A glimpse of life down under

The Twelve Apostles, The Great Ocean Road
The Twelve Apostles, The Great Ocean Road

Holstein Young Breeders (HYB) member, Andrew Patton, was delighted to head down under in January for a trip of dairy exploration representing the UK in the HYB Australian Exchange programme.

As part of its objectives to lead learning and development, the HYB Australian Exchange competition offers one member the chance to spend a month in Australia to get first-hand experience of their dairy industry – visiting farms, and attending both youth camps and The International Dairy Week.

Senior Championship line-up at International Dairy Week.

Senior Championship line-up at International Dairy Week.

The trip is an all expenses paid adventure, completely funded by Holstein UK and Holstein Australia – and is a once in a lifetime opportunity; a chance to gain knowledge and experience other cultures.

As part of the exchange, an Australian farmer will be coming over to England later this year. 25 year old Andrew Patton from Northern Ireland was this year’s HYB chosen candidate, and here’s his full account of the trip.

Last September I remember flicking through Facebook and coming across a new post from Holstein UK offering a member the chance to win an exchange to Australia. Of course, after reading this I had to look into it more and as the saying goes, if you’re not in, you can’t win. Therefore within a few days I had the application sent off with everything crossed that I would be successful. Mid-November came and the final three were announced, and I found out that I had won at 2pm on the 12th November and in 49 days I would be jetting off to the other side of the world!

Of course, nothing ever can run smoothly, and on the 30th December I turned up to Belfast City Airport, checked in, proceeded through security and with half an hour until the flight was due to depart an announcement came that the flight from Belfast to London had been cancelled due to adverse weather conditions. I was delayed for 24 hours and arrived again at the airport on New Year’s Eve and thankfully this time everything ran smoothly. Full of anticipation I landed in Melbourne on the 1st January.

My first week in Australia started with a local Semex rep, Stu Mackie, picking me up and taking me to the Western Districts Youth Camp. The youth camp has similar aspects to our Weekend Rally mixed with the European Young Breeders School. It is open to young members aged between 10-16 and around 40 members attended this year.

The camp officially began with the members arriving on the 4th January before some ice breaker games. Everyone was teamed off and I oversaw Group 5! Each group was assigned six calves which had been provided by local farmers – these calves needed to be fed, watered and kept clean each day by the groups.

The first day of camp was mainly spent with everyone getting to know each other along with workshops on bedding, washing and handling. I had been asked to prepare and present a presentation on the dairy industry in the UK and some background to myself and my home farm. Other speakers from the youth camp included Brad Aitken, teaching how to research pedigrees on the internet and the importance of doing so before purchasing a new heifer, Zoe Vogels, a local vet who talked on “calf to cow – the stomach” – as well as nutritionists, calf rearers and the CEO of Holstein Australia, Graeme Gillan.

The second day of camp continued with insightful workshops on clipping, top lining, halter making, judging and auctioneering. My favourite feature of the camp was the ‘mock auction’ that each group had to participate in by selecting their best calf for sale. Each group researched the heifers’ pedigree, marketed her, clipped and toplined the calf. On the final day of camp, the anticipated auction took place! Each group allocated out jobs among team members with roles including pedigree reader, auctioneer, handler and bid spotters.

Once the youth camp was over I headed to my first host, David Johnston, chairman of Holstein Australia, and his wife Glenys. I had met David in Argentina last year at the WHFF Conference, so it was good to have a friendly face. David’s prefix is Segenoe Park and I enjoyed getting a tour of his herd of cows and hearing that they were by lots of familiar bulls to what we have at home. David and Glenys milk around 200 cows through a 10 aside parlour. I helped them milk on the Saturday morning, making me feel right at home!

After milking they took me out for lunch in the local town of Camperdown, with a tour of the local area, “lakes and craters country” – experiencing stunning views from the top of Mount Leura, an old inactive volcano.

