DEVELOPMENT has started on the largest dairy farm in southern Australia at Neuarpurr, just over the Victorian border from Frances.
Camperdown Dairy International, which last week took control of 3000ha of farmland spread across three properties from Minimay to Bool Lagoon, has already brought in heavy equipment in readiness for the development of a 3600-milking cow dairy. It is expected the dairy will produce 40 million litres of milk annually when fully functional.
The barn-style dairy farm will draw on fodder grown across the properties and other local suppliers, with many irrigated cereal and legume crops grown under the aggregation's 31 active centre pivots.
The ground-breaking project is being driven by CDI, which is backed by mining company MCG Group. The company's managing director Bill McDonald has described his plans to build a total milking herd of 40,000 cows as "Australia's first fully integrated dairy business".
It is expected more than 80 full-time jobs will be created at the Neuarpurr dairy, which will supply raw milk to CDI's whole-milk powder and infant formula factory at Camperdown in south western Victoria.
CDI has plans to milk up to 40,000 cows a day and produce 320-million litres annually at its peak, it is understood that the company is negotiating to purchase another five farms, including the possibility of adding to its portfolio in the border-district area.
CDI Farms operation manager Tim Nowell, who is overseeing the development at Neuarpurr, said barn-style dairying was the future of milk production.
"The cows are sheltered in barns, sleep on sand bedding and are delivered a total mix ration designed on their nutritional needs," Mr Nowell said.
"The barns are temperature controlled and fitted with mist sprays and cooling fans, which means the cows are kept comfortable."
Mr Nowell said cows would be moved out the barns three times a day to be milked, returning to the barn with fresh food.
"When they come out of the barn, their beds are groomed with a special machine that knocks all the sand bedding down and fluffs it all up, which makes it nice and comfortable for the cows," he said.
When the cows are being milked, the barns will be flushed and any waste drained into a sand separation pit via conveyance channels. A manure digester for power generation is also slated, which will help the dairy to become self-sufficient in terms of its electricity use.
"In the meantime, we'll compost the manure and screen the particles in the water for anything over 40 microns," Mr Nowell said.
Mr Nowell said CDI had engaged the best expertise it could find in drawing up ambitious plans.
"We've been working with Gea Farm Technologies in Australia/ California and we have also spent time in the US looking at this type of dairying system," he said.
"The sort of system we're building are very common in the US. There's actually not too many dairy farmers in California who still have their cows out roaming in the paddock anymore."
Mr Nowell said CDI's strong connection to Victoria's Western District - he is a native of Colac and Mr McDonald hails from Birregurra - meant key personnel had a strong affinity with farming and the dairy industry in particular.
"I've driven cattle trucks and been around cattle all my life and I can tell you the cows in these Barn Style dairies are the most relaxed, calm animals I've ever seen," Mr Nowell said.
"The cows aren't locked in a small space at all. In fact, they have plenty of room to walk up and down the laneway, get a drink and socialise with other cows."
He said full-time vets, herd managers, dairy hands and cropping managers were among the positions the company would be looking to fill.
"We're a family orientated company and it's important to us that we create a family-friendly work environment here," Mr Nowell said.
"We'll have three 8-hour shifts a day and we've seen in the US how couples and even entire families can be employed at the one dairy, working different shifts throughout the day."
"And with our background in mining and quarrying, we've always made safety our highest priority. Now that we're venturing into farming, we want to be leaders in the field when it comes to our safety procedures."
Mr Nowell said CDI was extremely grateful for the way the West Wimmera Shire had worked with the company to ensure the development went ahead.
West Wimmera mayor Annette Jones said the new dairy would significantly boost the local economy.
"The economic multiplier of this project will be a welcomed boost to industry in the West Wimmera and will see a direct effect of well over $11 million in our region," Mr Jones said.
"The project will also create opportunities for local suppliers during the construction phase and ongoing maintenance." "We're excited about the opportunities that will develop as a result of such a sizeable agricultural investment being made within the area."