Focusing on Game plan

Creating wealth for dairy future

Business Management
Brodie Game who runs Blackjack Holsteins with her husband Kevin at Bemboka on the South Coast. She is pictured with her children Roy, three, and eight-month-old Harry. Photo: Kevin Game

Brodie Game who runs Blackjack Holsteins with her husband Kevin at Bemboka on the South Coast. She is pictured with her children Roy, three, and eight-month-old Harry. Photo: Kevin Game

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What started as two cows a decade ago has now grown to a 300 milking herd on the NSW South Coast.

But for Brodie Game it has not been an easy road.

Mrs Game and her husband Kevin, who run Blackjack Holsteins at Bemboka, NSW, have battled more than most entering the industry.

They have overcome low milk prices, high production costs, a disease that wiped out much of their herd, drought and bushfires.

Despite those obstacles, the Games are going to stick to their plan and that's create wealth.

And they are more determined than ever to carve out a name for themselves in an industry they have grown to love.

"We love what we do and whenever we get into a rough patch we remember that because our herd is like our family and home is where our herd is," Mrs Game said.

"Kev always says if you make your obsession your profession then you never have to work a day in your life."

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In 2010 they took the leap into dairy when they purchased their first two cows, which quickly grew to five.

"We are not from a farming family so we didn't have a farm we could take over so we had to make a way for ourselves," Mrs Game said.

"Kev grew up in Bega and wanted to get into dairy and me being from Cootamundra had shown beef cattle."

To continue growing their herd and capital they started rearing bull calves, using milk from the cows they had. They milked the cows using a single-stand milker they set up in a race.

"Bull calves are a under utilised side of the dairy industry so we would buy them from farms or in the saleyards cheap," she said.

They found a buyer and grew the calves out to three-months-old before they were sold. At the end of 2012 they had saved enough money to purchase additional cows and moved back to Bega to start share farming.

They arrived with the five original cows. A week later the rest of the new herd arrived, an additional 90 cows they purchased and 120 purchased by their share farmer.

But five months in, the milk prices plummeted, the season turned dry and the herd they bought into the area got hit by Theileria where they lost 30 cows.

With help from the local veterinarians they got through that and found their "groove again". It wasn't too long before they were hit again by another obstacle.

"The share farmer we went into partnership with didn't want to do it anymore," she said.

"So we either had to sell everything or go into full blown leasing. I was genuinely upset with the prospect of losing our new dairy venture and for the first time had realised I didn't want to do anything else as I had found something that I loved and Kev was the same.

"It was silly to give up everything we had saved for so we threw ourselves in the deep end and have learned on the run."

The Games took out a loan to purchase more cows, leased more land and went out on their own to supply Bega Cheese. They do everything on their 445 hectare property, employing two full-time staff and not using contractors.

As they have their own gear, they manage their own sowing of silage, focusing on 76ha of irrigation using a bike-shift system drawing water from the Bemboka River.

When they renovated the farm, they installed a traveller irrigation, to tow along the paddocks, which was less labour intensive. Before February, their dam that holds 100 megalitres, ran out of water for the first time since 1980.

Like most farms along the river they were allocated enough water to run the dairy for stock and domestic use under the water scheme.

"It was tough with the drought but we had a good drop of rain in February, which put water in dams and rivers," she said.

But yet again another hurdle was thrown their way last year as Mother Nature delivered a blow. Not only did they battle the drought but they were hit by bushfires.

"We were lucky at our main farm as our boundary is the Bemboka River and there was a southerly change at the last minute so it didn't impact us here," she said.

"However we have just taken out the lease of another farm (162 hectares) that was completely burned out."

She said Bega Cheese looked after the farmers affected by bushfires paying for dumped milk and supplying generators to those without power.

"Roads were closed to our farm but Bega Cheese worked with the transport authorities and police to get the tankers to us," she said.

Brodie Game from the South Coast. Photo Kevin Game

Brodie Game from the South Coast. Photo Kevin Game

When asked why they stayed in farming after all these hurdles, Mrs Game said "you have to love it to pull through it".

"We have learned from everything we have gone through," she said.

"Sure it hasn't been an easy journey but we do love it. We don't believe in luck, it's management and opportunity.

"We borrowed $300,000 to buy cows and essentially we will have them paid off in five to six years, there aren't many industries that can do that, if you borrow money to buy a house it takes 30 years to pay it off.

"We are not cash rich and our cash flow looks terrible but we are creating wealth that a lot of other industries can't create and as long as you can keep that in your mind it is quite rewarding."

Back on the farm, Mrs Game takes her young children Roy, three, and eight-month-old Harry around to feed the calves and manage heifers.

"I do feel bad some days when I'm dragging them around feeding but if you compare it to kids in the city who don't have a backyard, they have a good life on the farm," she said.

In terms of the future of the industry, Mrs Game said consumers were becoming more aware about where their foods comes from in the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Agriculture will come out of this fairly well. People are already starting to share on social media what milk brands are Australian owned

"There will always be a future for dairy it's just whether us as young farmers and leasees who don't own their own farm, can keep up with them advancement in technology to remain competitive. But we will always love what we do."

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The story Focusing on Game plan first appeared on The Land.

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