It has long been a stain on the dairy industry — the slaughter of unwanted male "bobby" calves in their first week of life.
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Maleny Dairies' home farm offers a male calf adoption program.(Supplied: Maleny Dairies)

Maleny Dairies, an independent dairy processor on the Sunshine Coast, says it is addressing those concerns on its home farm.

The family-owned business has celebrated the arrival of its first female calf born from a program that sexes semen before the herd is artificially inseminated to ensure the majority of calves are born female.

Bobby calves welcome tourists on farm visits to the factory and there is a waiting list for an adoption program.

A cute calf with its mother.
Maleny Dairies has welcomed its first female calf born from artificially-inseminated, female-sexed semen.(Supplied: Maleny Dairies)

Owner Ross Hopper said he was asked lots of questions about what happened to male calves.

“We’ve had activists ring us up and we just encourage them to come on a tour and we’ll answer all your questions,” he said.

He said the dairy had nothing to hide.

“We sell them on and people use them as their pet lawn mowers.”

Two men with a cow in the bales holding an ear tag with a solar panel in it.
Greg Campbell and Stephen Tait are keen to see the results of a tagging trial.(ABC Rural: Jennifer Nichols)

The dairy has also tagged 10 cows with GPS trackers in a six-month trial with Brisbane-based agtech company Ceres Tag.

Solar-powered ear tags weighing 35 grams communicate directly with satellites to monitor activity levels, temperature and if the animal is being attacked, stolen or behaving abnormally.

A close up of the ear tag on a cow.
The solar powered ear tags weigh 35 grams and will last 10 years.(ABC Rural: Jennifer Nichols)

Maleny Dairies chief executive Stephen Tait said big retailers such as Coles and Woolworths wanted primary producers to be more transparent and to have more responsible management of their herds.

“With Ceres Tag we can use technology and data to prove how well we run our herd and our business,” Mr Tait said.

Improving traceability

At $US3,000 for 10 tags the price is high.

But Ceres Tag general manager of projects Greg Campbell said the cost would come down and the tags provided proof of provenance to producers’ customers.

“If it is reduced stock theft, through carbon accounting or through better identifying sick animals, all of those things add up to savings,” Mr Campbell said.

The cows being milked in the bales.
Cows are milked twice daily at Maleny Dairies home farm.(ABC Rural: Jennifer Nichols)

Industry in decline

Savings are important as challenging times continue for the dairy industry.

Just 53 per cent of 573.8 million litres of fresh milk sold in Queensland last year was produced in the state.

The rest was trucked up from southern states where the cost of production is lower.

The number of dairy farms in the state has shrunk from 1,500 to fewer than 280 since deregulation in 2000.

Cows head down the hill towards rolling hills.
The home farm is next to the Maleny Dairies factory.(ABC Rural: Jennifer Nichols)

The average price paid to farmers in Queensland and northern New South Wales last year was 71 cents per litre.

Co-chief executive of farmer advocacy group eastAUSmilk, Eric Danzi, said farmers had continued to exit the industry and record prices were now being offered for fresh milk, with competition fierce for supply.

Uncharted territory

Mr Danzi said Maleny Dairies, Lactalis and Bega were currently offering an average of 86 cents per litre while Norco was offering 84 cents per litre.

“It is a reflection of the massive shortage of milk but also the high escalation in input costs for fertiliser, fuel and chemicals,” Mr Danzi said.

A couple look at the camera with cows behind them.
Ross and Sally Hopper own Maleny Dairies.(ABC Rural: Jennifer Nichols)

Investing in the future

Ross and Sally Hopper have spent millions of dollars upgrading their factory.

Mr Hopper said Maleny Dairies’ point of difference was supporting smaller family farms that would never receive bonuses from larger processors because their volumes were too small.

“Demand is high and we are positive about the future,” Mr Hopper said.

“We don’t want any more farmers to disappear, we’ve got to look after them.

“Once they’re gone there are no new ones starting up.”

Vermont Agency of Agriculture Food & Markets The Northeast Dairy Business Innovation Center (NE-DBIC), hosted by the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets, has announced three funding opportunities for dairy farmers and service providers.

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