Robots bring the cows home

Everybody who knows me knows that the last thing I ever wanted to do was farm but when the people I love most in the world decided that was what they both wanted to do I wanted to make sure that farming would deliver the best possible life for them. 

Now lets not kid ourselves only the very brave farm in a world where supermarkets control the supply chain and the people who run the supermarkets in the main have absolutely no idea of the challenges and constraints farmers face today to farm in a socially acceptable way in the 21st century.

There is something else about farming that excites me beyond my wildest dreams and that is the innovation and technology and the resilience of Australian farmers and great minds who help them feed and clothe not only in Australian consumers but many other people around the world. So I am so excited to be able to share this story with you.

Now as my regular readers know the Australian dairy industry so frustrates me. Driven by the mindset at Dairy Australia our farmers are forced to live in this cocooned world that means they rarely get to interact with all the other exciting people who not only farm in other industries but also the amazing people who support people in other industries.

One shining light is the Dairy Research Foundation (DRF) team and the Future Dairy Project. These people are amazing beyond belief and I am so honoured to sit on the board of the DRF and have insights into what is happening with the Future Dairy Project            

Let me show you what I mean

With increasing numbers of Australian dairy cows now being milked by robots, researchers are looking at a range of exciting ways to use robots on farm, and one that has already shown promise is the use of robots to herd cattle from the paddock to the dairy.

Delegates at the Dairy Research Foundation’s symposium, to be held at Kiama on 4 & 5th of July will get a sneak peak of Rover, a prototype robot, in action.


Cows at the University of Sydney’s Corstophine farm were unfazed by the presence of a robot which herded the cows out of the paddock calmly and efficiently

Researchers from the University of Sydney’s Dairy Science Group and the Australian Centre for Field Robotics, have used an unmanned ground vehicle (robot) to herd dairy cows out of the paddock.

Dairy researcher Associate Professor Kendra Kerrisk said the team was amazed at how easily the cows accepted the presence of the robot.

“They weren’t at all fazed by it and the herding process was very calm and effective,” Dr Kerrisk said.

“As well as saving labour, robotic herding would improve animal wellbeing by allowing cows to move to and from the dairy at their own pace.”

The robot was developed by researchers at the University of Sydney’s Australian Centre for Field Robotics for tree and fruit monitoring on tree-crop farms. It was used in the initial trial with very little modification for the dairy paddock.

We are keen to explore further opportunities with the Australian Centre for Field Robotics. They have a range of robotic technologies which could have exciting applications on dairy farms,” Dr Kerrisk said.

“While the robot showed exciting potential for use on a dairy farm, it would need to be adapted to operate autonomously on the terrain of dairy farms and its programing would need be customised for dairy applications.”

In addition to robotic herding, some of the possible applications include collecting pasture and animal data in the paddock; monitoring calving and alerting the manger if attention is needed and identifying and locating individual cows in the paddock.

“The research is in its very early stages but robotic technologies certainly have the potential to transform dairy farming, in terms of reducing repetitive work, increasing the accuracy of data that farmers collect and making data available that we currently can’t capture.

“Robotic technologies will have a role in increasing the productivity, sustainability and competitiveness of Australia’s dairy farms,” Dr Kerrisk said.

Does agriculture get anymore exciting than this and let me assure this is not reducing jobs in the dairy industry it just means we can now attract the best and the brightest minds. 

If you want to come and see Rover in action to register for the Dairy Research Foundation Symposium visit 



A few Friday Thatcherisms

Like her or not, agree with her or not Margaret Thatcher was one #strongwoman ahead off her time


On Climate Change

Margaret Thatcher, raised awareness of climate change publicly nearly 2 decades before Al Gore – she called vociferously for an international scientific body to investigate the issue  In 1988 she said

“…the danger of global warming is as yet unseen but real enough for us to make changes and sacrifices, so that we do not live at the expense of future generations.”

On November 8th 1989, Thatcher addressed the UN saying:

“It is no good squabbling over who is responsible or who should pay. Whole areas of our planet could be subject to drought and starvation if the pattern of rains and monsoons were to change as a result of the destruction of forests and the accumulation of greenhouse gases. The environmental challenge which confronts the whole world demands an equivalent response from the whole world. Every country will be affected and no one can opt out.”

Margaret thatcher

My thoughts on Climate Change is summed up by this cartoon. Too much time and energy has been wasted on the debate lets just do the right thing and work together for the sake of the planet  


Shouting it from the rooftops

A lot of farmers are taking to the airwaves in a variety of ways to share their story. The  latest YouTube hit is this new music video from the Midwest Dairy Association, featuring 65 dairy farmers from across the Midwest as they put their spin on the Beach Boys’ song, “Good Vibration.”


