The life of dairy farming in Maleny

Dec 6, 2018 | Features, Hinterland Life

by Jacqui Hensel

As part of the oldest agribusiness in Australia, John and Emma Ruddle are proud to be dairy farmers on the Sunshine Coast Hinterland. Situated in a prime position just outside of Maleny, they have worked hard to breed and maintain a dairy herd in what is some of the toughest times the industry has faced.

John and Emma Ruddle are a part of a multigenerational dairy farming family that began with the arrival of John’s great, great grandfather in 1909 from England. The family business survived two world wars, but John and Emma are very aware they might be the last generation of dairy farmers on their property.

“We know there are always ups and downs in farming and usually the ups outweigh the downs. We are so dependent on the weather in farming, it’s not something you can control or really plan for when season after season has been too tough to get ahead. What I do know is that we need rain, desperately” John said.

“I understand completely where that dairy farmer on Facebook working for $2.46 an hour is coming from. It seems like all our farm input costs have gone skyrocketing, but our income hasn’t matched those rising costs”.  Despite the tough times John and Emma can’t see themselves anywhere else, doing anything else.

While Emma grew up on a sheep farm near Orange in NSW, she moved for the warmer climes of the Sunshine Coast. Where in time she met John and when they married she returned to farming life.

A talented family portrait photographer, Emma has curated the Maleny show photography competition for a few years. “In a way, it is great to have something away from the farm to be involved with. The Maleny show is still a huge part of the social life of the town”.

John and Emma are in agreement about the benefits of raising their two boys on the farm. “They are so free to please themselves. Cooper and Ashton ride motorbikes and go on adventures. They are always up to something,” Emma said, smiling.

Ashton and Cooper with Sadee the cow


“I wouldn’t want to raise my boys anywhere else. They help us out with the calves and milking the same way I helped my Dad,” said John. “If the boys want to take it on (the farm) we would support them, but we hope they learn a trade outside of the farm as well,” he added.

John is passionate about both his milk and his cows, always looking for ways to improve both. Presently the farm supports a milking herd of two hundred Holstein Friesian cows and with dry cows and rising heifers making a total herd of around 320.

The herd started by his grandfather were all Jerseys and were milked in a 16 bay walk-through dairy. Three hundred cows, twice a day was quite a workload. In those days the milk went straight to the new cheese factory in Coral St Maleny. John’s father later transitioned the herd to Friesians, while John himself now has the herd at 98% Holsteins.

In a really good season Ruddle Dairy can produce 1.5 million litres of milk. “It’s all about what we feed the cows and you only get quality milk when you give them quality feed and pasture,” he explained.

Present conditions have seen a significant drop in milk production. “The cows just can’t produce milk when it’s dry like this,” said John.

Previously milking for large producers, John and Emma’s milk can now be found in Maleny Cheese as they sell their milk to Obi Obi Dairies. “We have a solid relationship with Obi Obi Dairies and look forward to what the future holds,” John said.

“The 10c per litre levy that’s being talked about would be a great help, but we don’t know yet if all dairy farms will get it. I really hope it happens,” shared Emma.

“The way it is now, the help arrives too late. Farmers are leaving the land and they don’t come back. It’s too much work to rebuild a herd. You can’t just buy them, they have to be bred. That takes years. Maleny used to have 15 plus dairy farms, I think there are only a handful left now,” she said.

When asked if he has a favourite cow, I was taken to meet Sadee and her brand new calf Saige. Saige is Sadee’s first calf and John is as pleased as any new father with both of them. Sadee is more than just a favourite cow though, as she represents new genetics for the herd and a bright spot on the horizon.

“We know we have to keep going, we have hope and a proud family history. We do enjoy the lifestyle farming provides for us even though the work hours are long.

“We have a great committed team who make it much easier to get through the days. We look forward to seeing what the spring season holds, ” said John and Emma.

“We may not go on fancy overseas holidays, but we love being part of the Maleny community. Our boys attend the local primary school and play soccer for the Maleny Rangers,” she shared,

“But I wouldn’t say no to that overseas holiday!”

Dairy cattle arrived with the First Fleet in 1788. The use of animals for milk and milk products can be dated back 9000 years to the Middle East and Asia. They used sheep, goats and cattle.

Modern dairying began around 1900 with the introduction of Pasteurisation.


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