By Kirra Grimes
MORE than 300 farmers from near and far gathered at Leongatha South last week for the National Muster, the biggest dairy industry field day this region has seen for several years.
The day’s focus was on herd improvement and how farmers can use genetic information to make profitable decisions, with local farmers, as well as those who’d travelled from Western Australia, New South Wales and across Victoria, left with much food for thought after hearing from speakers including Jelbart Dairy’s general manager Tim Jelbart, farm consultant John Mulvany, several ‘ImProving Herds’ Focus Farmers, GippsDairy chair Grant Williams, as well as representatives from DataGene, Genetics Australia and Agriculture Victoria.
Michelle Axford, who runs a farm at Korumburra South with husband Michael, and also works with DataGene and sits on the board of GippsDairy, said Jelbart Dairy was a great example for other farmers to be exposed to.
“It makes a lot of sense to have a field day here. They’ve shown resilience in business, they have great welfare practices, and they’re just really passionate people who focus on doing things well.”
In partnership with Agriculture Victoria, Ms Axford, in her role at DataGene, worked on the ImProving Herds project, which brought together world-class experts in a collaboration of the dairy industry, with the aim of turning complex science into simple, data-driven decisions to deliver profits to farmers.
Ms Axford said in combination with the results of the ImProving Herds project, which drew on 10 years of financial and herd data from Australian farms, the National Muster would show farmers that making decisions based on Australian Breeding Values (ABVs) and data pays.
She said the results of the project showed that compared to their herd contemporaries, cows with a high Balanced Performance Index (BPI) are more efficient producers and live longer, with higher margins over feed and herd costs.
The project also found that genotyping of heifer calves can reliably predict an adult heifer’s performance.
While several Muster attendees commented that much of the information on genetic selection and use of the BPI was not new to them, seeing and hearing Jelbart Dairy’s success stories first hand proved to be a compelling reminder to farmers to use the science available to them, particularly genetic selection, as it is now easier to access and proven to deliver real profit gains.
“It’s just about increasing the knowledge base around improvements in genetics and technology and helping farmers make informed decisions,” said Tim Jelbart, the youngest of the Jelbart sons, who took on the job of general manager two years ago after the passing of his late father and industry leader Max Jelbart.
“Hopefully it helps people understand their business better and how to increase profitability by using good quality genetics data. A lot of people already do it, but it’s good to hear real life examples. It’s also a good networking opportunity,” he said.
“You always learn something. For us, it’s about tidying up our books and using BPI to its best potential. We don’t use it as much as we could,” said one of three the WA farmers in attendance.
“It reiterates that the data is reliable and the importance of actually using all the tools available to increase profitability,” he said.
Sharefarmers from Tarwin, Ester and John Hofman said the presentations “reaffirmed what [they’re] already doing,” while Shaun Cope of Fish Creek was interested in learning more about DataGene’s herd improvement functions including genetics, herd testing, and data systems.