With almost 20,000 hits in three days the music video used dozens of dairy farmers between the ages of 1 and 81 to create the video, which included a variety of dance numbers.

Its not as catchy as some other pro-agriculture music video parodies like  “I’m Farming and I Grow It” which propelled Peterson Farm Brothers into the national spotlight which they followed with  “Farmer Style,” a parody of PSY’s “Gangnam Style” (now viewed by 8.4 million and 12.9 million people worldwide respectively).

But is does show very clearly that farmers are just everyday people with families and businesses to run and they love what they do and they are proud to tell the world about it

Coles Milking the Cash Cow Dry


For those of you who read this excellent blog from Milk Maid Marian will know she has quite a way with words so when I was sent this classic ‘Explaining Ideology With Moo Cows!’ that does the rounds from time with updates on what is topical at the time I knew Marian was just the person to give it an Australian dairy milk prices wars theme.

What a clever little vegemite she is. Less than a minute it took her to put together the Coles Corporation ditty ( see bottom of post )

Subject: The world economy


You have 2  cows.
You give one to your neighbour.


You have 2 cows
The State takes both and gives you  some milk.


You have 2 cows.
The State takes both and sells you some milk.


You have 2 cows.
The  State takes both, shoots one, milks the other and then throws the milk  away.


You have two  cows.
You sell one and buy a bull.
Your herd multiplies,  and the economy grows.
You sell them and retire on the income.


You have two cows.
You sell three of them to your publicly listed company, using  letters of credit opened by your brother-in-law at the bank, then execute  a debt/equity swap with an associated general offer so that you get all  four cows back, with a tax exemption for five cows.
The milk  rights of the six cows are transferred via an intermediary to a Cayman  Island Company secretly owned by the majority shareholder who sells the  rights to all seven cows back to your listed company.
The annual  report says the company owns eight cows, with an option on one more.


You have two  cows.
You go on strike, organize a riot, and block the roads,  because you want three cows.


You have two cows, but you don’t know where they are.
You decide to have lunch.


You have 5,000 cows. None of them belong to you.
You  charge the owners for storing them.


You have two cows.
You have 300 people  milking them.
You claim that you have full employment and high  bovine productivity.
You arrest the newsman who reported the real  situation.


You have  two cows.
You worship them.


You have two cows.
Both are mad.


Everyone thinks you  have lots of cows.
You tell them that you have none.
Nobody believes you, so they bomb the crap out of you and invade  your country.
You still have no cows but at least you are now a  Democracy.


You  have two cows.
Business seems pretty good.
You close the  office and go for a few beers to celebrate.


You have two cows.
The one on the  left looks very attractive.


You have two cows borrowed from French and German banks.
You eat both of them.
The banks call to collect their  milk, but you cannot deliver so you call the IMF.
The IMF loans  you two cows.
You eat both of them.
The banks and the IMF  call to collect their cows/milk.
You are out getting a  haircut.


You have two cows

You refuse to feed them and complain they make too much noise

You give away their milk while picking the pockets of everyone who passes buy

Eventually, the cows die of starvation, so you get everyone drinking UHT instead



Special Thanks to XQHEQUE for this very accurate cartoon comment

Shock Horror I am now uncool

Today I am feeling decidedly UNCOOL. Last week my sister bought her first smart phone and today after much prompting from me so did my father. I must admit though in my father’s case his purchase was rapidly accelerated by his old world technology phone falling in the creek never to be seen again. Pretty confident his next purchase will be a waterproof case for his new phone.

What is worrying about these upgrades is both my sister and my father after due diligence from number of sources who agreed with this review  have both purchased a Samsung Galaxy S3 

In November last year HT took the big step and joined me when he got a hand me down iPhone 4 which he mastered in very impressive time and we can now communicate in pictures when we are apart and that is something I really enjoy


Low and behold The Conversation lobbed into to my Inbox this morning and via this article on the Blackberry 10 declared that is was becoming universally acknowledged that owing an iPhone was now UNCOOL

Now whilst I wont be rushing out to upgrade my iPhone tomorrow I really would love a phone that I can talk to and it listens and responds and babysits me when I get lost. This just fascinates me

Putting a smile on my dial

Today we had a film shoot at the farm and it was a very long day to day for me and I was only the dog’s body. Heaven help me if I had had a starring role.  It reminded me I am not as young nor fit as I used to be

As part of our Young Eco Champions ( YECs) funding we have committed to doing a number of projects with different landholders in the area. The YECs  are relishing the opportunity and today we started  the process of documenting the before and after on film.

