The dairy farm at Picton in Sydney’s south-west has been in the Fairley family since the 1850s and is in the grip of unprecedented dry conditions.
Almost all of the Greater Sydney region has been declared as being in drought by the Department of Primary Industries, as has the neighbouring Southern Highlands, Hunter and central-west regions.
Sixth-generation farmer John Fairley said he had never seen it this bad.
“The last decent rain we had was last March. We’ve been fully feeding these cows since June. The dams and creeks are empty,” he said.
“Every two weeks we get a semi-[trailer] load of hay worth $8,500, and the further we go into winter that price is going to go up.
“Two weeks ago we just came to the realisation that even if it does rain now, we’re not going to get any growth until spring and there’s no guarantee it’ll rain in spring too.”
Mr Fairley said the farm had been in the family for too long to allow it to close, and he was “very emotional” in asking for help to keep the business running.
The Fairley family has asked consumers to adopt a cow or calf by donating money to keep them fed until spring.
In return, the donors would receive a photo of the cow and eventually visit the farm for milking and feeding the animals.
Mr Fairley said while he had been reluctant to put the call out for assistance, he had been urged by others to ask the community to give back.
“Every week we do free breakfast up at the high school for the kids that can’t afford breakfast, give them some healthy milk and yoghurt,” he said.
“That’s just one little thing we do and I thought it’s time to ask for help.”
Despite the appeal only going out on social media on Monday morning, Mr Fairley said there had already been an overwhelming response.
“Facebook and Instagram are just overflowing with people offering to sponsor a cow. Some people have sponsored a cow for five of their kids. It’s unbelievable,” he said.
The family has not set a target for money, but said that “anything would help” get the herd through to September.
Mr Fairley said it was a reminder of the importance of giving back to local, small-scale farming families.
“Just support your local farmers, because whatever money you spend with them, they spend back into your community and the money just keeps going around and around.
“It doesn’t go to Sydney or overseas with the profits, if there is any profits in the dairy industry.
“None of us small people muck around with our milk. We don’t take cream out or we don’t put additives in. That’s milk how humans should be drinking it.”
By: Gavin Coote and Nick Rheinberger
Source: ABC Illawarra