More than 70 years and three generations have got Bushlea Farms in South Gippsland to where it is today.
The dairy farm and Jersey stud at Koonwarra, in South Gippsland, is a team effort run by Wayne and Lisa Kuhne and their 11-year-old daughter Ruby along with Wayne’s parents Keith and Pat.
They are continuing a legacy started by Wayne’s grandparents, Norm and Marge, who began milking agisted Jersey cows in 1945, and it’s those exact bloodlines that are still part of their herd today.
“Four of the cow families bought back then are still in the herd,” Wayne said.
“We’ve always had Jerseys … they’ve been good to us. Their feed efficiency is good and they’re a good=sized cow to work with. We find them trouble-free.”
Working on 194ha, the Kuhnes milk 400 cows, having slowly increased milking numbers from 370 in the past few years.
“Once we finish calving later in the year we’ll be at 450 milkers,” Wayne said.
“With the improvements to the farm over the years we’ve picked up more milking area. We’re now milking to what we’re able to milk — it’s been a natural progression.”
The Kuhnes bought two new properties at Koonwarra back in 2000. They continued to milk at Keith and Pat’s farm for the following two years while they improved pasture, laneways and water infrastructure on the new farms in addition to building a new dairy.
“We owned the farm for two years before we did any of those things, so we were able to take our time and work things through,” Wayne said.
“When we left Mum and Dad’s place we milked in a six-a-side herringbone. The last year we milked there we milked 170 cows, which was about eight hours of milking a day.”
THEIR 20-a-side rapid-exit dairy, built in 2002, has sped up the milking process.
“We went to 20 or so dairies and took different things we liked from each dairy, put it all together and built this one,” Wayne said.
“We can milk 220-240 cows an hour with the rapid exit.”
The rapid exit is similar to a conventional herringbone according to Wayne, but each stall lifts away from the front of the cow, allowing each cow to walk straight out, speeding up the process.
Wayne’s father Keith is in 70s and still “loves milking cows”.
“Dad and I milk every morning, and the afternoon milking we rotate around. I don’t mind getting up — mornings are the best milking,” Wayne said.
School student Zali Deenen helps with weekend milkings, while full-time employee Courtney Pulhan, takes on afternoon shifts.
The Kuhnes take control of pasture improvements and fodder conservation, with the help of part-time employee, Willis Thorson, who does most of the tractor work.
Wayne said they were now preparing to re-sow pasture and break their annual pasture improvements into blocks of 50-80ha each year.
Fertiliser blends are applied between six to eight times a year on the milking blocks — depending on the autumn break and amount of rain — and four to five times a year on the two outblocks of 61ha and 97ha, which are used as heifer and bull blocks.
THE Kuhnes have supplied milk to ACM for about 12 months; a decision based on price and the fact ACM is Australian owned.
“Their payment system suits our milk flow system. When we met with them we were really happy; it’s been an excellent change,” Wayne said.
Herd production floats between 6000 and 7000 litres and around 550kg of milk solids.
“(Milk solid) has been up around 600kg, but it just depends on the price of commodities — the price of the broader feed we have to bring in — and what we’re getting paid, to the production we end up with. Production will be down a bit this year with the cost of grain and hay,” Wayne said.
“Over the past couple of years milking more cows, we’ve concentrated more on farm production rather than per cow production. Per cow (production) I don’t think reflects profitably.
“Profitability and per cow production are two different things.”
When it comes to farming, Wayne said there were only certain things you could control and they were the things you should try to do well.
“Those you can’t control, you just have to work with,” he said.
“I’m pretty optimistic about the industry. There seems to be so much negativity, but I wish there was more positivity.”
“The cows; it’s my family business, where I’ve grown up and where my daughter is growing up. It’s my life and it’s more than a job. Yes it’s a lifestyle, but it’s a business as well.
“I think I have the perspective that things can be a lot worse. You can go to lots of different places around the world and it’s a lot worse. We need to keep that in mind at times.”
CALVING is split between February and March and a second in July and August.
“Calving was always about 50:50, but now it’s more two thirds in July and August,” Wayne said.
“We haven’t done it on purpose, it’s just worked that way when cows have got in calf. But it’s working out and suiting the farm better now.
“In years gone by we could make good money in the autumn, but I don’t think we quite get paid as much we used to in autumn — commodities to make milk in autumn have got too expensive.
“We used to be able to push autumn calvers, but now we set out with ‘this’ what we can afford to feed and ‘this’ is the production we’ll get.”
All 900 cattle are registered under the Bushlea prefix.
“It is a costly exercise and that’s why I say if you’re doing it you have to be prepared to sell those good animals,” Wayne said.
All females are reared along with about 80 bulls selected on pedigree at birth.
Wayne said “without a doubt” the biggest offshoot to the stud was their private, on-farm bull sales, with 80 bulls sold annually. Trying to a find a bull that ticks all the boxes could be tricky, Wayne said.
“One of biggest things is trying to find an outcross — it can get quite closed with inbreeding,” he said.
“We look at bulls from across Australia, US, Europe and Canada, so it does take time.”
BUSHLEA embryos have sold around Australia and internationally and Wayne said they often traded embryos.
“We’ve had 25 on-farm sales over the years with 21 annual sales. But when we bought the property at Koonwarra we ceased the sales to build numbers,” Wayne said.
In 2017, the Kuhnes sold their cow Bushlea Van Fernleaf 10 EX-93, at a Global Impact Sale at Camden Showgrounds in NSW for an Australian record price of $50,000.
“In January 2017 Van Fernlean 10 was supreme champion at IDW (International Dairy Week at Tatura) as a four-year-old cow,” Wayne said.
“After she won that, we thought it was a great opportunity to sell her; being such a young cow to win that title, she had so many years in front of her.”
Van Fernleaf went on to win supreme champion again at IDW in 2018 for her new owners, a US-Canadian-Australian syndicate.
While the Kuhnes have eased off the number of shows they attend, they still like to “put their cattle out there for promotion” at International Dairy Week and Warragul Show.
“We like to present them as well as we can,” Wayne said.
“We say the judge is judging, but also there are other people watching and other exhibitors, so it’s important that cows are presented as well as they can be.
“When you have a good show you take it. When you don’t, you move on”.