Dairy farmer Bill McVeigh and his son Lachlan brave the icy cold mornings together to make sure the milk gets to the shelf.
Dairy farmer Bill McVeigh and his son Lachlan brave the icy cold mornings together to make sure the milk gets to the shelf. Chris Lines

What it's like to be a dairy farmer in sub-zero temps

IF YOU'RE feeling the cold as the chill of winter sets in, spare a thought for our dairy farmers, who are hard at work in the icy conditions each morning before the sun is even up.

Seasoned dairy farmers, like Bill McVeigh from Freestone, have developed their own strategies for coping in order to get the job done in the sub-zero temperatures.


"I like to chuck on a few sleeveless jumpers so I can keep my body temperature warm but still use my arms," Mr McVeigh said.

"After I left school I used to work over at Carey Bros Abattoir in Yangan and it was freezing so I have gotten used to the cold."

Mr McVeigh does not have to suffer alone though as his children try to come down to help their dad before daybreak.

"They all run down when they hear the kettle boiling," he said. "It is a lot easier when you have the extra help."

The cows may be better suited to withstand the cold than farmers but their hardiness comes at a cost to milk production.

"The cows use energy to keep warm, which is energy they would ideally be using to produce milk," Mr McVeigh said.

Mr McVeigh said the key to offsetting that loss was to keep the cows fed - not an easy task during a drought.

"Luckily I had a bunch of feed in storage, which I have been using to get me through until now, but if there is no decent rain over winter then it will not be good," he said.

The story is the same for Jim Watts at Queen Mary Falls in Killarney.

"This time of the year we are still battling the drought because the frosts burn off the grass feed we are trying to grow, just like the sun does in the middle of summer," Mr Watts said.

"Our cows need more feed at this time of year and they are not getting it because it is so dry and feed is expensive."

Mr Watts said the challenges facing the dairy industry at the moment made it all the more difficult for him to pull himself out of bed on these freezing winter mornings.

"I am sick and tired of doing it all the time for nothing. Something needs to be done about these supermarket chains," he said.

"For those who are doing it, remember people are just like cattle. If you keep yourself fed you will keep yourself warm."

Peter Smith at King's Creek is also feeling the icy sting.

"I get up at 4.30am under sufferance and with a lot of swearing," Mr Smith said.

Mr Smith said the brown swiss cattle he works with are a special kind of hardy.

"Neither the heat nor the cold seem to bother them much and they are so placid, such a pleasure to work with," he said.

Mr Smith said farmers who were struggling with the morning chill needed to keep pushing if they wanted to last.

"You need to grin and bear it. You are a silly bugger if you are still in the industry," he said.