Ian Campbell from Queensland’s Barambah Organics is so focused on the welfare of his herd that he found himself instinctively checking his wife’s gums during her pregnancy. “He’d check to see if I was deficient in anything,” says Jane Campbell, “just like he does with our cows.”

A highly trained rural scientist who specialises in animal nutrition, Ian can tell just by looking at their gums whether his cows need more minerals or vitamins, and is able to add them to their feed (made up of organic grain grown on the property, equating to about 20% of the cows’ diet) to prevent or stave off potential disease. Of course, he rarely needs to. The Campbell’s 800-strong herd are free to roam the lush Barambah paddocks, getting the nutrients they need from the “virtual salad bowl” of mixed grasses that cover the rich soil of their property on the Queensland-New South Wales border.

The Campbells moved their operation to the Border Rivers Region in 2006 because of its proximity and access to reliable water. “You just can’t be in the dairy industry without reliable water,” says Jane. Prior to that, they farmed in the Queensland region of South Burnett, about 400 kilometres northeast, on a site that had been farmed by Ian’s family since 1912. Ian converted the fourth-generation family farm, ‘Spring Creek’, to organic status in 1999. In 2002, he and Jane produced their first bottle of milk under the Barambah Organics brand.

The awards and accolades won by Barambah for their dairy products, most recently a Champion award at the Australian Grand Dairy Awards for their Light Milk, are proof that their practices and processes, as well as skill and experience, make for phenomenal dairy products.

For Kym Masters of Section28 Artisan Cheese in the Adelaide Hills, quality care is the only way to yield quality milk, and therefore quality cheese, which was the reason he decided to source all the milk for his alpine-style cheeses from Glenmax Holstein Dairy when he started his operation four years ago. Owned and run by Andrew and Sonya Maxwell, Glenmax Holsteins is renowned for its herd management practices and was recently elected into the Holstein Breeder’s Association Hall of Fame. The milk they produce has a cell count of at least 10, and often 20, times better than the Australian standard. The dairy’s close proximity to Master’s cheesery – just seven kilometres separate the two – also means a reduction in food miles.

“From the cheesemaker’s perspective, if you don’t have high quality milk, you can’t make high quality cheese,” he says. The awards he’s won are testament to this: both his Monforte and Monte Diavolo won Champion at the Australian Grand Dairy Award in 2018.

The Maxwell’s cows spend almost all their time outdoors, roaming the soft, grassy pastures of the Adelaide Hills, coming inside only to be milked. It’s the same at Barambah Organics. Cows – stocked at a rate of one cow per five acres of prime agricultural pasture – spend almost all their time outside. They’re even given time off from milking – about 100 cows are rested at any one time, often for periods of two or three months. The size of Barambah allows Jane and Ian to often rest whole paddocks, too – they have space enough to move cows to other paddocks while they let the soils and grasses regrow and regain health and vitality, which benefits the cows as well as the land. “We don’t want to exhaust the land or exhaust the animals,” says Jane “We’d just end up exhausting ourselves.” Both dairy farmers say that the death or illness of one of their animals is akin to a death or illness in their families; another reason why the health of their cows is paramount.

Excellent dairy practices are also important when it comes to producing quality milk, and keeping the animals healthy and happy. A clean dairy – clean milking teats, clean machinery, clean pipes and so on – is key. “It’s how clean is your kitchen, effectively,” says Masters. Running a clean dairy often also means running an effective, sustainable dairy, too. “Andrew and Sonya made the call that it’s better for their animals and better for their milk to run a minimum input farming operation,” says Masters. “It drives environmental sustainability and allows them to ensure their cows’ health.”

At Barambah Organics, aside from paddock and crop rotation, the other sustainability practices the Campbells have implemented include proper and natural irrigation thanks to the farm’s proximity to water. They also provide housing and cover living expenses for their staff at the farm, and have a very low turnover as a result. At the processing factory in Brisbane, solar panels provide much of the site’s electricity, and in October last year, they again began using glass bottles to package their milk. “For us, we do everything we can to make sure we’re not harming our animals or the land in what we do,” says Jane. “Our conscience dictates that we have to find packaging and processes that are not harmful, and make sure we’re leaving a lesser footprint.”

While the examples given here are exceptional, the quality of animal care and therefore milk in Australia on average is overwhelming high. “The average dairy farmer really loves their animals,” says Jane.

Find out more about the dairy industry’s commitment to sustainability at dairymatters.com.au