CLOSING TIME: Tears spill as drought closes dairy
BARRY PAFF has been farming for the past 40 years, starting as a 16-year-old.
But when he recently had to walk some of the cows from the Big River Dairy farm he manages onto a B-double truck to be culled, it nearly broke him.
"I was in tears," he said. "I've never had to do that."
"It makes me sick."
The farm will cease operations on Friday, with Local Farm Fresh, who had been leasing the business and operating under the Big River Milk brand withdrawing due to the overwhelming costs plaguing the business.
"The drought is just killing as, and as a business we just can't continue," Mr Paff said.
The brand was started by Rod and Jo Madden in 2013, before operations moving to Local Farm Fresh in 2015.
Mr Paff said that the loss of their annual growth this year escalated their feed costs by more than $30,000 a month.
"We planted ryegrass which all germinated, and looked good, but then we got nothing," he said.
"We lost production there, and our feed costs escalated by $30,000 a month, so we've been losing an estimate of $50-60,000 a month."
Forced to sell some of their cattle earlier this year, the loss in production meant they couldn't supply their surplus milk, which had been going to Richmond Dairy, causing further declines.
"At it's biggest the farm had more than 300 cows, now we're milking about 100," Mr Paff said.
"Even the cows we have won't give us a return. Some of the yearling heifers we'll be lucky to get $150 for. The cows we sold would normally be around $1200, and we got a $600 through the abattoirs."
Mr Paff is unsure of the future of the farm, with himself and the ten staff all been given notice, and he would find out Friday if there were a future.
"I'll go and milk the cows, because that's just what I do," he said.
Mr Paff said closing the doors on the promising careers of his staff was especially hard.
"There's a lot of young families, young ones we've given a chance to and they've really stepped up," he said.
"They were great employees. I'm trying to find work for as many as I can."
Mr Paff was also trying to sure up supply for their customers who ranged across the north coast, including some of the most popular cafes in the area.
For the passionate farmer, he said the struggle to keep the business open had come at a tremendous personal toll.
"It makes me sick. It probably should've closed twelve months ago, but I stuck my neck out to keep it going for the staff and community," Mr Paff said.
"Seeing those cows go, it really just brought me to tears. And they're not even my cows.
"It is happening all across the country."