Sisters Alicia and Sophie Blain know how to step up and take on a big challenge.
With their father Darin’s ability to do physical work limited by a back injury, Alicia, 21, and Sophie, 19, are now the backbone of the family’s Cooriemungle farm.
Along with older brother Jayden who returns to help on breaks from university, the sisters are doing the bulk of the work to keep the new-look farm running smoothly, and they’re achieving great results.
Alicia graduated with a Diploma of Nursing from South West TAFE in 2017 and combines her farm role with part-time work as a nurse at Cobden Health.
Sophie was studying health science in Geelong but has returned home to play her part on the farm while studying nursing at Deakin University Warrnambool.
The new-look farm started last November after a split from a larger family operation. They now milk 154 Friesians on the 72 ha home farm, supported by two out-blocks.
The sisters’ interest in nursing reflects their nurturing side, and that extends to their farm work where teamwork and caring for cows are high priorities.
“We love our cows and have names for half of them,” Alicia said.
“They’re like our pets,” Sophie said. “Dad loves them too; I’ve never seen him yell at them or push them.”
The farm has recorded improvements in production and in-calf rates under the new management system.
The sisters said teamwork had made the difference.
“We AI all cows and those that don’t get pregnant go under the bull,” Sophie said.
“We’ve had a really good year with 49 heifers out of the older cows and we also got 15 heifers that were joined by beef.”
The decision to add beef is proving successful.
“Dad wanted more cows so he bought 15 joined by beef. He’s glad he did and we want to keep rearing and selling them,” Sophie said.
“There’s a good market at the moment.”
They keep all dairy heifers and retain the current stocking rate.
Darin, who is a director of Australian Dairy Farmers Corportation and Cowbank, has asumed the role of teacher, mechinery repairer and books manager.
“We’re the labour,” Alicia said.
“We milk and feed and do everything around the farm while Dad is teaching us, though we all learn from each other.”
Both sisters want the farm to stay in the family.
Their Friesian cows are responding well to loving care, with production up since November.
“Since we took over we’ve had a better milk production outcome,” Sophie said.
“I guess it’s because we’re all part of it. We all have our ideas and try to work smarter. It’s a bit more of a team now.”
Alicia works four days per fortnight along with other casual shifts at Cobden Health and Sophie works at a Port Campbell restaurant. Both sisters play netball and enjoy good social lives.
“Mum (Sally) and Dad are Sunday morning milkers,” Sophie said.
“It’s all fair; everyone works together. There were 264 cows before the split but 154 is ideal for our land and to suit our lifestyle.”
They have moved off farm and built a house about 10 minutes away at Scotts Creek because of Darin’s bad back.
“We know Dad can’t do all the labour so that’s why we’re here,” Alicia said. “He fixes the machinery, does the books and we do all the feeding and the heavy lifting.
“We love it and this is what we want.”
It’s a democratic style of farming with everyone contributing ideas.
“We want to do it as one, not just one boss telling you what to do,” Alicia said.
“Not only is Dad an excellent teacher and mentor, he also fosters our indivdual thinking and decision-making around the farm.
“We recently built a new shed for storing hay and machinery, of which we all had a say of its location in regards to its practicaility.
“Our paddocks were too big for 154 cows so we brainstormed what we should do; then we halved the paddocks, re-did all the fences together and decided where we should put the feed bins.”
The farm is in a high rainfall area and gets very wet, although 60 per cent is drained and there’s a feed pad to protect paddocks.
Each morning over winter the cows are milked and then go to the feed pad where they are fed silage and hay mostly from the out-blocks, and some brought-in vetch.
The 22-a-side herringbone dairy has been recently upgraded with a new vacuum and feed system and suits the herd size.
“We have seven runs and it takes about an hour on a good day when me and Sophie are working,” Alicia said.
Combining care for cows and people is an interesting mix for Alicia.
“My nursing career is very important to me as I love working with people throughout the day, but there is nothing more enjoyable then coming home to the family farm to nurse and care for my own cows and animals.
“It’s a great balance, I’m living the dream to be honest.”
For Sophie working at a restataurant is a social outlet and chance to do something different. “If you love the lifestyle and love being outdoors it’s the way to go,” she said.