Animal welfare

Maleny Dairies addresses animal welfare concerns with artificial insemination and adoption

This has long been a stain on the dairy industry – the slaughter of unwanted “bobby” bull calves in their first week of life.

Maleny Dairies, an independent Sunshine Coast dairy processor, says it is addressing these concerns on its home farm.

The family business celebrated the arrival of its first female calf from a program to sex the semen before the herd is artificially inseminated to ensure the majority of calves are born female.

Bobby calves welcome tourists on farm tours at the factory and there is a waiting list for an adoption program.

Maleny Dairies has welcomed its first female born from artificially inseminated female semen.(Supplied: Maleny Dairies)

Owner Ross Hopper said he was asked a lot of questions about what happened to the male calves.

“Activists have called us and we’re just encouraging them to come and tour and we’ll answer any questions you have,” he said.

He said the dairy had nothing to hide.

“We sell them and people use them as pet lawn mowers.”

Two men with a cow in the bales holding an ear tag with a solar panel inside.
Greg Campbell and Stephen Tait are eager to see the results of a tagging trial.(Rural ABC: Jennifer Nichols)

The dairy also tagged 10 cows with GPS trackers in a six-month trial with Brisbane-based agtech company Ceres Tag.

The solar-powered ear tags weighing 35 grams communicate directly with satellites to monitor activity levels, temperature and whether the animal is being attacked, stolen or behaving abnormally.

A close up of the ear tag on a cow.
The solar powered ear tags weigh 35 grams and will last 10 years.(Rural ABC: Jennifer Nichols)

Maleny Dairies chief executive Stephen Tait said big retailers such as Coles and Woolworths want primary producers to be more transparent and manage their herds more responsibly.

“With Ceres Tag, we can use technology and data to prove how well we manage our herd and our business,” Mr. Tait said.

Improve traceability

At US$3,000 for 10 beacons, the price is steep.

But Ceres Tag Projects managing director Greg Campbell said the cost would come down and the tags would provide proof of provenance to growers’ customers.

“Whether it’s reducing stock theft, through carbon accounting or better identifying sick animals, all of those things add up to cost savings,” Campbell said.

Cows being milked into bales.
The cows are milked twice a day at the Maleny Dairies farm.(Rural ABC: Jennifer Nichols)

Industry in decline

The savings are significant as tough times continue for the dairy industry.

Only 53% of the 573.8 million liters of fresh milk sold in Queensland last year was produced in the state.

The rest was trucked in from southern states where the cost of production is lower.

The number of dairy farms in the state has fallen from 1,500 to less than 280 since deregulation in 2000.

The cows go down the hill to rolling hills.
The family farm is next to the Maleny Dairies factory.(Rural ABC: Jennifer Nichols)

The average price paid to farmers in Queensland and northern New South Wales last year was 71 cents a litre.

Co-chief executive of farmers’ advocacy group eastAUSmilk, Eric Danzi, said farmers had continued to exit the industry and record prices were now on offer for fresh milk, with fierce competition for supply.

Uncharted territory

Mr Danzi said Maleny Dairies, Lactalis and Bega currently offered an average of 86 cents per liter while Norco offered 84 cents per litre.

“This reflects the massive shortage of milk but also the sharp increase in input costs for fertilizers, fuel and chemicals,” Danzi said.

A couple look at the camera with cows behind them.
Ross and Sally Hopper own Maleny Dairies.(Rural ABC: Jennifer Nichols)

Invest in the future

Ross and Sally Hopper have spent millions of dollars upgrading their factory.

Mr Hopper said Maleny Dairies’ point of difference was to support small family farms who would never receive premiums from large processors because their volumes were too small.

“Demand is high and we’re optimistic about the future,” Hopper said.

“We don’t want more farmers to disappear, we have to take care of them.

“Once they are gone, there are no new ones starting.”