A LITTLE over a year and a half ago, Gippsland potato farmers Olivia and George Lineham took 10 cows, and a 50-year-old dairy, and started to branch out into a new farming venture.
Today, with 110 cows and more on the way, they’re relishing being part of the dairy industry.
Their farm at Cora Lynn, near Pakenham, is 70 per cent potatoes and 30 per cent dairy.
The mix gives the Linehams a sense of security, something that was heightened to them after unpredictable weather patterns.
“We were flooded in 2011 which made us realise how vulnerable we were by relying on one source of income,” Olivia said.
The Linehams had previously run beef cattle, but not enough to survive on, and embarking on another horticulture industry presented a similar risk to potatoes.
“If you plant potatoes and they all die, you don’t have anything to sell,” Olivia said.
“Dairy is a different type of farming and mitigates our risk through diversification.”
After selling their beef cows, enjoying record high prices, Olivia and George purchased 10 dairy heifers – and later 20 heifer calves – to rear from nearby farms.
When the price crashed, they had built their herd to 50 animals.
It was a scary time, but the potatoes were being harvested; so Olivia and George persisted with dairy.
“It was an unsure time for everybody, we were still finding our feet in the industry and we weren’t ready to give up just yet,” Olivia said.
The Linehams had retrofitted a 50-year-old back-out dairy that was on their property; utilising what they could of the old shed, upgraded as required and fitted-out with a second-hand, 15 a side swingover herringbone.
“It’s very modest, but it does what we need,” Olivia said.
“Part of our risk management strategy is to remain small, while developing the necessary skills to expand.”
Over the last few years, the Linehams have gradually increased their herd through natural growth, and by buying excess heifers from other farmers.
They will peak at 150 this year.
“George has been farming his whole life, and for me it’s been the past 15 years, but going into dairy was good because it was something we could learn together,” Olivia said.
“We get to use our brains in a different way to the horticultural production.”
With “bloody good land” ideal for both horticulture and dairying, Olivia and George have embraced their new careers.
Olivia has also embraced the industry in a professional capacity, having joined the West Gippsland branch of Australia’s Legendairy Women’s Network.
“The industry is really supportive,” Olivia said.
“Everyone works together, and people are really open with suggesting ways to improve your farming – there is so much quality information available to new dairy farmers.”