Family effort to keep dairy dream alive

By Sophie Baldwin

Emily Robins is doing everything she can to help her parents Russ and Ruth stay on their Cohuna dairy farm.

The Year 12 student has no qualms about milking twice a day as well as attending school, because she wants dairying and breeding Holsteins under the family prefix Kayton to remain part of her future.

When the family bought their dairy farm just outside of Cohuna it ticked all the boxes.

It was close to town, had a nice house and great infrastructure, including a 50-stand rotary dairy.

It was lush and green, and the family was milking more than 300 cows.

Today it is a different story.

The herd has shrunk to a core milking stock of 100, the paddocks are dry and the only green is the lawn around the house.

Russ is contracting off-farm and Ruth also works off-farm as a high school teacher.

Emily and her sister Kiara help on the farm most days — Kiara gets the cows up and feeds the calves while Emily milks.

The Robins family is like many northern Victorian farmers struggling to get by.

Poorly executed irrigation modernisation a few years ago left them without access to irrigation water for a significant period and they went from a gravity system to having the expense of pumping water 2.5 km to their farm.

Increasing costs, poor water policy and high water prices have now turned a once profitable and self-sufficient farm into a dust bowl.

“I don’t like to think about the future, or I will start crying,” Emily said.

“We have already said goodbye to some pretty good cows, and we can’t sell too many more.”

Emily has always been passionate about cows.

She was over the moon last year when she was able to buy the great-granddaughter of one of her favourite cows ever, the American cow Harvue Roy Frosty. Emily purchased Bluechip TT Solomon Frosty last year after months and months of saving.

“I want to continue breeding cows,” she said.

“We have 13 generations of VG and excellent cows and it is the cows’ genetics that keep me going.

“If we lose our herd, we lose all that history and we would never get that back again.”

Emily said as the tough times continued and rolled from one year into the next, she had become somewhat immune to the stress.

“We talk about it at school sometimes, but the townies don’t really get it.

“We have lost a lot of kids already and it’s not just the farm kids leaving, it is others who rely on a steady income from the dairy industry.”

Emily has a maturity beyond her years and is planning on heading away to university next year to study agriculture, but her overriding life goal is to continue Kayton Holsteins into the next generation.

“It has been a hard struggle for a while now,” she said.

“I can’t say it doesn’t worry me, but I am not going to sit down and rock in the corner because that won’t get the job done.

“I look forward to getting home from school, away from practice exams and putting on some good tunes and milking the cows — it is actually very relaxing.”