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Gippsland farmers thank neighbour for milking cows as storms, floods take out power for days

By Peter Somerville, Friday June 11, 2021 - 05:42 EST
ABC image
The Bowden family at Won Wron have had to move their cows to a neighbour's property to be milked due to storms and power outages. - ABC

Thousands of homes, businesses and farms in Gippsland remain without power with lines at petrol stations sourcing fuel to power back-up generators. 

A power outage is a problem on dairy farms, as cows require regular milking to maintain production. 

More than 100,000 Victorians remain without power as widespread storms and floods took out power infrastructure.

Joe and Chanel Bowden's farm at Won Wron in South Gippsland lost power and neighbour Paul Mumford is milking their cows for them.

"We couldn't let the cows dry off, which is what would happen if we didn't milk them," Mr Bowden said.

"We approached Paul and he was happy for us to walk our cows to his place, and we are very grateful that he can milk our cows because he's got a generator at his place."

The Bowdens have also lost power to their home, which has cut off the water supply as well.

"We haven't had a wash for a while," Ms Bowden said.

"We've had to change around some of the taps to get some water through. We've got some cold water coming through now and boiling water for dishes."

Mr Mumford is milking three herds of cattle at his Won Wron dairy, with the Bowdens not the only neighbours requiring support.

Mr Mumford, the United Dairyfarmers of Victoria president, has a generator to power his dairy so that production can continue.

"We have two extra herds to do. There's been bodies everywhere, dogs the works. It's a bit of a nut show at the moment," he told the Victorian Country Hour.

"This is the first time we've milked neighbours' cows. It's been the longest period that I know of. 

"This one is enduring, which is showing the massive damage right across the state."

Rebecca Cooper manages another farm that has also sent its cows to the Mumford's property to be milked.

She said it could cost the farm business around $1,000 per day in lost income.

Leongatha resident Debbie told ABC Gippsland she was calling on her husband's mobile phone, as her phone was out of battery.

She said her husband worked at a dairy farm, which was hoping to have a generator set up for milking later today.

"All the supermarkets were closed in Leongatha yesterday, there was just nothing," she said.

"And the service station was like the biggest car park I've seen in all my life. There was a line to get in there. It was just unreal to see."

Farm equipment submerged

Gippsland farmers hit by this week's floods are assessing the extent of the damage to their properties and infrastructure.

In the region there were varied experiences, with flooding in some catchments less damaging than anticipated, while others were less fortunate.

John Allen runs an agricultural contracting business and farms 120 hectares of land along the Thomson River and Rainbow Creek near Cowwarr.

Yesterday he had three mobs of cattle isolated by the floodwaters.

"They're all pretty right at the moment," Mr Allen said.

"They're going to have plenty of water to drink, so that's not really a problem," he added with a laugh.

"We'll have to get in there and get some temporary fences up, because it looks like it's a fairly messy flood and there's going to be a fair bit of damage out of it."

However, the machinery used to run his agricultural contracting business was also partly submerged.

"Hopefully it doesn't do too much damage, but I'm going to have to replace a few wheel bearings and change some oils in some gearboxes and make sure that's alright," he said.

"I won't know until later on when we go to use it if there's any significant damage from it."

Dodged a bullet

Anthony and Prue Cliff spent yesterday preparing for the arrival of the floodwaters, which in a bad flood can come into their house.

However, Mr Cliff said in this case it was a "very good outcome".

"It probably took us three or four hours to make a big mess and lift everything up, but it'll now probably take us two weeks to get it all back down and back to normal," Mr Cliff said.

"But we'll use it as a bit of an opportunity to clean things up and wait for the next east coast low ? whenever that happens."

While it was much less than expected, Mr Cliff said he would still have to clean up some damaged fences close to the river.

"But it's nothing compared to what can happen."

Dam storage mitigates flooding

Lake Glenmaggie, a dam operated by Southern Rural Water, was able to mitigate some of the flooding for those downstream on the Macalister River.

The dam historically fills and empties each year, providing irrigation water to farms downstream in the Macalister Irrigation District.

It was at 37 per cent earlier in the week, but operators expected it to fill this weekend.

"We will be making some relatively small releases from Glenmaggie over the weekend and a bit beyond, but they won't generate at this stage any floodwaters downstream of themselves," Southern Rural Water managing director Cameron Fitzgerald said.

"From the perspective of [those] downstream of Glenmaggie, it has been quite good and hopefully sets our farmers up for a great season over the next summer."


© ABC 2021

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