Katunga’s Krystal Sheridan and her partner Benj Roubini might have been born on different continents, but they have been united by a love of cows.
Neither grew up on dairy farms but together they are determined to carve out a future in the industry.
Krystal grew up in Heathcote and was on her way to becoming a vet when she realised her heart just wasn’t in it.
“I had never touched a dairy cow until placement at Wagga,” Krystal said.
“I ended up finishing my first degree and started travelling and working on different dairy farms around the countryside and that was it.”
Krystal began working on the Katunga dairy farm of Ross and Melissa Nicholl in 2017.
“I was looking for a job a little closer to home until I decided what I wanted to do with my career,” she said.
“I started out milking and rearing calves and loved it. I have worked my way up to herd manager and eventually hope to manage my own farm.”
Benj came to Australia 12 years ago.
He has grown vegies, worked on huge grain properties and worked with sheep and cattle. It wasn’t until he got involved with dairy cows that he found his calling.
He started working for the Nicoll family at the start of the year.
“I left school in Year 10 and have always been more comfortable surrounded by land and animals: in fact when Krystal and I met, what bonded us was our love for cows,” Benj said.
“Farming is fine but the cows are what it is all about for us,” Benj said.
The couple has a long-held dream to own a farm, but for future sustainability is thinking more of a mixed operation selling rustic artisanal dairy products like cheese and cream.
“I think to have a farm in Australia we are going to need to be smart and versatile and definitely farm in an area where there is more rainfall,” Krystal said.
“I have some young stock and as time goes on, I will build-up my numbers.”
Until that day arrives Krystal and Benj are busy working on improving their own knowledge and skills.
The couple is involved in the Young Dairy Network and when it comes to learning, Krystal said Ross had been very supportive and encouraging.
“I participated in the pastures for profit course and that has helped us transition the herd to more of a lot feeding scenario. Ross supports us going to workshops and trusts that it is important to us,” she said.
The farm feed base is predominately pasture including summer crops but this season the herd will be lot fed, getting them through a long and dry summer with as much milk as possible is a high priority.
“To encourage intake, we will be feeding silage for moisture and shading the cows with access to sprinklers so they can regulate their temperature,” Krystal said.
This year’s herd number will sit somewhere between 300 and 350.
“We peaked at 410 but with no spring last year we culled pretty heavily to 300 and numbers have been stable ever since,” she said.
Krystal said pushing efficiencies is essential to remain viable.
“One of the biggest efficiency’s we have capitalised on is to feed less cows, more.
“Just as we did after our number cut back last spring, we produced the same amount of milk as the previous year with 100 less cows. We achieved this by focusing on feed quality and micro managing cows through weather extremes, driving intakes to maintain production all season, regardless of temperature.”
Krystal said she never thought she would become a dairy farmer.
“One of the biggest things I worked out when I left vet school was it’s great to fix an animal, but I like the intimate relationship of calving down, rearing the calf and watching them go into the herd and do really well.”
She said learning to farm in northern Victorian’s tough conditions was teaching them some valuable lessons.
“We have learnt to do a good job with as little feed waste as possible and we have also learnt you can’t cut numbers back too far or you end up in a downward spiral next season — you need to be ready to bounce back.
“You also need to have a trigger point for exiting and make a call before things turn too bad.”
Despite these thoughts the couple is not planning on leaving the industry and instead is hoping for a strong future.
“The season has been challenging but it makes you feel strong and smart enough to adapt to change — the challenge is every day is different and it is certainly not repetitive,” she said.