Kate and Kym Bartlett, third generation dairy farmers from Woods Point near Jervois, are single-minded about quality.
Since they purchased their farm from Kym’s parents in 2003, they’ve built an extra-wide 15-a-side rapid-exit dairy and increased their herd of Holstein-Friesians. They currently milk 210 cows through the dairy twice a day.
“We built the new dairy in 2003 just as the drought started,” Kate said. “At the same time, we took over the family farm. And the day we started building the new dairy was the day I went into labour with our second baby, so it was a busy time!”
For the Bartletts, being busy is the standard. They crop their own hay for feed for their herd. They have a closed herd – they rear all their own calves and the health of their stock through the entire growth process is paramount. They milk 365 days a year, with Kym taking care of 11 of the 14 milking’s each week.
“We have a worker who comes in one afternoon a week and on most Sundays to milk, to allow me to get other work done. He only milks, so I still see the stock why doing feed or organizing fences,” said Kym.
When planning the new dairy 16 years ago, Kym did significant research including visiting other farms to see what technology appealed to him. “We knew this would be the only dairy we would build in our lifetime, so we wanted it to be right. Our aim was to make it as comfortable as possible for the person doing the milking as well as the cows,” Kate said.
“Ours is a one-person dairy, so we went with a Herringbone rather than a Rotary. It offers the features we need as a sole operator, and a good level of automation, such as auto cup removers and auto-wash with the rapid exit.”
The Bartletts sell their milk to the Dairy Farmers Milk Co-operative and follows their quality systems. Kate is responsible for the Quality Assurance program and record keeping, which is critical when it comes time for audits.
“We have made our own QA sheets that outline what needs to happen each month, each quarter and annually, so we incorporate these activities into our work schedules,” Kate said. “The activities get ticked off as we do them, which keeps us on track. If we alter any activities – for example, if we happen not to replace liners for a month because they looked in good condition, we alter that in our schedule and records.”
The Bartletts work as a team, with Kym looking after the cows and inside the fence line, and Kate doing the book work, Quality Assurance, audits, the ordering of grain and machinery purchasing.
“And I’m happy to jump on a tractor during seeding, cropping or to help put the hay out,” Kate said. “Problems are normally spotted fairly quickly because Kym does all but three milking’s a week and sees the cows and the machines every day, we know immediately if there’s a problem.
“Our philosophy is to keep on top of everything. We keep the dairy neat, clean and tidy. To be honest, we’re both a little OCD, so that helps with ensuring our milk production systems are strong.”
Cooling times are an important part of the Bartlett’s QA program, particularly in hot weather, and any issues with milk cooling rates are immediately addressed.
“It’s also handy that Dairy Farmers Milk Co-Op sends us a text about our milk collection and test results. It may be a few days after milk pick up, but it prompts us to look at cell count, TPC and temperature and it also helps us with keeping an eye on our fat and protein, and what we are feeding.”
Within the dairy, the Bartletts have hoses in strategic locations to make the cleaning simple and quick, while being as efficient as possible with water.
The Bartletts also have good relationships with their suppliers, such as their vet and equipment suppliers, which means any issues with the herd or the dairy are quickly addressed.
“We’ve only got the one casual staff member, who is a long-term employee, and the staff member before him was also a long-term member of the team, so we all know the milking business intimately,” Kate said. “We think this continuity of staff is key – they need to be as caring as us.”
In recent years, the Bartletts have improved the dairy, adding LED lighting, a heat recovery unit and solar panels. “Reliability of power has been an issue for us of late, so we’re trying to be self sufficient in this area too,” Kate said.
In 2016, when major power outages affected most of South Australia, the Bartletts lost power for three days and were forced to borrow a generator and negotiate alternative milk collection times to keep the dairy going. “It was very stressful,” Kate said. “We’re now all set up with our own generator, just in case, and moving towards solar power supply to safeguard our business.”
Another ongoing pressure for farmers in the region is water. The lack of rainfall in the past year, combined with foreseeable low water allocations due to a lack of water in the Murray Darling, has forced farmers to look for efficiencies.
“People are trying to grow different kinds of crops for feed. We made silage for feed for the first time,” Kate said. “But really, we need to understand where we stand with water, and we need a plan,”
Kate is past chair of the Jervois Irrigation Trust and current board member and administration officer; she encourages other farmers to stand on water groups to ensure South Australia’s farming water supply is secure.
“If not water committees, any committee. Just put your hand up occasionally within your farming community. If you’re not willing to step outside the farm gate you shouldn’t be complaining,” Kate said.
Despite the challenges, the Bartlett family is committed to the future of dairy farming. Their 19-year-old son has plans to return to the family business once he’s gained experience working on farms in the South East. The same opportunities will be available for their 16-year-old daughter if she’d like to make a career out of farming.
“We don’t want either of our kids to come back to the family farm and dairy, out of a sense of obligation. They have to really want to do it. They would need to be part of planning for the property going forward,” Kate said. “It’s a hard, relentless work, but it can be a wonderful industry and lifestyle.”