LOCAL dairy farmer Kate Kirk is well on the way to a prosperous farming future after recently winning a Victorian Young Farmers Scholarship Award.
The Award, a State Government initiative, entitles 13 recipients to a grant of up to $5000 to upskill through agricultural studies and training, with a further $5000 available to invest on-farm.
Kate recently travelled to New Zealand to complete an advanced hoof-trimming course using the Award money and plans to invest in a specialised hoof trimming crush so she can apply her new skills at home.
During the course, Kate and other participants practiced on “buckets of dead legs” before spending five days trimming big (live) Holsteins’ hooves using the five step Dutch method.
Kate says the hands-on, in depth course changed her mind about theories of why cows get sore feet and convinced her of the importance of preventative trimming for cow comfort and from a cost perspective. She learned about all the science behind hoof trimming, the way the hoof grows and the causes and treatments of infections and says “it’s so opposite to what people think”.
“A lot of farmers think if a cow’s got a sore foot, it must’ve just stepped on a stone, but stones can’t cause laminitis – it starts from the inside out not from the outside in,” she says.
She says techniques used by farmers with the best intentions, such as scraping out the hoof, can actually make infections worse by exposing live tissue to bacteria.
“One of the other farmers in the course and I just looked at each other and said ‘how many cows have we butchered thinking we were doing the right thing?’ Now we’re probably the best qualified hoof trimmers in Victoria.”
She says the knowledge and the opportunity to practice in a safe environment were “invaluable” and although there are no courses available in Australia, Kate urges other farmers to look into hoof trimming.
“It can be hard for older farmers to change their ways- they say ‘I haven’t hoof trimmed for 20 years; why would I start now?’ but if you’ve got a lame cow, you can lose 5% to 36% per cent of that cow’s milk production. Some can’t be fixed so you have to replace the animal at a cost of around $1,200. But if you invest in the course and a $50 hoof knife, preventative trimming could potentially save you a lot of money in the long term,” she says.
As well as continuing to upskill, Kate hopes to inspire local young people to pursue farming careers by visiting local high schools and talking about “all the cool things farmers get to do every day”.
“I’m surprised there’s not more opportunities to study agriculture at local high schools. It’s a great industry. People underestimate farmers. They think we’re not very bright – we just go and milk cows in the morning then go and do it again at night. But what we actually do is turn a low quality product into a high quality product. There’s a lot of science behind it and there’s a lot of money to be made. You can have unbelievable asset growth,” she said.
Kate didn’t grow up on a farm – she only started milking cows at the age of 19 when she wanted a change from her supermarket job. Now 32, Kate and her husband Jason have worked hard to build up a strong business with minimal contracting costs, and after four years of leasing land from Jason’s parents and milking 320 Holsteins at Loch, they plan to move to their own farm at Dumbalk (purchased in 2015) in about 18 months’ time, and eventually buy more land and increase herd size to around 500.
“We’ve worked really hard – sometimes 100 plus hours a week and we didn’t do much socialising. But it’s got us to where we are now. Nothing’s quick in dairy and decisions need to be made based on a long term view. A lot of young people can’t see the value in working hard now to see the benefits later on. But we have a strong business plan and we live how other people don’t want to live now so we can live how they can’t later on,” she said.
Onwards and upwards for innovative young farmer