A quest for quality: Fonterra farmers transform milking practices


Fonterra farmers Josh Keightley and Remeny McCann are carving a path to success as dairy farmers in Wallacedale, western Victoria, following a two-year journey to improve their milk quality.   

The couple partnered with Fonterra Australia's Farm Source team to make improvements to their operations, herd health and milking practices, resulting in a consistent Bulk Milk Cell Count (BMCC) of around 100,000 for the last 12 months.

It’s been a long journey for the couple, who credit their relationship with Fonterra as central to achieving the quality results they see today.  

In this video, Josh and Remeny share more about their challenges, and how partnering with Fonterra's Farm Source team helped them improve their milk quality.

“We were starting to see around 30-40 per cent of cows coming out of post-calving with sub-clinical mastitis,” said Josh.  

They knew they needed to address the problem and get their herd’s health back on track.  

However, the mental and emotional pressure of removing cows from the vat and finding the root of infection was taking its toll.  

“It was so stressful, both physically and mentally. I would worry about it day in, day out,” said Josh. 

“At first, it was difficult to admit we were having troubles, or even think about contacting our processor about it.  

“We learnt from the first phone call that communication is the most important part of the relationship between farmer and processor. Once Fonterra knew our situation, they did everything they could to support us,” Josh added.

Josh and Remeny had guidance from Fonterra Australia's Farm Source team in western Victoria, led by Area Manager and Responsible Dairy specialist, Brendan Hyland. 

“Through our supply agreement we have access to expertise within Fonterra, and from day one, Brendan was committed to working with us to identify the cause of the problem right down to each individual cow,” said Josh.

“They’re an asset for us, and ever since I made that call, it’s been life changing.”

Brendan would call us when he saw our quality results in the factory and was just as excited as we were when he told us the cell count.

josh keightley, dairy farmer, western victoria 

Brendan worked alongside Josh, Remeny and their vet to implement various changes, including a cell count investigation, herd testing, individual cow samples and a more careful dry-off strategy. 

"One of the actions was to split the herd into three. One paddock had a herd with a not so bad cell count, a second paddock had cows with an average cell count, and the third paddock had some really bad cell counts,” said Josh. 

Splitting the herd was central to identifying the cows at the root of the problem, and ensuring they could limit cross-contamination. 

The couple relied on data to support their decision-making to see exactly what cows were contributing to the high cell counts. 

“We changed our dry off strategy to focus on 10-15 cows per week, instead of 30-60 which is what we were previously doing. This is where the mastitis was coming from.

“We tell people this story and they say, 'that’s a lot of hard work, I would have given up.' But that was the advice we received to stop cross contamination, and it was the biggest factor in getting the ball rolling towards a healthier herd,” said Josh.

Brendan Hyland was a regular visitor on farm, dropping by to oversee their milking processes and provide training in new skills.

“I went out for regular milkings to initially help identify the root cause of infections, and then we focused on new milking techniques and mastitis management to keep the infections away,” said Brendan. 

Josh Keightley with Brendan Hyland on their Wallacedale farm. Brendan was a regular visitor on farm, helping to implement new milking practices and herd testing.

Josh said Brendan’s presence during milkings provided an extra set of eyes and ears to pick up on things they weren’t aware were impacting milk quality.

“The first thing he realised were noises and squeaks in the dairy that shouldn’t be there,” said Josh.

“That led to multiple machine tests and realising our clusters were the wrong size for our herd type. This meant the cows weren’t being milked out properly which was a contributing factor to our milk quality,” added Josh.

It was clear from the beginning Josh and Remeny were on board with change, regardless of the extent of work they needed to put in. 

Josh and I are big believers that if you do something, you do it with pride. That’s been the driver behind this whole journey to improve milk quality and maintain the health of our herd as best as we can.

remeny mccann, dairy farmer, western victoria 

Fonterra Area Manager Jocelyn Bevin has worked with Josh and Remeny to introduce occupational health and safety procedures, while supporting conversations with family on drawing up a share farming arrangement.

“They wanted to understand the cause of their issue and worked hard to achieve the best outcome for their herd,” said Brendan. 

“It was my role to ensure they had the skills and training needed to manage their milk quality moving forward, and to take ownership of it – which is exactly what they did. 

“They were willing to learn and adopt new strategies that have ultimately resulted in the high-quality cell counts they’re receiving today,” he added.  

Josh and Remeny said the support of Brendan and the Farm Source team kept them motivated throughout the journey.    

“Brendan would call us when he saw our quality results in the factory and was just as excited as we were when he told us the cell count,” said Josh. 

“It was that positive reinforcement that kept us going and made it feel like a real team effort.”   

The couple are now in their best position to keep chasing success, now with a healthy herd, penalty-free milk cheques, and focused on serving the animals as best as they can.  

Remeny’s background in nursing is behind her nurturing approach, emphasising the importance of animal wellbeing.  

“When we were having trouble with quality, I wanted to make sure we were doing the best we could for the herd,” said Remeny.  

“Our cows do a lot for us, so it's really beautiful that we can do a lot for them.”  

Pursuing a career and a life as dairy farmers is a decision the couple take great pride in.  

“Josh and I are big believers that if you do something, you do it with pride. That’s been the driver behind this whole journey to improve milk quality and maintain the health of our herd as best as we can,” said Remeny.   

“There’s a stigma that being a dairy farmer is a twenty-four-seven job, and it’s not. You don’t have to set it up that way. We make it work for us and it’s important we share our story so other people can see that too.” 

They don’t just have pride in the way they farm, but in the products their milk ends up in.  

“Josh loves seeing our milk in Woolworths. He stocks the fridge at home with it even when we can just take it out of the vat,” said Remeny. 

Josh and Remeny’s story is one of determination, hard work, and an open mind to change.  

“Waking up each morning, seeing what’s outside, and knowing you’re part of it, that motivates you,” said Josh. 

“We just have so much love for it.”