Milk production hasn’t recovered since flooding last year
Farmers are still at 60 per cent production and think it will take another six months to get back to pre-flood levels
Norco’s damaged ice cream factory is scheduled to re-open in August
“They don’t want to milk,” he said.
“It’s just taking so long to get the cows back to where they used to be.”
Across the region, hundreds of cows and many bales of fodder were washed away in the catastrophic event.
Crops and pastures were ruined, vats of milk had to be dumped, and machinery, infrastructure and homes were destroyed.
“To see one-and-a-half metres of water coming over the Richmond River … like a tidal wave, yeah it was pretty horrendous,” Mr Graham said.
His cattle had water almost up to their backs on his Codrington farm, while other farmers downstream had to watch their cattle being washed away.
“It’s been a long, slow draining process to get somewhere near back on track,” Mr Graham said.
“I’m still on a very gravelly road; I’m nowhere near the highway, that’s for sure.”
Milk production remains low
Mr Graham and his team worked tirelessly to keep mastitis under control, and were treating as many as 28 cows a day.
“I thought that was really high, but that was nothing compared to others around that were doing 90 or 100; some were treating their entire herd,” he said.
Mastitis is an inflammation of the udder tissue that often occurs when a cow’s milking is interrupted, reducing the amount of milk produced.
“We were at 34 per cent of where we were [compared to the same time last year],” Mr Graham said.
“And we thought that was pretty serious, but the worst of it is, we’re still at 50 per cent.”
While the cows no longer have mastitis, their milk production is still low, which could be attributed to stress.
Mr Graham said most dairy farmers he has spoken to across the region are still at 60 per cent production.
He says it will take another six months to get back to pre-flood levels.
One day at a time
Darryl Kennedy and his daughter Amy Campbell managed to save all their animals on their Dunbible property in the Tweed, but the flood has still hit their business hard.
“We’ve been there 65 years and it’s the worst flood we’ve ever had,” Mr Kennedy said.
They were unable to milk their cows for 14 days after their dairy was flooded.
“Then when we started to milk them we didn’t have the machines working properly, and we had to tip that milk out on the ground,” Mr Kennedy said.
Ms Campbell said the aftermath has been emotional.
“I don’t know whether it’s worse; seeing the cows with all the experience they’ve got with mastitis or seeing the damage it’s done to my father — [and] having to go through that every day,” she said.
Tuncester farmer Paul Weir is accustomed to floods, but the nature of this one has made him consider getting out of the industry.
“It didn’t seem right; it kept coming and coming, engulfing your assets,” he said.
“Seeing the cows swimming away, it’s surreal.”
After securing some insurance he has decided to stay and raise his sheds on mounds to put things out of reach.
Ice-cream factory still rebuilding
With a headquarters, rural store, feed mill and historic ice-cream factory in Lismore, the dairy cooperative Norco plays a big role in the region’s dairy industry.
The factory, which employed 170 people, suffered significant flood damage and is currently undergoing a major rebuild, due to be completed by August.
They have raised equipment, including electrical lines, by 15 metres to attempt to get above the next big flood.
New quick-release mechanisms on machinery will also make it easier to move them if a flood threatens.
Chief executive Michael Hampson said the cooperative is trying to help its members to rebuild their herds by providing interest-free loans which have been used to buy 1,000 cows.
“It’s good to be able to provide them with additional means … to get over what was the most challenging period certainly that I’ve ever seen in the dairy industry,” he said.