When young Aussie rural kids are asked what they want to be when they grow up, professional footy player would come in fairly high on the list.
Ian Hindmarsh is a bit different.
Carving out a successful playing career in Australia with the Paramatta Eels and the Canberra Raiders and abroad with the Catalans Dragons, Bowral born Ian Hindmarsh always had a desire to return to the dairy.
“I always wanted to be a farmer first, even when I was playing footy I still wanted to be a farmer. This probably made me quit a bit earlier than I should have, when I could have played on a few more seasons.
“Even when I was playing football professionally I would still go back to the farm on weekends to work. This was probably to my detriment, all the other players would rest up during their time off, or go to the gym while I was out in the paddock chasing cows.
“I just enjoyed the farm too much.”
Hindmarsh bought his own 400 acre property “Cumberoona”, Cowra, in 2002 during his first stint with the Parramatta Eels, and built himself a dairy.
Ten years on from his retirement from club footy, Hindmarsh is pleased with his decision to return and grateful for the direction and opportunities that an upbringing in the bush afforded him.
“Overall I’m happy that I have come back to dairy, the passion is still there. It was great to always know I had that direction beyond football.
“I am very lucky, some boys I played with finish their career playing footy and don’t have a thing to do after.
“I went away and got a trade, which was football, but had something I loved to come home to.”
His rural upbringing did however lead to the occasion moment of hilarity as the players from the city struggled to come to terms with the Hindmarsh boys farming terminology.
“The boys were always interested in the farm.
“I used to take The Land in to read at training and I remember Nathan Cayless at the Eels asking me what loochurn (lucerne) and heefas (heifers) were.”
The Hindmarsh family have been dairy farming in the Southern Highlands since the late 1800s, with several bloodlines handed down to the current herd.
The family has also taken trips to America to import embryos from Gypsy Grands, Aleshia’s and Lila Z’s.
Hindmarsh and his team are now milking 350 cows with the aim to bump that number up to 400, with the development of an enclosed, intensive dairy facility.
“We want to get away from the traditional grazing setup, cows would be inside almost 24/7, more and more people are going that way. With the industry as it is, each year we have to get more and more efficient.”
Hindmarsh believes the enclosed setup, very popular in Europe and the US, will boost efficiency as cows are not expelling energy while grazing in the heat.
“In an enclosed setup the cows do not have to travel to eat, their feed is brought to them and they damage less paddocks.”
“By going intense you have the animals in a controlled setting where they expel less energy and produce more milk.”
Hindmarsh says that intense summer heat in the Central West of NSW causes problems for his cows, and an enclosed set up allows temperature and shade to be regulated.
“Shade becomes a massive issue with our summer heat, an enclosed system allows to keep the animals cool, as the structure creates a breeze. We will also install fans.”
“In April-May we start to see cows with foot problems from standing up to much in the heat over the summer months.”
“It really is about the animals welfare as well. I like breeding cows and we care about their health. We want to build an environment that allows cows to produce more milk and be healthy. People outside the industry think this is cruel, but don’t understand the whole circumstance.”
“Look at the really wet winter we had two years ago, or the really hot summers we get in this area.”
“The general public don’t see the adverse affect that is having on the cows.”
Mr Hindmarsh says that an intensive indoor setup also limits his impact on the environment, and improves the conditions for new born calves by removing the risk of illness.
“We can have better control of effluent and waste, less dead trees, less trampled paddocks.”
“We can then grow more tonnes of feed and control our irrigation better.”
“We grow corn and lucerne, and in winter cereals or ryegrass, wheat barley or oat forage.”
Mr Hindmarsh says that a change to an intense setup will also allow him to provide better working conditions to his staff.
Now in the role of president for Holstein Australia, Central and Western NSW division, Mr Hindmarsh believes the industry is beginning to strengthen again, but laments the fact that a lack of lucrative contracts are seeing talented young farmers leave the industry in search of fairer pay.
“It’s sad for the industry. You see workers in other industries getting paid so well, while skilled workers in dairy are getting paid the minimum because the profit isn’t there.”
“The contracts aren’t lucrative enough to support a big staff, because the price of milk is so cheap.”
“People aren’t making the money they deserve with the skills they have, and you see these guys leave the industry and don’t come back.”