David Vuillermin loves his work.
He enjoys milking, driving one of his many large farm vehicles or just tackling one of the thousands of jobs that need doing around his Yanakie dairy property.
He’s a man happy with life on the farm.
"I love it. I wouldn’t do anything else," he said.
"I get up every morning and I milk cows and I think about what I’m going to do for the day, and I get excited."
It’s just as well he enjoys it, having started working on the farm at 16 when his father Leon was busy as a Bonlac director during the milk company’s merger negotiations.
While his dad was initially reluctant to let him come straight onto the family farm, he’s no doubt proud to now see his son running a top class dairy operation and doing it with a smile on his face.
The 400ha farm has grown from 100ha during the span of five generations of Vuillermins.
The 400 Friesian-cross Montbeliarde /Aussie Reds graze the slightly undulating country on the isthmus between the mainland and Wilsons Promontory.
It’s a magnificent place to live and work and something that Mr Vuillermin, his wife Fiona and children Patrick, Tessa and Carly need to remind themselves to occasionally enjoy.
``We’re just lucky here and we take it for granted of course,’’ he said.
Something he doesn’t take for granted is the health of his herd.
Not so long ago, the pure Friesians were struggling and in desperate need of genetic improvement.
``Friesians years ago couldn’t walk anywhere, they were too big and they just got sore and they weren’t getting in calf,’’ he said.
``But a bit of hybrid vigour made all the difference — within a generation it had fixed itself.
``The not-getting-in-calf we are still working on, but it’s getting better. The production hasn’t lifted in litres, but our protein and butter fat has lifted dramatically.’’
With the herd in good shape and the pastures (rainfall allowing) growing plenty of grass, Mr Vuillermin can indulge his passion for diesel motors and big farm equipment.
From a 500hp forage harvester to a forklift for the farm shed, there’s not much work for contractors on the Vuillermin farm.
While engines are a hobby, the benefits of owning and being able to maintain his own equipment are not lost on the 46-year-old.
``I was keen on being a mechanic when I was younger, but then I realised as a farmer I could do it all,’’ he said.
``The engine room of the farm is the cow shed but there are so many things that make up a farm. There’s the diesel side, the husbandry side and growing the grass.
``Say we need to do a track that is 2km long. It’ll be done in a couple of days, whereas if I had to get the contractor in we’d be waiting and waiting.
``It also makes it a bit more fun for the people who work here.’’
Doing the right thing
You wouldn’t pick David Vuillermin as a greenie, but he’s probably doing more good for the environment than 100 protest marches to Parliament House.
Apart from planting thousands of trees each year, the Yanakie dairy farmer has embraced the concepts of “reduce, re-use, recycle”, ensuring he minimises waste and maximises every valuable nutrient on his property.
Dealing with effluent waste on his property was the first challenge – and one he needed to consider in his own time.
``About 12 years ago, Barrie Bradshaw from the department came out and told me that I should be doing this, that, and the other and I told him to get in his car and nick off,’’ Mr Vuillermin said.
``But I thought about it and thought about it and realised it wasn’t a bad idea.
``We decided to go with the separator and it’s been great. You do a milking and you think ‘that’s a whole lot of cow s**t’ — but you end up with just a wheelbarrow of dry matter out of one milking, which is amazing.’’
His effluent system sees fresh water washing waste from the yard into a sand trap, through a sewage separator that eventually leaves a ``dry, carpet-looking substance’’ which is spread onto paddocks, with waste-water sent to an irrigation dam.
``To me it’s getting rid of a problem — and effluent water is a problem,’’ Mr Vuillermin said.
``If it helps you grow a bit more grass that’s a bonus, but we’re only 2km as the crow flies from Corner Inlet so not dealing with it is not the go.’’
The Corner Inlet connection has also seen Mr Vuillermin embrace the Fert$mart program, which is a Dairy Australia initiative assisting farmers to make assessments of their soil and fertiliser management practices.
``I really enjoyed it. It was something I got a lot out of,’’ Mr Vuillermin said.
``I’m not a big fan of nitrogen. I think it is overused big-time and I reckon by looking at what I grew and what others grew compared to the fertiliser that was put on, I think it showed that I did well.’’
Mr Vuillermin said the Fert$mart program confirmed his suspicions that reducing fertiliser could be a win for farmers and the environment.
But using less nitrogen means thinking outside the square when it comes to fertiliser alternatives and grass types.
``I don’t buy the new flash grasses. I buy the ryes that will last forever, and I buy clover.
``People don’t know what clover is these days because it won’t grow with nitrogen, but we’ve got clover everywhere.
``I like the idea of fertilisers — I just think we can do better than nitrogen.’’
For Dairy Australia’s land, water and carbon consultant Gillian Hayman, the Vuillermin farm is a great example of how Corner Inlet farmers have embraced the Fert$mart program.
``We are working our way around Corner Inlet and so far we have had 100 per cent of farmers involved in the Fert$mart program,’’ Ms Hayman said.
``It really shows that farmers have a commitment to both their own farm business and the wider environment around them.’’