The Brasington family love dairying. They enjoy the steady rhythms of the days, and the peace and quiet of country life. Most of all, Brett Brasington loves milking cows. He knows each cow in the herd and keeps a close watch over them, monitoring them and providing nutrient-dense food to ensure their wellbeing. His father, Rod Brasington grew up on their farm in Maroon, and now Rod and wife, Leann, hope Brett has bright future in dairying — as long as the dairy industry remains financially viable. The dollar-a-litre milk price has affected Australian dairy farmers across the board, and the Brasingtons, like many others, have had to increase the numbers of their herd to continue. They hope people will consider where their food comes from and buy branded milk to support their local farmer.
LEANN, ROD & BRETT BRASINGTON
You inherited the farm through Rod’s mother’s side of the family?
LEANN: Brett is the fifth generation milking on the farm, here. A big history.
ROD: My mum’s parents probably milked thirty cows. My mum and dad probably got up to about sixty. Then, Leann and I got up to ninety. Now, Brett has 150 and he’s probably going to get to 200. We have to get bigger and bigger all of the time.
What breed are your cows?
BRETT: Mostly Holstein, but they’re not big Holsteins because we crossed with Jersey.
ROD: Originally, my mum had Jerseys, then we put Friesian bull over the Jersey. They are probably more Friesian than Jersey now.
BRETT: We don’t sell any hay. We’ve just got the dairy. We do have a little bit of beef country. We have 1500 acres all up, and a hundred steers or bullocks.
How do you feel about the milk prices?
ROD: It is not too bad. It could be better, but it is not too bad if we keep our fat and protein up there. We have to milk more cows.
LEANN: You have to have volume. But, going with Dairy Farmers, you have your benchmark to meet. You always have a base price, but then you have to haggle your bonuses — your fat, protein, cell count and total count all on par to get top dollar. You do that with everyday management to get quality.
How do you ensure good milk quality?
ROD: You feed them good feed. We mill our own grain. We get the corn and the barley for protein and minerals, and it is all chopped up and mixed into one, and that is fed to the cows.
LEANN: That is Brett’s speciality. He monitors it every day. He talks to the nutritionist, they do up the diet for us, and then Brett works out the technical side in the mill to make sure we get that right, because it has to be spot on — especially the minerals.
ROD: Good feed and good pasture in the paddocks, good rye grass — fertilise it, water it and keep it coming. If you have hungry cows, if they’re not full, they’re not going to produce milk.
What does a day in your life look like?
LEANN: On a general day, we’re all awake ninety per cent of the time at four-thirty in the morning, every day, seven days a week. We take it in turns on the very cold mornings. Not all of us have to be up because it is pointless — you can’t do anything in the dark. But, we love this time of year. It is brilliant right through until Christmas, until it gets hot. The cows absolutely hate heat.
ROD: If they get very hot, they drop the milk, even if you’re trying to feed them.
BRETT: I wake up, milk the cows and have breakfast. After breakfast, I feed all of the poddy calves grain and hay, then mix up feed. At the moment, the cows are getting a big strip of ryegrass through the day and a mix at night. I mix up feed, put that out. Then, there are three or four irrigators, and fertilising and fences.
ROD: I am the irrigator man, mostly. When they break, I have to fix them!
LEANN: Then, at three o’clock, or half-past three now the days are getting a bit longer, the shift starts again at the dairy. We start milking and shift the heifers.
ROD: It only takes about an hour or two to put the cows through, by the time you hose it out. It is quite quick. But altogether the jobs take all day, though we have a break for lunch or morning tea. You take your time and if it is hot we have a sleep in the afternoon. At some times in the year, you might be very busy, making hay or silage. Other times, it can be quiet, so you just do a few jobs around the place. There’s always something to do.
What are your favourite things about dairying life?
ROD: Waking up and seeing the sun, then seeing the sun when it goes down. You have to have time to smell the flowers and look at the view. You’ve got such a variety of jobs. You’re on the tractor, or the bike, or the horse. You’ve got dogs. You’re your own boss. It is a great life.
LEANN: I probably appreciate home a lot more since I worked in Sydney this year. I was so glad to get home. Down there, I lived in a little box, a little motel thing for three weeks. I loved the work — I was working for RM Williams — but, ugh, getting to work and getting home … it was quite interesting. Here — fresh air.
ROD: I am lucky to have Leann. She’s done a lot. She’s milked and worked on the farm, as well as looked after kids. The kids came with us on the tractor or on the bikes, or in the pram down at the cow yard.
How did you two meet?
LEANN: Dancing. Ballroom dancing. We used to dance four days a week: Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
ROD: We used to go to a lot of the country dances, back in the day. We haven’t done it for a while. I used to do ballroom dancing competitions. Used to have the tails, white shirt, bow tie and black shiny boots.
LEANN: But, you know, when a bit of jiggly music comes on, twinkle toes over here starts twinkling his toes. He loves it.
What about you, Brett? What do you like?
BRETT: All of it. I like milking the cows.
LEANN: Brett knows everything about the cows. He remembers numbers.
BRETT: Every heifer. Every number. We just bought nine cows from clearing sale the other day and Dad is milking away, and I say, ‘You just milked a new one.’ And he says, ‘Oh, did I?’
LEANN: I used to know all of the cows until Brett, around the age of fourteen or fifteen, started doing more of the bookwork. Then, when he went away up north, he worked on a couple of big stations, and I had to take it back over. When he came home he had a bit of a mess to clean up because I wasn’t quite as much on the ball as what he was. But he worked it out.
BRETT: I have a program called Easy Dairy on the computer. You just type in the cow number and it comes up with all of the details: when she was mated or calved or dried off or whatever — the whole history of the cow.
LEANN: He loves that side of it.
BRETT: I love all of it, really. I love handling cattle and milking.
LEANN: At the age of eleven or twelve, Brett used to go to the sales at Bartholomew & Co in Beaudesert. Garth [Weatherall] would pick him up at four o’clock in the morning. I didn’t ever get up or anything like that. He got himself up and went off to work. He did that for years, and then they employed him. He was going to be an auctioneer. But Brett loves the cattle side; he doesn’t love the people.
BRETT: I love the animals. I am not happy unless I am milking cows.
LEANN: He had the initiative to work from an early age. He’d go to the sales and everyone knew him.
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
BRETT: Keep buying milk, support your local farmers and stop the dollar-a-litre milk. That’s the biggest thing.
LEANN: Buy branded milk. I don’t care which brand. Branded milk is important. They won’t have any milk left, if it keeps going. There won’t be any farmers left. A lot of our friends who come from the city don’t understand why you have to buy branded milk. They can buy a coffee for $4.20, but they can’t buy the milk. They won’t realise, until there is no milk. You need to be conscious of where your food comes from.