, then they go down to the paddock, and get fed and sit around for two months, then they’ll have another calf and go back into the milking herd again. That cycle will continue for about four lactations on average, so you’ll have a six-year-old cow. Saying that, we have a sixteen-year-old cow!
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
PAUL: Dairy farmers and farmers in general work long and hard hours, and ninety per cent of the time it is because we do really enjoy what we do. It can be a chore at times, but I really want people that buy produce, whatever it is, to understand that there’s a lot of effort that goes into it. I don’t think produce, particularly fresh produce, should ever be used as a discount item. A dollar-a-litre milk is so abhorrent for farmers, and cheap onions or cheap potatoes and things like that. Part of it is community knowledge or awareness that it is quite difficult to make things now. A lot of effort and science goes in.
There are plenty of opportunities. That is something I like about dairy: there’s something for everyone. If you have an interest in whatever it be, any stage from the calf being born to the product going on the shelves, there are thousands and thousands of jobs. So, dairy has a thing called the Legendairy campaign, which is a good campaign promoting dairying in general. It is a good industry to be involved in. There’s no such thing as a stupid farmer; they are all business-minded and very results driven, because you have to be. If you can do that and also live inside your business, it is quite a good way to live.