Jersey cows at Brookbora are supplemented with silage and hay during the hot Australian summer months.
Jersey cows at Brookbora are supplemented with silage and hay during the hot Australian summer months. PHOTO SUBMITTED
TENNYSON, Victoria, Australia – While the Upper Midwest shivers through the dark and cold month of January, southern Australia is experiencing the heat of summer. 
Brookbora Jerseys is operated by Robert and Sandra Bacon and their son, Daniel, in Tennyson. The farm was purchased by Robert’s grandparents in 1950, and the Brookbora herd was established in 1963 by his parents, Norm and Margaret. Robert and Sandra purchased the farm in 2001. 
Brookbora is located in northern Victoria, a very flat area located approximately 125 miles north of Melbourne. On average, the area receives 13 inches of rainfall a year. Farms traditionally use irrigation for cropping. Temperatures frequently exceed more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer months. Winter temperatures are mild, overnight temperatures dipping down as low as 32 degrees.
The farm consists of around 700 acres, both owned and leased. The acreage is used for the combination of grazing, cereal cropping and producing silage and hay to feed both the milking herd and youngstock.
The Bacons milk 260 cows, with approximately 450 total head on the farm. They calve half the herd during autumn (mid-March to late May) and the other half in the spring (late July through early October). 
Milking is done in a double-20 herringbone parlor with meters, automatic take-offs and an integrated feeding system. The cows have access to a covered yard with sprinklers for cooling and an adjoining feed pad. 
Cows are rotationally grazed from late autumn through late spring and are moved to new paddocks every 12 hours. Cows are supplemented with grain. In the hot, dry months of summer and early autumn, cows are offered silage and hay between the paddock and feed pad. 
Sustainability and environmental impact are paramount concerns for Australian dairy farmers such as the Bacons, and with increasing political and social pressures, they have been finding ways to reduce the farm’s consumption of resources.
In Victoria, water for irrigation is available to farmers from Aug. 15 to May 15. Farms must have on-farm storage for their winter water requirements for livestock and domestic needs.     
“Water is stored in dams built in the state’s hills and is distributed across the state from there,” said Robert Bacon. “Political environmental policy has changed the landscape with cost pressures as ownership of irrigation water is open to anyone. That means in dry years the water price is exorbitant. This has altered farming practices within the area for continued survival of the industry.”
Balancing the needs of their herd with the inputs required to grow the necessary crops to feed them has made the Bacons reevaluate how they farm. To help maximize their irrigation dollars, they have been focusing on soil health to extend the length of their growing season and increase the quality of forage they produce.
“In recent years, we have significantly reduced the amount of irrigation water we use each season, changing the management practices, moving from permanent pastures to annual pastures, crops and (alfalfa),” Bacon said.
The Bacons were concerned with the volatility of milk prices and the affect the markets have on their farm’s profitability so they have now secured a long-term contract. Another area of concern is the global rise of input costs that has occurred and now with the advent of the coronavirus pandemic contributing, including extreme fertilizer prices. Bacon said that after a few turbulent years, milk prices have been stabilizing recently but the concern is prices will not keep pace with rising costs. 
“The dairy industry within Australia has become significantly smaller in the last 20 years, primarily driven by drought and milk prices,” Bacon said. “In the past 20 years, the number of dairy farms here has been reduced by over 60%.”
 The motivation that keeps the Bacons pushing forward is their globally-recognized herd of Jerseys. Brookbora has received Jersey Australia’s highest production award since 1995 and for the past few years have been the organization’s highest production herd with a lactation average of 16,477 pounds of milk, 813 pounds of butterfat and 632 pounds of protein. 
Besides topping production rankings, the Brookbora Jersey herd is at the top of several genomic rankings, including being the top Balanced Production Index herd. With these high rankings, a number of individual animals are found in the top 100 genomic lists. The entire herd is genomically tested in the Australian system and many are also tested in the U.S. system.  
Brookbora Jerseys look good while performing well too. More than 490 Excellent cows have carried the Brookbora prefix. The farm was named the Premier Breeder and Exhibitor at the 2020 International Dairy Week, the largest dairy show held in the Southern Hemisphere. They also claimed the Premier Breeder banner at the 2019 show. 
“Our ongoing goal is to achieve and maintain a consistent herd of functional type, high production and healthy girls that are good to work with,” Bacon said. “The goal never changes, and the challenge to achieve this is always there.”
To achieve this goal, Bacon said they try to breed consistent cows that are deep pedigreed and have good type and solid production. They also place an emphasis on breeding for temperament and likability. 
“We aim to breed a cow that we want to stay in the herd for a long time, one that is a pleasure to milk,” Bacon said. “We take everything into consideration when making matings and selecting sires: individual type traits, production, (somatic) cell count, fertility, temperament, genomics, classification of the dam and pedigrees. We match bulls to cows on an individual basis using the knowledge we have of our cows.”
The Bacons’ breeding philosophy has resulted in two of their primary cow families: the Love Lies family and the Standard Lady family, both which can be traced back to animals imported from the Isle of Jersey. 
 A significant portion of the herd descends from the Love Lies family. In 2020, members of the Love Lies family sold in public auction for record-breaking prices. Several bulls from the family have been placed in stud, and the family has produced numerous show ring champions. The Standard Lady family is smaller but not lesser in quality. Popular sire Brookbora Valentino Askn hails from that family and is in use in seven countries. 
Show ring performance is not the Bacons’ primary focus; they have found that show ring success has had positive benefits in the arenas of marketing and promotion and developing recognition of their breeding program. In a typical year, they exhibit at two to three major shows. 
“Showing and the camaraderie it brings has opened up many friendships over the years for all of us,” Bacon said. “Nevertheless, we still have a keen focus on production as what goes out of the gate in the milk tanker pays most of the bills.”