Family hoping for a miracle

Family forced to leave Cooriemungle dairy farm hoping for a miracle

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Dairy farmers being forced to exit the industry due to low milk prices has long been talked about. But there is another issue threatening the industry's future viability. MONIQUE PATTERSON reports.

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"There's one local real estate company that has sold 18 dairy farms in the last six months or so and only four of them have stayed as dairy - the others have gone to sheep or beef," Mr Childs said. - Kerry Childs

FAMILY: Gaylene Childs snuggles with one of her favourite cows on the farm. Pictures: Anthony Brady

FAMILY: Gaylene Childs snuggles with one of her favourite cows on the farm. Pictures: Anthony Brady

Gaylene and Kerry Childs have been through more than most in their bid to remain in the dairy industry.

They left their home state of Queensland in search of greener pastures, have endured four droughts, survived the global financial crisis and operated on a shoestring for months on end due to the low milk price.

"We moved down here because regulations were pushing out a lot of farmers up there," Mrs Childs said.

"We came down with 18 milkers and 45 head all up. We transported them down."

Over several years they were able to purchase more stock, to take their herd to about 240.

But now the couple is facing one of their greatest challenges ever.

The farm they lease in Cooriemungle has been sold and they have until the end of the month to leave.

They are desperate to remain in the industry but have not been able to find another farm to house two of their sons, 240 head of cattle, chooks, cats, peacock and dog Daisy.

Mrs Childs, 55, said the frustrating thing was that with the price of milk increasing, they finally had a chance to get ahead.

SOLD: The Cooriemungle farm has been sold, leaving the family with nowhere to go. The couple has been looking for another property for months.

SOLD: The Cooriemungle farm has been sold, leaving the family with nowhere to go. The couple has been looking for another property for months.

"The past spring we've been working really hard and we've cut down our debts but we can't find anywhere to go and that's so feeble," she said.

The couple isn't afraid of hard work, deciding to do it all themselves instead of hiring someone to help out.

Mr Childs, 51, who has been milking cows since he was a young boy, said it would break his heart if he had to exit the industry.

He said he believed the future of the dairy industry in Australia was uncertain, with banks tightening restrictions on lending after the royal commission and many farms being converted to beef or lamb operations.

"There's one local real estate company that has sold 18 dairy farms in the last six months or so and only four of them have stayed as dairy - the others have gone to sheep or beef," Mr Childs said.

He said the couple had tried to loan funds to buy a dairy farm, but had been knocked back.

"Most of them tell us we're just short on equity," Mr Childs said.

LEFT: Cody Childs loves playing netball for the Warrnambool Springers. He doesn't want to leave the south-west.

LEFT: Cody Childs loves playing netball for the Warrnambool Springers. He doesn't want to leave the south-west.

"They tell us we will have no problem making the repayments, but we're just slightly short on equity."

Mr Childs said he feared the country's milk supply would dwindle and corporations would buy up dairy farms, giving them a monopoly and making it near impossible for young people to enter the industry.

"There are a lot of people just like us.

"Friends of ours sold their herd 18 months ago because they couldn't find a farm.

"I've heard one milk company has 16 people looking for farms to lease or share-farm."

Mr Childs said he believed the issue would eventually result in milk having to be imported into Australia.

"The milk supply will dwindle and there will be no family farms left," he said.

"It will just be corporates."

Mrs Childs said the couple faced the prospect of being homeless when the last day of the month rolled around.

They have a sale scheduled for February 24 - one they hope they can cancel.

Mrs Childs said it would break her heart to have to part with their beloved stock.

"We're not the kind of farmers who treat our cattle like numbers - they're our family," she said.

"It's so stressful.

"We look at our beautiful cows and wonder how long we will have them."

Mrs Childs said a stock agent had advised them some of their cattle would probably be sent to an abattoir due to their age.

ABOVE: Kerry Childs has worked on dairy farms all his life and doesn't want to leave the industry. He says the couple has worked hard to get to the position they are in.

ABOVE: Kerry Childs has worked on dairy farms all his life and doesn't want to leave the industry. He says the couple has worked hard to get to the position they are in.

She said this was a prospect that breaks their heart.

"They're paying their way, they're not costing us money," Mrs Childs said.

Mr Childs said he had not given up hope of finding a property, but he knows time is running out.

He is sad he may never get the chance to hand over the reins of a dairy farm operation to his son Matthew, 25.

The stress of the prospect that their hard work to put them in a good position to enjoy a successful future is almost too much for Mrs Childs to bear. It's another cruel blow and one that leaves her asking why.

The couple are parents to twins David and Matthew, who are 25, Cody, 20, and Michael, 14.

Tragically their two-year-old daughter Danielle died in 2003.

She was born with down syndrome and suffered from chronic lung and heart conditions.

Danielle was the apple of her parents' eyes and her death is something that haunts them each and every day.

When Mrs Childs found out some months after Danielle's death she was pregnant with twins, the couple again had a reason to smile.

However, tragedy would again strike, with Mrs Childs going into early labour and the twins dying shortly afterwards.

In addition to that, David, Cody and Michael all suffer from autism and Matthew has Crohn's disease.

This is another reason Mrs Childs is desperate to stay in the south-west.

David lives in Cobden and works at the town's IGA, while Cody and Michael live with the couple at the Cooriemungle home.

Cody loves playing netball and is in the A grade competition for the Warrnambool Stingers.

He has represented the team at state level, winning a silver medal.

Michael attends the Hampden Specialist School and is flourishing, according to his mother.

He is a talented artist, with his drawing skills wowing all at his school.

Michael and David also play netball with the Stingers.

"I want to stay in the south-west for them," Mrs Childs said.

BELOW: The couple is devastated they may have to sell their beloved cows. They say they are part of the family.

BELOW: The couple is devastated they may have to sell their beloved cows. They say they are part of the family.

"I want to be close to David to support him and they all love playing netball. They finally feel like they are a part of something and they belong."

If the couple don't find a property before the end of the month, they will be forced to sell their stock and other pets and rent a home.

"We'll just have to rent a house for the short term and figure out where we're going to end up," she said.

Over the years the couple has taken out a number of awards for their cows and the quality of their milk.

Mrs Childs said she was hoping for a miracle in the next few weeks.

The story Family hoping for a miracle first appeared on The Standard.

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