Bio -dynamic dairy farmer finds a market


The only farmer of his kind in Victoria has found a niche market supplying milk to the Bio-Dynamic marketing Company

Mark Peterson is not what you would call a traditional dairy farmer. He currently milks his 130 cows on his Nathalia property bio-dynamically - a system he has implemented and improved on, since he took over running the family farm in 1987.
No chemicals are used and looking after the soil is the key to a healthy herd and a successful system.
Mark first became interested in biodynamic dairy farming when he toured a farm that had implemented the system, when he was an apprentice back in the early 1980s.
That farmer had no problems with mastitis, worms or bloat and that intrigued me from that point on, Mark said.
A bio-dynamic system is a closed system, we try not to bring anything onto our farm. Although during the drought, like most dairy farmers we had to buy in a lot of expensive fodder to get through.   We are big on improving soil and plant health and if we get that right, the health of our herd follows along.
Marks cows have regular access to seaweed meal and minerals including salt, zinc, dolomite, copper, sulphur and magnesium.
The cows are contented and extremely healthy and common health issues such as fluke and intestinal worms are not a problem. Mastitis is uncommon but cell counts are under constant watch.
The girls are fed on a diet of home grown pasture and silage, with a small amount of grain fed in the bale. Some high quality hay (such as lucerne) is bought in.
We grow green grass all year round. We can only buy in certified feed so it is very important for us to farm as water efficiently as possible and produce as much or our fodder as we can, Mark said.
Pastures consist of rye grass, white clover, chicory, plantain and prairie grass and Mark has had a bit of success with winter active fescue.
The farm is flood irrigated and Mark uses fast flow irrigation principles on part of the farm to water his pastures.
The home farm consists of 266 acres and the neighbouring property of 180 acres has been recently purchased which is in the process of being converted to a biodynamic system. The process takes three years and in the meantime, young stock is run on this land.
Mark is planning on increasing herd numbers to 200 and cows are calved three times a year, to produce a more even milk flow.
The drought had knocked us around a bit but we do have a lot of young stock coming on. We run a mixed dairy herd with a quarter Friesians, a quarter jerseys and half cross breeds.
The cows butter fat test sits at around five per cent but Mark is looking at pulling this back to around 4.5% to suit the market he supplies. We will bring in a few more Friesians to correct this.  
Mark is the first to admit that his style of farming isnt for everyone.
It takes a certain type of person to farm biodynamically and you really have to want to do this and do it well. There have been some poor examples in the organic/bio-dynamic industry over the years, so we have to do it well Mark muses.
My labour costs are higher than other farmers. Instead of spraying a paddock we would plough it a couple of times and we do cull our cows on cell count. We have to keep our cell count under 200,000 bmcc so we would cull our cows earlier than many other farmers.
We use natural remedies like Homeopathy to help the cows, we can use antibiotics in extreme cases, but we then have to discard the milk for 6 months, so we rarely use them.    
Mark also cant just go out and spray his channel to control weed growth. He has had some of his channel beds lasered so every single drop of water drains away and they have been fenced in a specific way so cattle can graze them.
Mark is the only bio-dynamic milk supplier currently selling Demeter certified milk in Victoria to the Bio-Dynamic Marketing Company.
His milk is sold in full fat or low fat varieties, homogenised or unhomogenised and Mark is paid a 20 cent premium above conventional milk.
The biodynamic milk is processed by the Mulchay family in Kyabram and is picked up from his farm three days a week, on a special milk run. The bio-dynamic milk cannot be contaminated by commercial milk and is processed through the factory, before any other milk hits the lines.
Our milk goes straight into the drinking milk market and about 1/3 used in the coffee trade in speciality coffee shops in the city. We have been told, our milk makes the best coffee, he laughs.
Mark said like all dairy farmers, he is always looking for a better way to farm.
My farm is my office and it is such a pleasant place to be. We have planted 28,000 trees, which has brought bio-diversity to our farm and provided shelter and protection for our stock.
 A bio-dynamic system is a strict system but if you get it right it works well. The proof of the pudding is in the tasting and we produce a top quality product.


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