I always take my camera and sneak in a few the behind the scenes shots when I can.

Today I got a classic. I got caught out with the cows coming up the road for milking and had to stop and wait until they went by. It was hot and a number of them were tonguing (See explanation here)

You would swear this cow is spitting and poking out her tongue at me at the same time.


I didn’t notice till I downloaded the pix and it gave this tired little vegemite a great laugh . Its time for the nanna nap      

Strangling the host

Here in paradise we have some superb, vulnerable and endangered species of native rainforest and woodland trees

There is nothing more spectacular than the strangler fig and this one is just divine.

Figtree Corner

In the rainforest the strangler fig germinates only in the branches of a host tree from the seed deposited by birds. Many roots are sent down and they gradually envelope and strangle the host tree leaving the fig in its place. The root structure of this one is quite compelling isn’t it

We have called this area you guessed it Figtree Corner. The cairn in the front is a tribute to Ron White one of our neighbours who was the chair of our Landcare group at the time of his passing. We are growing the native bleeding heart just in the front of the fig. It is one of Erin’s favourite trees.

Native bleeding heart

The strangler fig trees have adapted by starting their lives off as epiphytes, as at the ground level of the rainforest there is little light and a huge amount of competition for water and nutrients meaning that the majority of plants that start off on the ground have to adapt or die. The strangler fig has adapted by using other trees to get itself into the canopy where it is lighter.Strangler Fig Garvins
Once the strangler fig sprouts roots, it begins to use them to strangle the tree. as well as this it competes with the host tree for nutrients and water, then the strangler fig has a large growth spurt like this one in another spot on the farm, and once it begins to grow leaves they are very large and they tend to cover those of the host plant.

This Morton Bay fig recently lost one of its branches in a storm and it was splitting down the trunk. We thought it would die so one of the neighbours has inserted a “baby’ in a pouch on the trunk which seems to be doing very well

Figtrees  (4)

These trees are making me feel old I can remember when I first spotted the Figtree in the third picture and it was no more that a foot long. Scary 

Recycle Reuse taken to a whole new level

The last two weeks have seen me traverse the continent. Firstly to WA where I attended my first Australian Landcare Council board meeting at Katanning. . Then back to QLD to speak at the Naturally Resourceful Conference in Mitchell. A special thankyou to the very dynamic Sue Middleton who also lined up a number of meetings with potential sponsors who can help Art4agriculture bring the Young Farming Champions and ArchIbull Prize to WA

What a blast Naturally Resourceful Conference in Mitchell was. I haven’t had so much fun in ages. The women of Mitchell are a shining example of when things have looked the bleakest, extraordinary people have seen a different way forward. Compelling visions of ‘better’ have inspired them to overcome massive odds before and they have done it again. It’s a remarkable and brave thing to do.

In fact “I have a dream today” was the foundation of both my presentation and Vicki Jones’ who preceded me. I have asked Vicki if I can share her story and I look forward to her saying yes.

Now whilst I like to think I was the highlight of the  day I was well and truly upstaged by the special entertainment provided by Marg Enkelmann who creates Farm Wearable Art: Using Recycled Materials Found on the Farm.

The pictures tell the story and I also took some very funny videos which I will load when I get home.

Now its hard to beleive but you are now looking at dresses made out of tractor tyres silage bags wool packs and everything else that was once part of the working farming landscape.


Marg Enkelmann








Can you believe this


Sacrebleu what is she thinking !!!!!!!

Next week I am off to Adelaide to participate in the Agriculture for the Future Debate@TheWaite where the affirmative team will be saying “Every Australian child should be taught agriculture at school” see link here.

When the gorgeous Dr Heather Bray rang me to invite me to participate I think she was pretty shocked when I said I wanted to be on team negative.

I have very strong opinions in this area and I definitely DONT think every Australian child should be taught agriculture at school. I do firmly believe we must strive to build communities without borders and remove the veil of mystery that separates consumers from the land that produces our food and the hands that grow it. However I don’t think making it mandatory for every child to study agriculture is the best way to do this. So please fellow farmers don’t judge me too harshly yet as I will be very surprised if the majority of you don’t agree with my arguments when you hear them.

But you will have to wait – this is a debate with winners and losers and I like to win so I cant share too much with you yet.

