Tony & Ellie’s story
We farm near Kyabram, Victoria where the summers are very long and hot, receiving an annual average rainfall of 450mm. Our original system included irrigation and rotational grazing, plus feeding silage and hay on a dirt pad.
We have been motivated to change because our cows walk long distances (up to 3km one way!), we wanted to use our water more efficiently and provide the cows with some heat stress relief.
|Herd Size||480 milkers, year round||540 milkers, year round Future – 600 milkers|
|Area||Milking area – 243 ha Lease for fodder – 202 ha|
Nutrition is important to us – we like our cows to be fully fed, performing and producing to their potential. We’ve had an Illawarra Red stud for some time and the kids have loved showing them. Our herd is now 60% Illawarra Red and 40% HoIstein Friesian.
Overall, we enjoy the challenges of dairying – there is always something to improve upon. So while achieving efficiencies in our system is good for profit, we also find it satisfying in the sense that it helps free up time to tackle the next improvement.
We wanted to use water resources more efficiently to improve productivity gains associated with our pasture and crops, including lucerne and maize. Within our irrigated, rotational grazing system, the cows were walking up to 3km one way to access the pastures and fodder. This is not an ideal use of energy or cow time, especially in the heat – temperatures can get pretty warm up here.
We were feeding some supplement on a designated dirt pad area, but felt that the efficiencies around feed wastage and maintenance cost (including cleaning) of the dirt pad could be better.
Initially we looked at some local feed pads, and the Victorian Dairy Feedpad and Freestall Guidelines. After spending 12 months on the concept design and planning with the assistance of our farm consultant and local resource management expertise, construction of the concrete feed pad started. It involved significant earthworks and took four months.
Earth from a new 2-3 mega litre effluent pond provided the feed pad 2% slope, which was necessary for the flood wash cleaning system we put in. We also put in new feed bunkers with a cement base with the intention to grow and preserve all our own fodder. The feed pad is located strategically near the dairy.
Between the morning, noon, and evening milkings the cows can free range through the feed pad, the adjoining paddock, and the dairy yard where we have sprinklers to help ease the heat. Overnight, the cows are out on pasture.
Much thought was put into cow traffic and flow, water sources – the experience of the feedpad construction guy and resource management specialist was very useful.
Cow traffic is really important. Ideally we’d not have cows walking against the flood wash flow as it splashes up on their udders – we avoid washing down when the cows are using feed pad.
In time, I’d like to pour more concrete between the pad and dairy yard to reduce the muddy hot spots and potential mastitis sources. We’re realising improved efficiencies, giving me more time to focus on the next thing; lead (transition) feeding.
Relying less on rotational grazing, the cows don’t spend so much energy on walking or cooling themselves, and wastage of supplementary feed has dropped from 15% to 2%.
Not long before we put the feedpad in, we’d moved to three milkings a day to improve cow production. The flexibility of the feed pad to provide feed more central to the dairy certainly makes the logistics easier.
We’ve just put more maize and lucerne crops in where previously we would have had pasture – these crops use less water per unit of energy. With a greater focus on crops we hope to produce all our fodder needs through more energy and nutrient rich feed per unit of land and water – and increase our milking herd carrying capacity up to 600 head.
The feed pad and concrete based bunkers came in around $500,000 – we already had a mixer wagon so didn’t need to purchase a new one.
We still split calve (2 batches Spring; 2 batches Autumn) and worker numbers are the same – we have three full timer employers, plus both of us. During this time a worker who shares our values and vision has come on board. This person’s enthusiasm is incredibly refreshing and provided renewed energy.
If you ask me were the perceived benefits and savings realised, I’d answer a big fat YES!