Maleny Dairies addresses animal welfare through artificial insemination, adoption

It’s long been a stain on the dairy industry – the slaughter of unwanted male “Bobby” calves in their first week of life.

Independent dairy processor Maleny Dairies on the Sunshine Coast said it was addressing these issues on its family farms.

The family-owned business celebrated the arrival of its first female calf, which was sexed with semen prior to artificial insemination through a program to ensure most calves are born female.

Bobby Mavericks welcomes visitors on factory tours of the farm and has a waiting list for adoption programs.

Maleny Dairies welcomes its first female calf born from artificially inseminated female semen.(Provided by: Maleny Dairy)

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

“We’ve had activists call us, we’re just encouraging them to come and visit and we’ll answer all your questions,” he said.

He said dairy has nothing to hide.

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

Two men hold a cow and an ear tag with solar panels.
Greg Campbell and Stephen Tait are eager to see the results of the labelling trial.(ABC Rural: Jennifer Nichols)

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

The 35-gram solar-powered ear tag communicates directly with satellites to monitor activity levels, temperature, and whether animals are attacked, stolen or misbehaving.

Close up of a cow's ear tag.
The solar ear tag weighs 35 grams and can be used for 10 years.(ABC Rural: Jennifer Nichols)

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

“With Ceres Tag, we can use technology and data to demonstrate our ability to run our herd and our business,” Mr Tate said.

Improve traceability

At $3,000 for 10 tags, it’s a hefty price tag.

But Ceres Tag project general manager Greg Campbell said costs would come down and the tag would provide proof of provenance for the producer’s customers.

“All of these can be saved if stock theft is reduced, through carbon accounting or better identification of sick animals,” Mr Campbell said.

Cows being milked in bundles.
On the Maleny Dairies family farm, cows are milked twice a day.(ABC Rural: Jennifer Nichols)

industry decline

As the dairy industry continues to face challenges, saving money is important.

Of the 573.8 million litres of fresh milk sold in Queensland last year, only 53 per cent came from the state.

The rest are trucked in from southern states where production costs are lower.

Since deregulation in 2000, the number of dairy farms in the state has shrunk from 1,500 to less than 280.

The cows came down the hill and ran to the rolling hills.
The family farm is adjacent to the Maleny Dairies factory.(ABC Rural: Jennifer Nichols)

The average price for farmers in Queensland and northern NSW last year was 71 cents a litre.

Eric Danzi, co-chief executive of farmers’ advocacy group eastAUSmilk, said farmers continued to withdraw from the industry, fresh milk prices were now at record highs and competition for supply was fierce.

Uncharted territory

Maleny Dairies, Lactalis and Bega are currently selling for an average of 86 cents a litre, while Norco is selling at 84 cents a litre, Mr Danzi said.

“This reflects the severe shortage of milk, but also the high input costs of fertilizers, fuels and chemicals,” Mr Danzi said.

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

Invest in the future

Ross and Sally Hopper spent millions upgrading their factories.

Mr Hopper said Maleny Dairies was different in supporting smaller family farms because their yields were too small to never get a bonus from the larger processors.

“Demand is high and we are optimistic about the future,” Mr Hopper said.

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

“Once they’re gone, there’s no new beginning.”


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