Dorrigo Dairy - Greener Pastures

Fourth generation Norco Dairy farmer Mark Griffith, his wife Tina and their three children, Nikita-Lee 17, Deklan 16 and Shakyra 14 live in the beautiful town of Dorrigo atop ‘The Great Dividing Range’ south of Coffs Harbour and north of Bellingen in New South Wales. Their eldest daughter, 19 year old Shania lives and works in Coffs Harbour so I didn’t have the pleasure of meeting her.

Marks Great Grandfather founded the Griffith dairy and although the actual dairy site has changed, Mark and his family still enjoy the lush rolling property that the three generations worked before him. At present the 350 acre property is milking 165 cows and they intend to increase it to 220; there is approximately another 100 acres of bushland which is too steep for grazing. Mark’s parents Harold and Dell are supposedly retired, but are still very active in the daily running of the farm. Dell looks after the calves, while Harold is on hand daily for milking; Mark said “farming is a way of life, not a job, so they rarely actually retire”.

The long dry periods of the past year have been challenging for the property with the dams dropping at a rate of approximately 2” to 3” per day, they have had to pump water on a constant basis for the cattle. Looking at the lush green paddocks it was hard to imagine that the property had been under stress. “We’ve had some fine rain, known as the ‘Dorrigo drizzle’ but nothing of significance until the past few weeks. The Bore usually feeds 70 troughs, the dairy plus the wash-down and it is also used as the house back-up, so we’re praying for a wet winter” said Mark.

I asked Mark if he always wanted to be a dairy farmer to which he replied, “yes I did, however Dad said go out, get a trade and experience other work” which he did. He studied at Coffs Harbour Tafe to be a mechanic and after receiving his certificate realised that he wasn’t cut out to be a mechanic; his desire for dairy farming was still very much alive, so off to Tocal for four years to do his dairy apprenticeship. Mark’s passion paid off because he finished his final year as dux of the dairy course in 1997. Finally he was to be a dairy farmer but not on Greener Pastures just yet. Mark went to work for a younger local farmer, Tim Billing to gain experience before returning home to work with his dad. Tim was an innovative farmer who was always looking to try new avenues to make his dairy more efficient, productive and profitable. Tim’s advice to Mark was to try new products and methods to see what works and what doesn’t. Mark took the advice on board in those early years and has worked Greener Pastures in a pioneering fashion and the farm continues to increase its productivity.

We know that farming is usually a family affair, and the dairy farming passion that Mark had as a young boy has been passed onto their second eldest daughter, Nikita-Lee. The fifth generation Griffith farmer is already in progress; her enthusiasm for dairy farming was immediately obvious. She loves the cows and knows them all, I was lucky to be introduced to a few and some with very unique names. To watch her working in the dairy alongside her father and grandfather, being supported and encouraged by them is pure joy. Nikita-Lee’s early days weren’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination and by no means smooth sailing for Mark and Tina, she was born with Cerebral Palsy and her parents were advised very early that she would never walk, talk see, and because of the strength of the antibiotics that she was given she would probably have no hearing either; as brutal as the prognosis was, it was not an option for Mark and Tina who told the specialists in the hospital that they would be back to prove them wrong and they did. As I said, I didn’t get to meet Shania, however Shakyra showed me a scrapbook that she made for her sister, filled with family photos from baby shots to lovely photos of Shania’s year 12 formal, just lovely!

While Mark runs the dairy farm Tina is an AIN (assistant in nursing) and having spent seven years in an aged care facility is now in home care which involves extensive traveling throughout the district. Tina has also been involved with the SES for the past 20 years which she obviously got from her father, who passed away quite recently; although he was not a registered SES volunteer, he played a huge support roll for over 28 years. Both Nikita-Lee and Deklan are looking forward to being SES members, which will definitely make it a family affair. I also met their good friend, Peter who has had 28 years’ service with the SES; Pete is now enjoying being away from the pressure and stress with his new title of ‘Mr Fix It’ at Greener Pastures. Tina is a very quiet person so it was hard for me to comprehend her SES nickname that both Peter and Nikita-Lee delighted in sharing with me ; “I have the nickname of ‘The Dragon’ because I do what needs to be done” Tina said softly.  

“I have great admiration and respect for those who ‘Do what needs to be done’ in times of crisis” and don’t we need them!

Mark is also an avid blood donor on a monthly basis which he has been doing for years, Nikita-Lee gives once a year and looks to increase it when she turns 18. Because Shania has a different blood type she gives on a three monthly basis and both Deklan and Shakyra are looking to be donors when they turn 16. Mark is a very committed blood donor and is keen to throw out a challenge to everyone.

Marks Challenge: Join him as a donor, one blood donation can save three lives and as he says “what could be better than the Red Cross Cookie and a Milkshake, made with Norco Milk when done”

Mark shops with the Norco Rural store in Bellingen and is full of praise for Corey Heather, the store manager and his team especially Jasmin Preston, who is always willing to go the extra mile for the customers.  Mark said “I’ll ask for a certain product and if it’s not available Jasmin is onto it immediately, she also keeps me posted on the progress, which these days are hard to find. She’s a great asset to the store”. He also takes advantage of the information days/evenings that Corey arranges. “It is so beneficial to be able to get to talk with the representatives from the different companies and hear about new products or different methods. We had black outs at the last one but, the presenters just kept presenting. My store is definitely Norco Bellingen, the guys are always happy to source any information from product suppliers that I’m after and as I said its great service” said Mark.

On the whole Mark said that he is a very happy and satisfied Norco Dairy Supplier; he uses the entire range of resources and support that Norco Co-operative has on offer on a daily basis. “I look forward to and attend each of the supplier meetings and I must say that I’m really impressed these days, with the way that all of the Norco business units are consistently working together for the ultimate benefit of the Co-operative; it is a very secure feeling”  

Goldmix Stockfeed mill at Lismore is also high on the list of preferred suppliers for Mark; he relayed an incident that happened some years back where his cattle started dropping condition drastically. He immediately contacted his feed company and requested help, but was told that there was nothing that they could do to help him. Consequently Mark has been with Goldmix Stockfeed since and has forged a strong business relationship with manager Wayne Siviour, Mathew Duley and consulting nutritionist, Vincent Posada. He said “It is invaluable for me to be able to pick up the phone and discuss any concerns I may have regarding my feed or pasture management, and if needed someone will be on-farm to make an assessment of the situation very quickly. Of course I look forward to having Vincent on-farm as part of my ongoing farm management strategy, it’s very reassuring”!

Dorrigo is an exceptional pocket of natural beauty sitting on top of the ‘Great Divide’, with its lush rolling hills and views to the sea, it’s not hard to see why tourists visit and want to stay and the locals don’t want to leave. My visit with the Griffith family was delightful and reinforces why I love my job with Norco; meeting people who haven’t always had it easy but love doing what they do and who appreciate what they have puts life in perspective. Thank you Griffith family for taking the time to chat to me and for allowing me into the dairy for morning milking which gave me the opportunity to meet the lovely Harold. Nikita-Lee, your comment of “term one is almost done and then only two more to go” Count down is definitely on and with the love and support of your Dad and Grandad, and your pure determination you will no doubt reach your dream of being an exception dairy farmer.