AS A child, like many others, Phil Hentschke wanted a pony.
But at 10, when his parents offered him the choice of a pony or his pick of the Jersey heifers in the paddock to take to the local show, he weighed his options and decided “the heifer was here and I could go to the show”.
“There were four in my class, including my dad, and I actually got first prize,” he said. “I took it to every country show I could for years and years but after that first time, it would only ever win a class when it was the only one in it.”
That first win began a long association with the show ring, which continues as he returns to the Royal Adelaide Show for the first time in 19 years, in time for the Jersey feature breed competition.
Mr Hentschke, who grew up on a dairy farm at Saddleworth, recently moved back to the state after running a dairy at Shepparton, Vic, and then 3.5 years working as a classifier for Holstein Australia.
After selling the Shepparton dairy, Mr Hentschke initially planned to disperse his entire Jersey herd.
“As I was doing the catalogue I came across one that went back to some of the (breeding) lines my mum and dad had so I decided to keep one heifer,” he said.
“When you go from not keeping any to keeping one, you go to keeping a couple.
“I didn’t necessarily keep the best ones but the ones I thought had the best breeding potential.”
Of his seven Jerseys competing at Adelaide this week, two are daughters of that heifer with lines to his parents’ stud.
His interest in show competitions and desire to breed better dairy cows has shaped Mr Hentschke’s life, including his decision to study veterinary science.
“I wanted to know more about dairy cows than other farmers,” he said. “I was hoping it would give me some sort of advantage.”
Since returning to SA, Mr Hentschke has been working at Lyndoch with long-time friend and “surrogate family member”, Michael Wohlstadt, owner of The Dairyman Barossa.
Mr Wohlstadt began working in the dairy industry, “producing a commodity” nearly 40 years ago.
After an absence of about two decades, he wanted to milk cows again, but “the industry had moved on”.
His goal of a small herd of 30 or 40 cows meant milk collection was unlikely.
“I had to invent a way of milking (a small herd) of cows and making a living from it,” he said.
He was influenced by something he saw growing up, “when mixed farms were more popular” and began running milk-fed, free-range, heritage breed pigs about seven years ago, selling the meat to restaurants and through farmers’ markets in the Barossa and Adelaide.
After a few years, he decided the pork had grown as much as it could but he needed more security in the business to be able to employ another person.
He added on a bed and breakfast and in November 2016, began making his own cream and butter.
Mr Wohlstadt said there were very few businesses nationally making butter at the artisanal level. He had to import equipment from Europe to match his scale.
Getting the product right was another big job, but again he looked to the past for his lessons.
Mr Wohlstadt found an old document from the United States online – a scan from a publication that was about 50 years old – which has acted as his framework when making cream and butter.
Earlier this month The Dairyman Barossa cream was announced as a gold medallist in the Delicious Produce awards – the only SA dairy producer to win the accolade.
The awards had a national judging panel, which included celebrity chefs Matt Moran, Maggie Beer and Colin Fassnidge.
“It didn’t really hit me until I got there and realised the quality of the competition,” Mr Wohlstadt said.
The farm milks about 20 to 25 Jerseys and has year-round calving to meet the constant market demand.
Surplus heifers and cows are sold as house cows, and they sell bull calves as dairy veal, alongside the pork.
He estimates adding the cream and butter has probably resulted in a 50 per cent lift to his gross margin, with more room to grow in the future.
Mr Wohlstadt will send two Jerseys from his Barossa Heritage stud to Adelaide, along with Mr Hentschke’s seven from his Homelands stud.
Two Barossa Heritage calves have also been supplied to schools – Murray Bridge High School and Westminster College – to compete, as both Mr Hentschke and Mr Wohlstadt feel strongly about encouraging upcoming generations.
They have been starting their show preparation from scratch, with predominantly mature cows – only two cows have been to a show before.
Mr Hentschke said the Royal Adelaide Show had always been his favourite show, and it makes him feel close to his past.
“Regardless of the feature breed, I would have had some to show, but I’ve made a special effort with the Jersey feature breed,” he said.
He said there was a good community within the dairy competitors.
“Everybody likes to win, but they’re happy for the winner,” he said.
Mr Hentschke said in the past many competitors would take large teams to the show, but there had been a shift over time.
“We still show but we just show a couple of the best,” he said. “People take the very best and the ‘very good’ ones don’t make it out – it’s improving the quality of the competition.”
Mr Hentschke has previously won the supreme champion dairy cow at the Royal Adelaide Show three times, with three generations of the same family.
“When I won the supreme for the first time it was my ultimate dream – like winning Wimbledon or the Ashes or breaking the 100 metre world record,” he said.
“Then it was a matter of setting more goals, which was to win it again to prove it wasn’t a fluke.”
He has some goals in mind for the 2018 event. The Dairyman Barossa has a slogan of ‘award-winning products from prize-winning Jerseys’.
“Now that Michael has won the gold medal, I’m feeling the pressure to win some prizes,” Mr Hentschke said.