A family passion: the highs and lows of dairy farming

The proud owners of Yard 86 Peter, Maria, Brian and Laura Hart.  (Hannah Turner)

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As you drive up to the home of the Hart family, the road turns from bitumen to gravel, salmon gums tower overhead and cows wander happily in green pastures.

Every morning Laura Hart and her family wake up in the early hours of the morning, chuck on their blue jeans, brown belts and tuck their work shirts in before meeting over 100 cows at the milking station.

The cows wait for them, sometimes running over as soon as the milking machine is turned on.

They certainly seem happy there.

Ms Hart said the family bought Yard 86 off some friends of theirs, but dairy farming has been in her family since the ‘70s.

“For varying reasons, [the previous Yard 86 owners] had to stop, but it was going really well so they said, ‘well you guys are dairy farmers, do you want to take it on?’,” she said.

“So, we had a chat about it, and it had always been something that we’d like to do.”

The cows are milked at around 5.30am and 2.30pm every day, no matter the season or the weather.

And while the number of cows fluctuate each year, the family are currently looking after around 130.

“We’ve been milking since 2008 but we started the processing side of things in July last year,” Brian Hart said.

After the morning milking, the family and sometimes other workers share the calf feeding, processing and pasteurising – delivering their products to suppliers and attending to other odd jobs around the farm.

Peter, Maria, Brian and Laura Hart in the milking station.  (Hannah Turner)

A different perspective on the farm 

A self-proclaimed ‘country bumpkin’, Ms Hart said she’s happy on the farm and always knew she wanted that type of lifestyle.

“I enjoy it, it is hard work and it’s not always easy but I’m a morning person and you see things that you don’t get to see if you’re in the city,” she said.

“You get a different perspective on life living out in the bush.

“It’s just so much more relaxed out here I reckon.”

Laura and Brian usually go for smoko in their parent’s cottage (Peter and Maria) where work boots are lined out the front, their dogs Ringo, Molly and Jasper run around and cows in green paddocks moo in the distance.

Peter Hart with one of their calves.  (Hannah Turner)

Passionate about their produce

The passion in this family is unmistakable – they love what they do and are keen to share their knowledge with others.

“The highlights definitely out way the lows,” Maria Hart said.

“You walk out there, and you see a new calf being born and that is something you’ll never get sick off, new life, it’s just incredible.”

“This year we’ve had a very blessed spring and a mild summer and now that it has started raining again that has also been a real blessing.”

After the afternoon milking, the cows are fed, and the Hart family reflect on another good day on the farm.

Reducing milk prices and negative publicity an issue 

Like most producers, the price for their product has been affected by export restrictions on the east coast and large supermarket chains reducing milk prices.  

“The average shopper now thinks that milk is worth less than it is,” Peter Hart said.

“There’s been a lot of negative publicity about farming.

“We do get people who ask us why Laura and Brian are working here because ‘there is no future in farming’.

“But there will always be a need for farmers because we’re always going to need food.”

A smaller operation 

While they do sell some of their produce to bigger companies, most of their milk is bottled on site and sold in local Great Southern stores.

Peter Hart said its rewarding to watch each cow’s character emerge, some are even happy to come over for a pat.

“You’ve got the individual contact with your cows, that’s the benefit of being a smaller operation,” he said.

“We’re averaging 20 litres from each cow each day which is relatively low.

“We don’t think [maxing out each cow] is ethical.”

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