The six decades Bernie McManus has spent in the dairy industry might be coming to an end but the 73-year-old is certainly going out on top.
His Bercar Jersey herd, at Bamawm, is currently ranked number two in DataGene’s recently released Australian Breeding Value top 50 Jersey herds in the country and has consistently placed in the top 10 during the past decade, even hitting equal first at one point.
And while Mr McManus certainly knows how to breed a good cow, he isn’t too shabby when it comes to bulls either — there have been quite a few Bercar bulls that have found their way onto the Genetics Australia sire list and impregnated cows across the country and overseas.
Mr McManus has embraced modern breeding technology including genomic testing, and the 11 bulls he has just tested averaged a BPI of 150 across the group.
“We have one bull heading into Genetics Australia again this year and I recently sold three bulls into one of the best Jersey herds in Australia, which really gives me a deep sense of pride,” he said.
“I have spent a lifetime breeding cows and a lifetime getting my herd to where it is today.
“I know it will be a sad day when it comes time to say goodbye, but it is time to scale back and smell the roses and try something different.”
And for someone who has been milking cows since he was 10 years old, life certainly will be different when October comes around and the plan to disperse the milking herd comes into action.
Mr McManus knows every single cow in the Bercar herd and the extensive pedigrees behind each and every one, some of which can be traced back to 13 generations of AI.
The nucleus of the herd comes from four very strong cow families — Peach, Biddy, Meg and Rita.
“Peach had 10 lactations and (an) average PI of 125. She was a 6500 litre cow with very high components and was an outstanding foundation cow, while Rita was the first 7000 litre cow we had back in the 1970s,” Mr McManus said.
The high index of the Bercar herd is the result of decades of hard work by Mr McManus and his wife Carol.
“It takes strong breeding goals and looking after the herd well,” he said.
“I am strict with cows, especially when it comes to high cell counts, and I always breed from high index bulls with good type and workability.”
Initially, Mr McManus combined farm work with a job in the insemination industry. He estimates he has inseminated well over 60 000 cows over the years.
“Dairying has bought me many great friendships during a lifetime of work, and catching up with other retired dairy farmers and talking about the times we had always brings a smile to my face.”
In 1998, the couple took over the running of the Bamawn family farm after the passing of Mr McManus’s father.
Mr McManus says while dairying has never made the family financially rich, it has allowed them to raise four successful children and given them riches on another scale.
“We have always farmed on a smaller scale and it has always been a bit of a struggle but we have managed to get to the point we are now without too much debt and we have ended up with a small but easy to manage and well laid out farm.”
And Mr McManus has done it all with his wife by his side.
“For someone who didn’t originally come from a farm, Carol has been a great support,” he said.
While laughing, Mr McManus said he couldn’t have done it without his daily intake of two of the special buns Carol makes — which he has with his cuppa every morning.
“From October through to February I get the cows up and Carol will watch the cows come into the yard and check what is in season,” he said.
“We usually confer our lists and rarely do we miss a cow between us.
``Morning and night she is there, and she comes back to help me clean up after milking.
“Carol has all the computer knowledge which is helpful when it comes to the books and breeding side of things.
“I think we have led a good life and we have certainly enjoyed our time dairying, but it is now time for some travel and some extra time with the grandkids.”