I was picked up by my next host Dave Weel just in time for a Saturday night out in his local town of Warnambool. Dave worked on a farm that was milking over 600 cows on a 50-point rotary parlour. Monday 9th January was a day of sightseeing, including a glimpse of my first koala!

My next hosts were the Dickson family at Emu Banks Holsteins. The stay began with a tour of the herd. This was extremely interesting as the Dickson family follow a lot of the same breeding patterns as we do at home, including using all genomic bulls. Milking near 800 cows, on a 60-point rotary, they also genomic test every heifer calf born – something which I would love to be doing at home. This means that they can keep the ones that test high and sell the lower end for export to China and Japan.

Marcus Reese, ABS, picked me up the next morning and took me on a local ‘food tour’ of the quaint town, Timboon. This consisted of a visit to a chocolate factory, a winery and a snail farm (yes, you read that correctly!).

Friday 13th January was the official start of ‘International Dairy Week’ and for this week I was working for World Wide Sires on their ‘Evolution Sale’ string. This was an incredibly enjoyable week, I met so many people and was able to work with the calf that broke the Australian sale record, Lightning Ridge CMD Jedi Gigi, the highest GTPI calf to sell worldwide (GTPI 2937). She made $251,000 and was sold to Sexing Technologies, USA. Throughout the week I helped with washing, bedding, feeding and watering the calves.

Temperatures that week peaked at 42 degrees so it was also important to keep the calves as cool as possible. Other highlights from Dairy Week included showing a calf for the Dickson family and finding out I was joint winner of the HUK Presidents Medal in the early hours of the Tuesday morning!

Once International Dairy Week was over, I headed home with my next host, the Johnston family, Glomar Holsteins in Sale, Gippsland. It was particularly interesting talking to this family as they are of a Northern Irish descent. On the Saturday evening I attended the East Gippsland judging evening, which consisted of four classes of cows with four cows in each class. I ended up placing first overall in the men’s section of the event.

Sunday saw an early start as I was headed back for Melbourne to spend the day at the Australian Open tennis. This just so happened to be the day that Andy Murray reached his untimely end.

I headed back over to the Western Districts on Tuesday 24th January with a visit to Genetics Australia. Peter Thurn, sire analyst, showed me around their headquarters at Bacchus Marsh, including the labs and their sexing machine. I saw semen being collected and was shown the processes that it goes through before it gets put into straws. Peter then took me to their lay off farm, an hour and a half away at Birregurra. This holding consists of 12,000 acres and is home to 300 bulls on lay off. They are batched in groups of 30 and some will return to Bacchus Marsh to be collected as proven sires. I also managed to get a tour of Total Livestock Genetics the following day. I headed back to my first hosts, the Johnstons after this visit and helped to milk before wrapping up the day.

The next day was the Western Districts Calf Show where I was asked to act as judge for the handling and calf classes. This was a great honour and a fantastic experience. There were around 60 calves, with all the classes being interbreed.

I stayed over this direction for the following day which happened to be Australia Day, a day where the colonisation of Australia is celebrated by a long weekend. We did some sightseeing and finished back in Timboon for a BBQ with friends I had met earlier in the trip.

I headed back towards Gippsland on the 30th January and ended up at Philip Island – the home of the penguins! We visited the Penguin Parade; a spectacular sight where hundreds of penguins emerge from the sea and head up to spend the night in their nests in the sand dunes. This is a big tourist attraction in Victoria.

I returned to the Johnston family, where I would spend my last week of exchange. Throughout the week I helped out on the farm as well as some final sightseeing of Buchan Caves, Lake Glenmaggie and a tour of Murray Goulburn milk factory.

The week ended far too quickly and before I knew it I was heading back to Melbourne to catch my flight home. I had the trip of a lifetime in Australia and met so many knowledgeable, friendly people who I will keep in touch with for life. I am hugely thankful to Holstein UK and Holstein Australia for making this trip possible; a fantastic experience that I’ll never forget. To other HYB members considering applying next year, go on, it’s the best thing you’ll do!