MOST Australians would be hard-pressed to see 68 international farms in their lifetime, but 21-year-old Kieran Bourke managed to clap eyes on that number in just five months.
Kieran just returned from an adventurous, self-guided working holiday through the United States and Canada.
Growing up on his family's dairy farm at Gladfield, he was eager to venture out and see how the countries approach different aspects of dairy farming including milking, feeding, reproduction, people management and business management.
"They have a lot of the new technology and some of their systems and practices are world-class,” he said.
"It comes out over there and it's tried and tested and then it filters over here to Australia.”
The opportunity arose while he was completing a Bachelor of Agribusiness at the University of Queensland at Gatton and working at the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.
He was invited to attend an ideas and innovation conference in Kentucky called ONE: the Alltech Ideas Conference, and a beef and dairy tour through southern Alberta, Canada.
Initially scheduled to last 12 days, Kieran instead extended the trip and stayed for five months.
Kieran spent the bulk of the trip at Foth Ventures Ltd in Saskatchewan, where he worked for three months.
With 550 milking cows it was a similar size to his family farm but Kieran said it was interesting to see a total mixed ration (TMR) diet feature so heavily as opposed to grazing.
"Grazing dairy cows is certainly the minority of the producers (in Canada and the US) and going forward in Australia we'll have to be doing more TMR mixes and that'll be more of our cow's diet,” he said.
After finishing up at Foth Ventures, Kieran then travelled to Minnesota, then fit in some tourist experiences in Utah, Colorado and New Mexico.
Then back on the working bandwagon, he travelled to Arizona and Texas, which offered a taste of home with a similar climate to the Southern Downs.
It was then on to California before finishing up at Wisconsin for the World Dairy Expo in October, where more than 70,000 people from 100 countries gathered together.
In total, he visited 46 dairy farms, nine heifer and calf farms, seven feedlots and seven other farms.
About 103,000 milking cows were seen as well as 150,000 heifers and calves.
It was all achieved in a trip he organised on his own by researching and reaching out to farms to organise day trips, sometimes fitting in different locations in the morning, afternoon and evening.
Kieran said it was an eye-opening experience to see the variations in the dairy market between Canada, the United States and Australia.
The climate in Canada made cropping schedules much tighter than Australia, where farmers are able to double-crop by growing in both summer and winter.
"They have irrigation over there but certainly in Canada they can't grow anything over the winter,” he said.
"They have a short spring and summer window and in that time they have to grow all over their feed, their winters can be fierce.”
In the United States, Kieran said the market was different again with products and techniques used that are not yet possible on home soil.
"Dairy as a whole is quite an intensive industry but I think over there everything is very consistent, as in the time, all of their practices are very consistent and everything is measured and managed really strictly,” he said.
Kieran said in Australia most dairy farms milk cows twice a day, but in the United States the majority milk three times a day.
This meant milking, feeding and reproduction were all taken up a notch.
"The milking is intense and the reproduction is intense and they really like to push their business and get good teams to manage it,” he said.
The sheer size of the farms was also eye-opening, with one farm Kieran visited home to 77,000 cows, while a single barn on another covered more than 7200 hectares and held 8500 cows.
"It's just unbelievable, even walking from one end to the other, you wouldn't even make it the whole way around in half an hour,” he said.
"Farms in this area (the Southern Downs) are slowly getting bigger and they will continue to get bigger but I don't think there's any farms that will get to that 8500 cows.”
There was technology available overseas to assist farms with keeping up the demanding pace.
As Kieran saw first hand the rewards that can be reaped through employing reproductive technology, with one bull at the World Dairy Expo selling for $620,000.
"With all the genetic advancements, what they can do with embryo transfer and artificial insemination technology is huge,” he said.
Robot farms have also popped up throughout America, with Kieran visiting three on his trip.
He said they allowed the cow to self-regulate her own milking.
"Each of the robots milks between 50 and 60 cows and they go up there as much as they would like,” he said.
"It's still very hands-on in terms of the management so to be able to rely and trust that the robot will do a good job is a big thing for the dairy industry.”
Animal health in regards to pre and post-calving nutrition were other areas of particular interest as it ensured strong lactation while making sure the cow was not at risk of ketosis or milk fever.
Despite the intensity of the industry, Kieran said the product quality remained high.
Although quality was judged on different priorities.
"Over here, for our market, which is a liquid milk market for Queensland, protein is number one,” he said.
"Over there a lot of milk is for cheese production, so the butter fat content is number one.
"Whereas over here we try to get the protein up and keep that as consistent as possible.”
Kieran said the most successful farms were those run by people who focused on company culture to make sure everyone felt like they were part of the team.
"To make sure they were continually learning and playing a part of the team to do things better and make the whole business profitable so they'll all enjoy the success,” he said.
Now back on home soil, Kieran said he was looking forward to transitioning into the family business and implementing some of the lessons he'd learnt.
"There's a lot of things that aren't applicable on our farm but a lot of things that we can take away and implement in the future,” he said.
"It was really good to work for other people as well and be a part of their team and see how they do things.
"Hopefully we can cherry- pick and bring the best ideas here and continue to grow our business and continue to make it a sustainable dairy farming enterprise.”
Update your news preferences and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.