Using dairy farming to help post-war Northern Sri Lankan communities get back on their feet is a perfect fit for Ross Wallis.

The sixth-generation dairy farmer has roots in Raglan going back to 1836 where his ancestors were the first missionaries to the town

"So I have quite a long history of missions work and wanting to help out," he told The Country Early Edition's Rowena Duncum.

A trip to Sri Lanka with Fonterra four years ago resulted in Wallis being contacted by charity TearFund, a New Zealand-based aid and development organisation.


"We ended up talking to them around our dinner table at home here in Raglan and they just shared with us what they were doing in Sri Lanka."

Wallis said he and his wife were "really quite passionate" about working with third world countries so the opportunity was too good to pass up.

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"My wife and I spent 10 years as volunteers doing that in the '90s so it was kind of returning to our roots a little bit, but incorporating our new career as dairy farmers for the last 20 years [as well as] our heart for missions."

"It was kind of missionary meets dairy farmer."

After the Sri Lankan civil war ended in 2009, many families were forced out of their areas "so TearFund ... decided ... dairy could be a way to rebuild those communities," said Wallis.

Dairy was huge for Sri Lankans and "ingrained in their psyche" before the war, said Wallis.

"They don't talk about milk, they talk about Anchor ... they use milk for everything."

Despite this, Wallis found he had to go back to basics with his dairy farming training.

"What we actually did, it seems like nothing, because we take for granted what we do every day which is feed budgeting, animal management, all those kind of things."


"These guys ... they don't have big herds, they have two, three, maybe four cows. If you had five to seven cows you'd be kind of a big deal."

"So we went in and we just shared some simple stuff. We watched them feeding lactating cows hay - and they're not going to milk on hay!"

Photo / Supplied
Photo / Supplied

Teaching farmers how to get the most out of their feed was also important, as a lot of it was elephant grass that was "eight feet tall" and "came from the side of the road" said Wallis.

"It can still be elephant grass [but] let's get it at a higher quality feed level - which was in small amounts."

Another game changer was gaining access to all day water rather than using it just when the cows were in the shed to milk, said Wallis.

"We saw just by doing those little things they were doubling their milk production and therefore doubling their income from milk."


"And that's when the lights turned on for them and they started to begin to see that ... this is not just a side job - I could actually make this my job - and you just see the excitement in their eyes when they can see change and that it benefits their family."

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