THE opportunity for a close-up look at a once-a-day milking operation attracted farmers from across Gippsland and Victoria to Yannathan last week (Thursday, November 17).
The Young Dairy Network/GippsDairy event was held at Simon and Lauren Finger’s Yannathan property, which is one of three once-a-day operations that are part of their farm business.
Around 40 people turned out in bright sunshine to delve into the finances of a business model that has obvious attractions to every farmer who spends every morning and evening in the dairy shed.
With around 650 cows spread over three farms, the Fingers had plenty of knowledge to share on the pros and cons of once-a-day milking.
“People are definitely interested in what we are doing and what’s happening,” Simon said.
The question everyone asks about once-a-day milking is ‘can you make a dollar doing it?’ For Simon, the answer is yes, but it’s a different way of making money than most dairy farmers are used to.
“You can get more cows in calf, so what’s the cost of not having to have so many replacements?
“We’ve also had a lot more livestock gain, so how do you put a value on having extra animals?
“And there’s the sustainability aspect where we don’t have to cull so many cows, we never use peak power for cooling and use half as many chemicals.
“It doesn’t generate as much cash but we’ve grown more assets, we’ve got more livestock gain and that sort of thing. So some of the extra income we’ve gained has gone into growing more young livestock.”
Other considerations have been better use of land area, lower labour costs and reduced input levels that help offset the inevitable drop in production.
“There definitely is a production difference and it’s probably a little bit more than I expected,” Simon said.
“We had heard that you might drop 30 per cent in milk and about 20 per cent in solids but I would say it’s more towards the 30 per cent in solids.
“But saying that, it was a particularly challenging season last year and we feel there is a lot of room for improvement as both people and cows get used to the new system.
“You also have to remember that with once-a-day you don’t have the same level of inputs. With twice-a-day we’re feeding up to two tonnes, whereas we’d be lucky to feed 400 kilos to half a tonne now.”
Of course, the other big question around once-a-day milking is how much does it improve the lifestyle of dairy farmers?
For Simon and Lauren – and their three children – the answer can be seen at the dinner table ach night.
“It’s funny because the oldest says ‘gee you do a lot of milking Dad’ but compared to what I was doing when he was younger, he sees a lot more of me now,” he said.
“I’m there at dinner time every night. And even not having to manage so many people reduces time and stress.
“Our business has been going for 10 years and we’ve gone pretty hard at it, so this has given us time to have a bit of a breather, spend more time with the children and have an assessment of where we want to go.”
The interest in the topic was best illustrated by dairy farmers Matt and Mario Demase, who travelled down from Katandra in the Goulburn Valley to learn more about the milking system.
“It’s not done very much back at home, so we thought we’d like to get someone’s view on why they are doing it,” Matt said.
Mario’s explanation of why they there was even simpler.
“It sounds a lot better than twice-a-day.”