Beefing up their business

By Sophie Baldwin

Thirty years of dairy breeding kicked up the dust in the yards as the cows made their way onto the back of B-double trucks.

Sally Mitchell and Barry Ashwin could only watch as the trucks late last week drove away from their farm at Torrumbarry, taking with them decades of hard work.

Mrs Mitchell points to one of the cows in the yard.

‘‘That’s 7210, she is one of our heifers and she will make someone a great cow in a few years. I spent a lot of time building up our herd and we had a good young herd,’’ she said.

But with the roar of an engine and a swirl of dust, another load drove out.

‘‘Our cows have just gone into the four winds and disappeared,’’ Mrs Mitchell said.

It was a bittersweet moment for the couple, which has lost faith in the northern Victorian irrigation system.

They are grateful to have options and they know come nightfall they will have a roof over their heads and food on the table — but the decision to sell their cows still hurt.

‘‘I had a sleepless night last night,’’ Mrs Mitchell said.

‘‘It feels like everything we have done for the last 30 years has been ripped away from us.

‘‘Cows have been my thing for so long. I was the herd manager, I did everything from AI to calf rearing while Barry did everything else.’’

Thankfully, their 550 cows are making their way to various herds across the state — not to the abattoirs.

It was going to cost the business $300000 to get its stock through to spring. Not only was there 550 cows, there was also 300 head of young stock on the property.

‘‘The cost of water, the dry outlook from every weather model and almond developments at Robinvale and their ability to pay more per meg of water than us, meant the return was no longer there,’’ Mrs Mitchell said.

‘‘We have lost confidence in the irrigation system and it is a sad day when we can make a better return selling temporary water.’’

Mrs Mitchell said she also felt let down by the lobby groups supposedly set up to help and support the dairy industry.

‘‘I am a UDV member and they have done absolutely nothing.’’

The couple is going to diversify into beef but the business model has changed forever.

Three of the couple’s four employees have been let go and the list of 40 or so local businesses the dairy supported will go in the bin.

Across 30 years, the business has employed more than 40 people.

‘‘I can remember growing up in Cohuna and it was such a vibrant place. I went to school with kids of share farmers, it was green and thriving and that was all because of the dairy industry; now, that’s gone and it’s such a sad thing.

‘‘I don’t know how I feel, it’s a bit early to tell. I am tired and drained today but I am sure I will bounce back.’’