Lee & Gary’s story

We farm 430 ha at Cooriemungle in South West Victoria. It’s a temperate climate with high rainfall, receiving an annual average rainfall of 950mm.

In 2006, we were milking twice a day on a rotational grazing system and feeding over a tonne of silage in the paddock but wasting around 50% so something had to change. We decided to incorporate a freestall within our grazing system, feed more silage and hay, and start milking three times a day. Now, nearly 10 years down the track, our system is running much more efficiently.

Before (2006)Now
Herd Size300 milkers, seasonal600 milkers, year round Future – 800 milkers, year round
AreaTotal – 280 ha Milking area – 200 haTotal – 430 ha Milking area - 300 ha
Production430 kg MS per cow 2 million L total700 kg MS per cow 6 million L total; aiming for 8 million L
FeedingGrazed pasture, fed silage in paddock (1 T/cow/y) – high wastage Grain in bail (2 T/cow/y)Flexible grazing with silage (2 T/cow/y) and hay (1 T/cow/y) fed in freestall Grain in bail (3 T/cow/y)
Dairy Freestall Hibberd-1

Lee & Gary’s free stall

Dairy Freestall Hibberd-5

The empty free stall

Our Advice

1. Don’t forget to factor in incidental infrastructure and machinery. We needed additional pumps to redirect effluent back to paddocks, a mixer wagon and an extra tractor.

2. We also needed extra fresh water, the cows drink a lot more consuming more supplement.

3. Always keep an eye on fodder prices and have a good buying strategy.

We have a Holstein Friesian Stud and, while not our only focus, breeding excellent stock is certainly a passion – particularly for Gary. We also place a big emphasis on cow nutrition and cow welfare.

Maintaining a career involving a balance between our lifestyle and passions is important to both of us, as is creating a business that is attractive to future generations.

Dairy farming involves many variables out of our control and we wanted to reduce our exposure to these.

We wanted the flexibility to produce milk year round, and more of it, to take advantage of milk pricing structure and incentives – essentially pulling the levers to secure a better milk price contract.

We constructed a free stall with the capacity to house 350 head at one time. We moved from seasonal to year round calving, milking three times a day and managing the cows in two milking herds. We’ve grown from 300 to 600 milkers.

We were one of the first in Victoria to consider incorporating a free stall into our farming system. With limited local information, we travelled to the USA and visited two free stall dairies in the Lachlan Valley (NSW) seeking relevant information, especially around the incidental management, machinery, resources etc.

This was invaluable for us to consider how the system would adapt to our purpose and environment. We have quite high rainfall and marked seasonality, so the capacity to buffer and manage this year round to our advantage was a key consideration.

We undertook the initial site investigations and statutory planning ourselves but then completed further scoping and development of the facility with local construction skill who were excellent.

Our effluent system expansion wasn’t so smooth, and would recommend detailed documented agreements for any contractual excavation and earthworks to be undertaken. In contrast to most free stall dairy operations, it was not our intention to house the milking herd 24/7 for 365 days of the year, but use the facility to enhance our farm capacity and productivity.

In addition to increased cow nutritional intake and reducing feed wastage, the option to house cows for extended periods was attractive to manage pugging during the wet, improve pasture utilisation, as well as other animal health considerations such as mastitis and reduced energy expenditure.

Our early homework was invaluable. We went in aware of the commitment and potential limitations of the new system such as feed costs, water requirements, labour intensive etc.

Key factors contributing to this farming system working for us include reliable water supply, sourcing grain and high cow production – around 10,000 litres per cow. We also had to negotiate a set milk price to provide some security. Most critical is active management of the system and good people skills. We soon learnt to pick the characteristics of people that would work well with us and our operation.

All in all, it was worth doing. We’re really pleased with the aesthetic look and feel, mindful of community perceptions and what our children are growing up around.

Ten years on we have increased individual cow production by roughly 50%, doubled our herd to 600 cows, tripled total production, secured more  favourable milk pricing contracts, and improved our overall profit.

Our feed utilisation increased to 95% from about 50% when we were feeding out in the paddock. Our pasture management is much better and less renovation is required due to minimising damage in the wet. We are now growing more maize, with the goal to increase the milking herd numbers to 800 on home grown forage & supplement. We dropped back to twice daily milking in 2009

With a change in global operating environment the additional labour and feed costs didn’t stack up. Should the environment be right again, we could always resume three times a day milking.

We do have a greater dependence on contracted labour and milking three times a day can be less attractive to some workers. We’re in the process of converting our rotary dairy from a two-man to one-man operation. Hopefully, the business is more accommodating for future generations should they chose to dairy.