I assure you it will be fun so if you are in Adelaide on the 18th why not you join us?. For all you tweeps out there key messages from the debate will be tweeted live.


FYI from the flyer

Australia’s agricultural workforce is aging. The median age of farmers is 53, compared to 39 for other workers. Our agricultural workforce is also shrinking, declining 22% in the last 12 years.
Agriculture is facing more than a skills shortage; we need a ‘Generation F’ – the next generation of educated, ambitious young people to ensure Australia’s role as a food-producing nation into the future. But where will they come from?
A recent survey showed that Australian school students knew little about agriculture; 75% thought cotton socks were an animal product and  45% could not identify that everyday lunchbox items such as bananas, bread and cheese originated from farms. Students who know little about agriculture are even less likely to consider it as a career path.
Farming is usually portrayed in the media as a tough gig. Farmers work longer hours and are at the mercy of the weather and economic factors that are largely beyond their control. Why would our best and brightest want to go into agriculture when so many industry stories focus on ‘doom and gloom’?
Making agriculture compulsory in schools would not only improve food knowledge, but also highlight the role of business skills and specialised technical knowledge in modern agriculture, revealing the opportunities for young people in this vital and dynamic industry. But with so much already crammed into the school curriculum, do we need to be prepared to lose something to attract more people into agriculture?
So, should we be exposing all school students to agriculture and encouraging our young people into the sector with the promise of a brilliant career?
Or is it really up to the agricultural sector itself to make the industry more attractive to young people and remove some of the barriers that prevent them from entering it more easily?

This debate, moderated by Dr Paul Willis, RiAus, will explore all these issues, as six experts in two teams argue for your vote.

Finger food provided and cash bar available


When: 6.00pm-8.30pm,
Thursday 18 October
Where: Lirra Lirra Cafe, Waite Road,
Waite Campus, Urrbrae

Admission is free, but prior registration is
essential as seats are strictly limited

Go to
to secure your tickets.

Living like the Packers

Michael and I don’t go away very much. In fact I am having trouble remembering  when we last had a break. I think it was 18 months ago when I was asked to speak at an MLA workshop and we took a few days and went up the Sunshine Coast. In fact I don’t think we have been anywhere in the last 5 years that didn’t involve me speaking at a conference. Sad but true but then we do live in paradise so I am not complaining too much. 

When we do go away we like to pretend we are the Packers on the first and last day. So we booked into the Crown Towers Melbourne on the way to the conference and finished the week at the Blackman Hotel (part of the Art Series of Hotels) in St Kilda Rd and what a contrast of extremes that proved to be.

Maybe it is the fact that the Packers own the Crown Towers and really know how to give you the Packer Experience. It was magnificent, from the man opening the front door, to service at the front desk, to the room service to the choice of all those magnificent restaurants along the Yarra to the shops.

Where I didnt shop 

The shopping experience at the Crown Towers.( FYI I left my credit card in the room)

The Blackman on the other hand couldn’t be a more ordinary experience. The cost of the room was 50% more, no-one opened the door, the person at the front desk is the concierge, the “Guest Experience” person ( still to figure out what that is) and from what I could see doubles as a waiter in the restaurant conveniently located next to the check in desk.

Let me show you a few classic so you can the gist

When I saw this machine in the cupboard of our room at the Blackman I go you beauty I can make an espresso. Now to do this you have to put the machine on the washing machine ( yes that was the only power point where you could actually reach the espresso machine) but there were no instructions, no cups small enough to fit under the spout let alone a jug to froth the milk. Oh well nice idea just impossible to execute

The Coffee Maker  

Then there was the bathroom!!!! it was so small I couldn’t get an angle to get a picture to show you what it was like, unlike the Crown Towers where you could even watch TV in the bath

Crown Towers TV Set in the Bath

Luxury Packer Style. The bathroom at the Crown Towers

I am beginning to think you can tell the quality of a hotel by the flowers. Yes you guessed it there was plenty of art at the Blackman matched only by vases and vases of plastic flowers.

Plastic Flowers Blackman Hotel

The Blackman Hotel where all the plastic flowers go to party


The Crown Towers on the other hand looked like Floriade had come to party. Divine

It goes without saying we wont be visiting the Blackman again but I will be praying for another conference gig in Melbourne where we can have our first and last night in bliss at the Crown Towers.

Note to self when you book the hotel don’t just ask for them to put REAL milk in the fridge, ask whether the flowers are real or lifetime polluters 

We like to eat like the Packers every now and then so my next post will share with you the culinary delights of Melbourne