Farming with Nature to produce the best organic milk
We are Wilco Droppert & Sandra Jefford, and we own Wilandra Farms. First up, we must acknowledge that we couldn’t do what we do without the assistance of a small team of skilled and attentive staff, including our son Luke and daughter Sophie.
We have been certified organic producers of milk, silage and hay since February 2020, after about 4 years of learning and transitioning the farm to an organic system.
During this time, we learned a lot about organic farming – in particular about the importance of healthy soil microbes. That led us to regenerative agriculture, and the opportunity to regenerate our business.
About Our Farm
The farm is located at Clydebank, near Sale in Victoria. We milk about 350 cows year round, with cows calving from February to May, and again from August to mid November.
Our home farm consists of about 950 acres (380ha). The soil is sandy loam and the land is flat to slightly undulating. The district’s long term average annual rainfall has been about 600mm, but this appears to be falling and becoming more variable and unreliable.
We are very reliant on irrigation. About 500 acres (180ha) can be irrigated, to some extent, mainly using centre pivots. Two thirds of the water we use comes from bores, and the other third from the Avon River.
Most of our herd are British Friesian cattle. The Jefford family migrated to Australia in 1980 and brought some of their British Friesian herd with them. British Friesian cattle are often shorter than Holsteins, but were bred to be more of a dual purpose breed – meaning that bull calves are suitable for rearing for beef. In recent years, we have been selecting bulls with the A2/A2 gene, and aim to produce milk without the A1 gene in the future.
Our cattle graze multi species pastures and receive a small amount of grain (about 450kg per cow per year). This means per cow production is lower than in some other herds, but this is a natural way of feeding cattle that we believe produces a high quality product with a beneficial nutritional profile. Just as strawberries are good for us, we don’t eat them for every meal and we believe that our animals also need a very varied diet.
Animal health and wellbeing is always a priority for us. Things we consider include:
providing animals with plentiful, nourishing feed and clean water every day of the year
preventing illness as much as possible,
treating cattle promptly if they are unwell,
not docking cows’ tails,
monitoring cow health using activity collars,
no induction of calving,
handling animals in a way to minimise stress and
planting trees to provide shade in summer and protection from cold weather.
Three areas, totalling about 70 acres (28ha) of our home farm have been fenced off, cattle excluded, and we’re allowing nature to flourish. One area is a natural lagoon that supports water birds, another is grassland with ancient red gums that provide habitat for numerous birds, and another area is a natural saline wetland. The latter is a known habitat for Growling Grass Frogs – a species that used to be common in many areas but is now endangered because of habitat loss and disease.
Records of birds seen on the farm in the past two years show that despite our lack of natural habitat, there are at least 90 species of birds that live on or visit the farm, and of these, four species are either vulnerable or near threatened.
We are grateful to West Gippsland Catchment Management Authority for advice and help with fencing and tree planting.