Luke & Mel Wallace - Innovations and future planning in their South Gippsland Dairy..

by Gippsland Jersey

The Wallace family is one of four dairies that supply beautiful premium jersey milk to Gippsland Jersey that is available at selected Victorian Woolworths stores.

Luke and Mel (supported by their family) are extraordinary dairy farmers and were named in 2016 by Dairy Australia as one of Australia’s top suppliers for having an average bulk milk cell count of less than 100,000cells/ml which puts them as one of the top 5 per cent of producers in Australia.

In 2016 after the dairy crisis Luke and Mel were tossing up ideas on how to do things differently. They produce premium jersey high-fat milk and put in a huge effort 365 days a year to make it happen without any reward. Everyone remembers the dairy crisis in 2016 which is when Gippsland Jersey was founded with a commitment to ensure that farmers are paid a fair price and that they are valued - not just a number.

Conversations were had with Mel & Luke about our intentions of starting Gippsland Jersey and it was decided that they would come along on our journey as suppliers, knowing that we would value and respect them with an opportunity for them to fly the flag for the jersey bred and to have the opportunity to share their farming story to a larger audience on the brand's platform. If you take a look at Gippsland Jersey’s social media pages, you will find lots of authentic farm posts with Luke’s voice explaining and educating people about where their food comes from (he also has a fabulous singing voice I should add).

From the inception of Gippsland Jersey, Mel & Luke have been onboard with support and encouragement. On the day that we launched our milk brand at Warragul Farmers Market in 2016, Luke and Mel finished up milking their cows early to be at the market at the crack of dawn to meet the customers and to promote what and why we were doing it. Luke is a Master breeder, very passionate about dairy genetics and the breeding industry as a whole (he has won many awards) and is extremely passionate about what he does. Over the past five years, Luke and Mel have hosted hordes of media at their farm, welcome any school/interest group for a tour and hosted a bunch of hipster baristas for an on-farm barista day so that more people can have a closer connection to where and how their milk comes from.

The Wallacedale Farm is neat as a pin and is set in a picturesque location with green rolling hills speckled with golden cows happily munching on nutrient-rich pasture.

If successful in this application, it will enable Luke and Mel to get off the farm a bit more - hopefully, he can be seen in-person at Woolies stores giving out milk samples and hosting more groups with more ease on his farm. Implementing new technology onto the farm is a costly exercise and will enable him to do a much more efficient job with the cows being even happier!
  
Q&A 
Tell us about your dairy farm business?

My wife and I with the help of a part time employee run a third generation family farm in Poowong North in South Gippsland. We have three teenage children one of whom is interested in farming. My 69 year old father still helps out on the farm also. Milking a herd of 190 Registered Jersey cows under the Wallacedale Prefix started by my grandfather. We are passionate about breeding and genetics and producing high quality milk from healthy happy cows! Educating the public about the truths of how animals are treated on dairy farms and our care for the environment are also very important to us. Our milk supply company Gippsland Jersey are amazing. We often share posts on social media through them to let people know what is happening on the farm. Last year we even hosted a Barista meet the farmer day which was a huge success. Baristas and coffee shop owners and staff were invited to our farm to learn about our industry and how important the quality of milk that they use in their coffee is! They even got to try to hand milk a cow . All of these videos are available on the Gippsland Jersey facebook page.

What is your vision for the business and what improvements have you already put in place to help achieve this?
Our vision is to be able to continue to sustainably milk and breed high quality Jersey cattle for many years to come. We want to set our business up so it can continue to be financially viable in the future while reducing our impact on the environment. Modern technologies and leading edge research we feel is extremely important for the future growth and success not just for our business but for the dairy industry as a whole. Two years ago we invested in herd health activity monitoring collars. This has helped us to monitor cow health and with heat detection. We have already seen improved conception rates and reduced veterinary costs from this investment. Last year we installed a new effluent system to reuse waste water to clean the cow yards and also allow us to irrigate onto pasture. This has helped reduce the use of synthetic fertiliser and lower our input costs. Not to mention the saving of fresh water not required for hosing up. Over the last fifteen years we have fenced off most of our creeks and waterways and planted many thousands of trees.

Do you look for external advice to help guide your business activities and future plans? If so, can you please outline what this involves?
Yes we use an On Farm Consultant who sits down with us once a year and we discuss future plans and ideas. We do an annual budget and also a review of the previous financial season. We bounce ideas off him and ask advice on ways to improve our business and also our work life balance. We are also involved in farm discussion groups, use an animal nutritionist and use online networks to do research etc.

Who do you currently supply your milk to?
Gippsland Jersey- A 100% Australian farmer owned milk company. We were the second of what has now grown to be 4 younger families who supply milk for use in Gippsland Jerseys amazing products!

What are you seeking funding for?

We are about to undertake a very exciting and daunting project! We have just ordered and paid a deposit on two Lely Automated Robotic milking machines. This will require new concrete and a new shed to house them in along with a Generator for backup power and various other components. We installed a concrete feed pad many years ago to feed our cows on during the winter months. We are in a very high rainfall area and pasture damage is hard to avoid when feeding cows directly on wet pastures and soils. The use of this will become more complex and critical once the Robots are in use. The cows will no longer be eating from the feed pad as a whole herd. This will mean that if we do not put a weather proof roof over it we will waste a lot of fodder that will get wet and not have time to be eaten. It will be very beneficial for cow health as they will be able to escape from the rain and wind in winter but also from the sun in summer.

With increased funding this would allow us to do the extra things required to make the project work at its optimum efficiency. Like placing a roof over the existing feed pad and adding fans, sprinklers and water troughs for cooling during the hotter summer months. All contributing to improved animal comfort and welfare . This will translate to increased production and happier healthier cows.

Clearly outline the business efficiencies to be gained from the investment.

The list of efficiencies and advantages of Robotic milking are huge. Animal health and welfare are the main factors alongside increased production per cow. The Robots allow the cows to come and go at their own will to be milked. They detect any changes in milk quality instantly and will alert you of a cow with mastitis much quicker than the human eye. Thus allowing early intervention and treatment. Saving time, money, stress on the cow and lost production. Not to mention eliminating the likelihood of the cow becoming ill from the infection. They also monitor changes in cow activity and production levels and so indicating if she may be on the verge of becoming sick. Once again allowing for early intervention and treatment to occur reducing veterinary costs. They will automatically draft the cow off into a treatment area and alert me via phone message or our computer to act. Milk quality will also benefit as the cows are more relaxed and comfortable being miked individually in a Robot than a conventional dairy. These are just a few of the advantages and efficiencies to be gained. Currently we spend up to four hours per day milking in our existing old dairy. Once the Robots are installed this will free up approximately three hours a day which will be used to improve productivity in other areas of the dairy business. It is also hoped that the flexibility of the new system will make the idea of dairy farming more attractive for the next generation!

What is your expected timeframe for completing the project?
We plan to begin concrete and shed works early in 2022 and the Robots are due for delivery later this year sometime all going well! We are making the shed and concrete area large enough for expansion in the future. If one of our children wants to work with us and take over the farm we will have scope to install a third Robotic milker allowing us to increase cow numbers
We wish Luke & Mel the best of luck and can't wait to see the robot milkers in action!