Danny Wilton with a mob of baby calves he is raising.
Danny Wilton with a mob of baby calves he is raising. Belinda Scott

Moo-ving tale: What's in the bucket counts

DANNY Wilton explains what keeps him in dairy farming is his jersey cows.

"I enjoy breeding the cattle," he said.

He wants cows that will show their quality "in the bucket" and in the returns from milk processor Norco, as opposed to the show ring.

The 78-year-old farmer is the last man continuing to milk dairy cows in Upper Orara, where a nearby road is called Dairyville because of the 30 dairies which once fronted the road.

One by one these and other Upper Orara dairies have all closed, most turning to raising beef cattle, some to hay, poultry, blueberries, garlic or horses, flowers or small crops, while others have been subdivided into rural residential blocks.

New residents cause new problems.

Discarded plastic and twine, wire and rope, even car parts, have all been found to have caused the death of cows by causing blockages and piercing vital organs, while spray drift, uncontrolled dogs and speeding cars have resulted in illness and injuries to dairy cows and the loss of a top cattle dog.

"If I lose a cow unexpectedly I cut the cow open, because I like to know what killed them," Danny said.

"Cows like to chew on something and they will chew on a chunk of baler twine or rope - I found about 15 feet of rope with a part like a clutch from a motorbike stuck in the belly of one cow.

"Another one, a piece of wire, had pierced her heart."


WAITING: Jean Wilton inspects cows due to calve shortly.
WAITING: Jean Wilton inspects cows due to calve shortly. Belinda Scott

Azona Dairy and Jersey Stud continues to fly the flag for dairying, but Danny wonders how much longer they can continue.

Neither Danny nor his wife Jean, 74, is in perfect health, but Danny said with younger help he would keep going as long as he could.

In spite of the unrelenting 24/7 routine of dairying, he said he couldn't imagine doing anything else and he still raised all his own calves on surplus milk.

"I've always liked to grow quality feed and I hate wasting anything," Danny said.

Between them, Jean and Danny represent 150 years of farming and dairying history and experience, both having been involved in milking cows from their cradles.

Danny's 1950s milking machine is now in a rural museum.

The Azona stud dynasties began 50 years ago with a heifer calf from a 21-year-old cow they bought from Dorrigo's Arthur Burley in 1966.

Since then they have bred more than 2200 registered jerseys, so finding new names could sometimes be a problem.

The couple divides the farm work; Jean does all the paperwork, including herd recording and production measurements and is an expert cattle nurse and midwife, while Danny does the farming.

Looking around Azona, with its lush emerald paddocks dotted with sleek golden animals, its stainless steel milk vats overflowing with the rich milk from up to 160 cows and mobs of frisky calves looking like animated Jersey caramels, it is easy to see why Danny loves the farming life.

But he said subdivision of land, beginning in the 1970s, had doomed the future of dairying in the area.

"To stay in dairying you need more cows and to have more cows you need more land that is too expensive to buy," he said.

To date, he has managed to extend the home farm with leased land, but recent sales have seen the end of several of his leases and he is now anxious about finding more land close by, after being forced to take young cattle as far as Grafton for grass.

The couple are proud of their bloodlines, keeping detailed records of breeding and production.

They sell culled animals directly to the meat works, not wanting buyers to acquire unsatisfactory stock through the sale yards.

Jean said they had learned the hard way that cattle which displayed prize-winning conformation at shows did not always perform "in the bucket".

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