Cow number 125 is always first to Stanvale Farm’s milk station each morning. Number 6389 is always one of the last.
“Cows are more intelligent than people give them credit for,” says Dairy Farmer Gordon Lockett. “They’re creatures of habit. They’re instinctive animals that understand routine and like consistency.”
Each morning the same herd of cows wait for Gordon at the milking gate before first light, knowing very well that those first in line are first out. Then there are the lazy ones, the ones that would rather sleep in and force Gordon to round them up every morning. His favourites are Blue Mac, Colin, and Fleetwood – named after the iconic band.
From 6.30am to 8am and 4.30pm to 7pm, 338 Holstein cows filter through Gordon’s rotary milking system. There’s a few moos and a lot of push and shove, but under Gordon’s watchful eye and that of his four-legged canine companions, it’s business as usual.
The cows are incentivised with feed, and each spend about nine minutes in one rotation on the merry-go-round with milking pumps manually fitted. Each cow will produce on average 25 litres of milk per day. In spring, the amount of milk increases thanks to the lush and abundant supply of grass, which Gordon describes as “the cheapest and best” food source for cows. Hay is second best.
As such, Gordon is careful to rotate his cows into his 30-day paddocks and night paddocks, each spanning about two to four hectares across Gordon’s 250-hectare property in Gippsland, Victoria. It’s a well-practiced rotation system.
Gordon is a third generation dairy farmer. His grandfather, Stanley Herbert Lockett, or Granddad Lockett as Gordon calls him, started the farm in mid 1924 on soldier settlement land. In those days, Granddad Lockett hand milked 25 to 30 cows, producing just a couple of gallons of milk a day.
When he passed away, Gordon’s father Stanley John Lockett followed in his footsteps at just 15 years of age. He was one of the first in the area to install a mechanical milking station, in what was considered innovative at the time. Like their great grandfather, Gordon’s sons continue to search for improved technology and techniques that will change the face of dairy farming.
Just down the road at Wood-Swallow farm in Neerim North, Gordon’s son Ben Lockett takes a hands-off approach to dairy farming. Just this year, Ben installed a robotic milking system (RMS), meaning he can enjoy his bacon and eggs for breakfast while his cows visit the RMS station on their own accord – it only took three days to teach the cows the new daily procedure. But like Gordon’s herd, there are always a handful of slackers that need fetching and an extra push to deliver the white liquid gold.
After an initial mapping to identify each cow, the sensor-based system recalls the exact position of the cow’s teats and attaches pumps via sensors, one by one. The system measures the milk flow and cuts off pumps individually when it detects a slowing pattern.
Like an Apple Watch system, the cow’s daily movements are recorded thanks to an electronic tag near the cow’s chewing muscle. The cow’s daily step count is monitored to ensure the correct ratio of feed intake to produce the optimum milk output. If any levels spike or plummet, it could indicate illness or pregnancy and Ben is alerted of the cows that need attention. Like Big Brother, Ben is always watching, although he admits he doesn’t see particular cows for three weeks thanks to the new system.
“A RMS is no quicker than using the rotary method but it is more hands-off,” Ben says. “People have said this method results in five litres more milk than with the rotary system, but it’s still early days for us.”
Recently, Gordon took his 87-year-old mother to see the new RMS system.
“At first she said ‘dad would probably say you’re bloody mad. Milk those cows the way you’re supposed too.’ But then he’d see it and say ‘it’s the best thing you’ve ever done.’
“People have told us we’re mad. Not everybody adapts to change, but just as people eventually learned to stop using a separator to get cream from milk, they might one day adapt to more automated methods,” Gordon says.
“There’s plenty of people that have said there’s no farming future here, but if you don’t progress, you get left behind.”
For some, just like coffee producers, the city lights have called and they close up shop and sell their property to neighbours, but the Lockett family see the value in staying put. Years ago when Victorian dairy farmers were struggling with poor milk prices, Parmalat came to Gordon with an offer too good to refuse and he’s stayed loyal ever since.
Twenty years ago, farmers were paid by the litre. These days, Australian milk prices are based on the amount of butter fat and protein solid content in the milk supply.
Every second day, a Parmalat Professional tanker comes to collect Gordon’s milk supply, which is driven to Parmalat’s processing facility in Rowville to start the commercial production and delivery of Gordon and Ben’s milk supply.
On arrival, the milk is tested for temperature, composition, and antibiotics. The milk fills several thousand two-litre bottles every hour, is packed into crates, and directly fed into Parmalat’s cool room where they remain until pick up, which can be as short as 20 minutes.
The day after collection, Gordon receives a text message highlighting his milk’s cell count, protein level, and butter fat volume. Parmalat Professional Foodservice Brand Manager Jane Clarke says this balance of fat and protein is needed to produce the perfect microfoam when textured with coffee.
“We work with research and development teams to design a suite of products that suit most roast profiles to deliver the flavour notes that you want in the cup,” Jane says.
“Some roasters like to use Pauls Professional Café Crema because of its profile, or Pauls Professional Smarter White Juggler with only 2 per cent fat, but the most popular is our Pauls Professional Full Cream which sits in the sweet spot. It pairs with the variety of most blends and supports delicate floral and fruity notes of coffee. People think that one type of milk has to suit all types of coffees, but that’s why we invite people to try our range. We have a milk to match everyone’s needs. What works for one might not work with another.”
This article appears in the October edition of BeanScene. To read the story in FULL, subscribe now.
For more information, visit www.parmalatprofessional.com.au