DFMC farmers face fires, offer helping hands

This bushfire season was like no other. It has ravaged our landscape and devastated communities. Our thoughts go out to members of our community who have been faced with the threat of fires and have had to make difficult choices. There are hundreds of stories of loss and hope out there, but here are just a few from members of the DFMC community.

Challenging conditions meant difficult decisions

The Abbeyard Bushfire near Mount Buffalo in north-eastern Victoria caused some stressful moments for Whorouly South suppliers John and Elise Pethybridge, and Tim and Caroline Walpole.

Burning for over two weeks the fire, which had already threatened dairy properties in the King River Valley, swept over the Mount Emu range, spitting embers to within three kilometres of the Pethybridges’ dairy.

Elise and the three children evacuated to nearby Wangaratta as unpredictable winds in the valleys and hills presented fire fighters with new fronts over several days.

John, together with many locals, supported the CFA and Parks Victoria firefighters with a fleet of utes equipped with slip on tanks.

“The bulldozers and strike teams did a terrific job containing the main blaze while we worked at putting out the spot fires caused by the embers,” John said. “It was our most significant fire event here in the last 30 years.”

Further down the road Kane Lamperd, who sharefarms Wild Dog Creek Dairies for Tim and Caroline Walpole, had taken the precaution of drying the herd off ten days earlier than planned as the fires approached from the southwest.

“We had seen from the Bega fires how tough it was for farmers with cows that needed milking after the fires had gone through, so it was a no-brainer really,” said Kane.

“Tim and I discussed it and, with things looking dicey, decided that not milking would give us more time to put towards protection if the fires got closer.”

Wild Dog Dairies experienced fire spotting in some of their paddocks, which they managed to control, and the fire front came within three kilometres of the property. Kane and Tim agreed that their decision to dry off their cows and focus on fire protection was a good one in the end.

Close call in Cudlee Creek

South Australian suppliers Col and Kath Juers also experienced extreme fire threat from the Cudlee Creek Fires before Christmas.

“I’ve been here 69 years, and this was the first direct threat from fire we’ve had on this farm,” Col said.

After decimating vineyards at the rear of the Juers’ picturesque Charleston farm, the fire burnt through 32 hectares of their back paddocks.

“Fortunately, we had already carted the hay from the back paddocks and there really wasn’t a lot to burn which helped us keep the fire away from the sheds and house,” Col said.

“We didn’t lose any stock – just boundary fencing mainly and, of course, some of our old shade trees, which is a real shame, but it could have been a lot worse.”

Keeping the area around the house irrigated and running their travelling irrigators during the blaze helped Col and Kath keep a check on potential ember attacks.

A fencing contractor, Col is in no hurry to replace the boundary fencing until the weather has cooled down a bit.

“It’s too hot at the moment and the ground’s too hard, I reckon we’re better off waiting until autumn.”

All twelve DFMC farms in the Adelaide Hills were affected by the fires, with many losing hay and silage but thankfully few stock losses.

Loads of support for fire-affected farmers

As bushfires ripped through the upper King Valley, Victoria, suppliers Justin and Brooke Evans experienced the smoke and haze in nearby Greta West.  Like most farmers in north-eastern Victoria, they understood the threat posed to both property and livestock this summer from the severe weather conditions.

A camping trip with some contractor friends from Winchelsea on the Ovens River saw a plan hatched to organise loads of donated hay to those impacted by the fires.

Meanwhile, fire swept through upper northeastern Victoria areas like Cudgewa and Corryong where the Evans have many friends and relatives.

The plan was put into motion upon returning home and word quickly spread. Soon local farmers from a variety of enterprises were dropping off hay and straw at the Evans’ property, while Justin arranged transport to the fire-affected areas around Corryong.

Local transport operators were more than happy to lend a hand, and before long the Evans realised they were going to have a significant amount of fodder to deliver.

“We didn’t have to do much really once word got out that we were donating hay and a truck to take it up there,” Brooke said.

“People were turning up with a few bales on a trailer or half a truck load – it was just amazing really.”

More transport assistance and extra hay came from the Evans’ Winchelsea friends and eventually around 400 bales were loaded onto a dozen trucks and delivered to affected properties in the Cudgewa and Corryong areas.

Hay was delivered to six dairies and 12 beef operations.

“We took a loader up to help with unloading as some guys lost tractors,” said Justin. “It was really appreciated that they didn’t have to find a way of unloading as well.

“The gratitude we were shown from people who received fodder was amazing and made the effort worthwhile.”

But the Evans aren’t planning on stopping any time soon, according to Justin. “We are now planning a second run in mid-February and we think we will have as much, if not more, hay donated as the first trip – already we have eight trucks lined up.”

Loading hay to deliver to fire-affected farmers