When even the new heifers walk happily into the milking shed, Kathy Bury knows she is doing her job.
As the herd and operations manager on Brendan Cunningham’s Nar Nar Goon farm, Kathy Bury has plenty on her daily schedule. But looking after the cows always seems to be at the top of her list.
The emphasis on herd quality is supported by Mr Cunningham, who Ms Bury said had a great rapport with the animals, making the farm a good place to work.
With the owner, staff and animals seemingly all on the same page, the daily grind of milking is just that little bit easier.
“It’s very relaxed,” Ms Bury said.
“We don’t even have a backing gate. Our cows just naturally come in to be milked.
“Even with our heifers who have never been milked before, we rarely have one who kicks.”
While calving, rearing, record keeping, AI joining, administration, budgeting, staff and training are all part of Ms Bury’s job, the animal side of things is her main interest.
Having once run her own dairy farm, she is now content to work as an employee, albeit one with some “skin in the game” when it comes to the herd.
On her 80 ha Pakenham South property, Ms Bury can indulge her passion for breeding.
“I own a portion of the herd in Brendan’s business, so I grow out my own heifers and also have other heifers on agistment,” she said.
“I have a really keen interest in the genetics side of it, and having your own cows keeps you really focused and motivated.”
When it comes to breeding, Ms Bury knows what she is looking for and what suits the property that the cows will be living on.
“I did a Diploma of Ag and I studied the breeding component of that and I found that really interesting, so I’ve taken on more of a role where I’ve researched the bulls and I’ve strived to get a certain type of animal that suits the farm and what we do,” she said.
“Our cattle tend to have to walk a fair distance so we have quite a bit of emphasis on good legs and longevity. Fertility is very high on our list as well as calving ease, so the cows are able to bounce back after calving.”
One thing Ms Bury doesn’t look for in the genes is temperament. Her theory — which is backed up by on-farm results — is that nurture trumps nature when it comes to cow behaviour.
“I know animals are scored on temperament (but) we find that we very rarely have an animal with a bad temperament,” she said.
“I put that down to just a lot of handling and we don’t have anyone on the farm that doesn’t have similar values to us.”
Ms Bury has no desire to ever again run her own dairy farm; instead, she enjoys the lifestyle of working with dairy cows without the pressure of running a farm business.
“When I bought my farm I was totally new to it, so it’s been a learning process from there,” she said.
“Brendan has been a bit of a mentor to me and I’ve been able to grow in the role. I’m really happy with where it’s at.
“I don’t aspire to have my own farm again. I like working as part of a team and it’s an exciting place to work with the growth that will be happening.”
Not that she is standing still in her role. Ms Bury is constantly advancing her knowledge of animals and animal health.
“We look after them the best we can because at the end of the day they work very hard with you to make your income,” she said.
“We feed them the best feed we can and keep them warm and sheltered — all those things are really important. If we look after them, they look after us.
“I also really like the veterinary side of it.
“I spend a lot of time learning about different problems cows can have, and that’s where the breeding side of it comes in too. I don’t think you can ever know enough.’’