A lifetime dedicated to cows

By Alana Christensen

Surrounded by her beloved Jerseys on her Numurkah property is where Margaret Cockerell feels most at home.

The dairy farmer was recently awarded life membership of Jersey Australia, and said many people had helped her to reach where she was today.

‘‘You don’t get awards like that without people and support behind you,’’ Mrs Cockerell said.

‘‘It was totally unexpected. I’m a big believer in if you’ve got something you’ve got to give something back.’’

Having grown up on a dairy farm in Deans Marsh, 20km north of Lorne in south-west Victoria, dairying was in Mrs Cockerell’s blood.

Although originally training as a teacher, it wasn’t long before she and husband John found their way back to dairying, taking over John’s family farm.

While her family’s farm was strictly Jerseys and Holsteins, Mrs Cockerell described her husband’s family farm as ‘‘Heinz 57’’ — every single dairy breed crossed with each other.

Purchasing a soldier settlement block in Numurkah in 1980, the couple’s farm has progressively grown over the years after acquiring a further three settlement blocks — and became an all-Jersey farm by the late 1980s.

‘‘We feel they’re more efficient with the conversion of milk to feed,’’ Mrs Cockerell said.

‘‘They’re easy to handle, they calve easier than a lot of other breeds — there’s a lot of good things about them.’’

Having been around the dairy industry for decades, Mrs Cockerell said she’s experienced endless changes — not all of them for the better, in her eyes.

‘‘I think the milk price structure has gone the way of power companies, you’ve got to bargain to get your price,’’ she said.

‘‘Most of us are that busy trying to run our farms without having to work out where we’ll find the money.’’

As she and her husband start to look towards retirement, Mrs Cockerell said it would be hard to let go of their beloved 340-strong herd, with a succession plan for the farm unclear.

She said it was becoming increasingly difficult for young people to find their way into farming.

‘‘There’s a big move away from the family farm.

‘‘Cost is certainly part of it; not many people can afford to borrow $1million or more.’’

While her work as president of the Goulburn Murray Jersey Breeders Club will continue following the club’s 60th anniversary this year, Mrs Cockerell said she was looking forward to the next generation of dairy farmers injecting some ‘‘spark’’ into the industry.