FOURTEEN months ago, the Moon family from Yanakie were selected to be one of three Focus Farmers in the region under an initiative from GippsDairy and Dairy Australia.
Alex, Tricia, Jared and Melissa, have made a commitment of business and personal goals as a result of the strategic business plan they undertook as part of the process.
A Focus Farm Open Day on August 21 was a chance for the wider farming community to see how they were going in reaching those goals.
The business plan helped to identify opportunities or threats to the business, combined with a risk assessment. They decided on their goals for the period of the Focus Farm Project August 2018 to July 2020 and beyond.
Twenty local farmers and industry service providers formed a support group and have attended monthly meetings to get an understanding of the Focus Farmers’ goals, the farm business and the people involved.
There has been a focus on the following areas of the farm business: fertilizers for increased pasture growth; grazing management for increased pasture and silage quality; animal nutrition for improved feed conversion efficiency; and changes to calving date and cow type on the farms.
The group recommended a focus on fertiliser type timing, type and volume to match current soil nutrient status and pasture nutrient demand.
It was recognised that the fertiliser usage was already of a high standard.
The group is also observing the applied fertiliser volumes and pasture utilisation to make sure any increases in fertiliser result in increased pasture volume and quality.
Pasture management at Yanakie can be quite different to a more typical Gippsland dairy farmer’s winter pasture management, as the area is close to the ocean, resulting in warmer soils and faster winter pasture growth rates.
The group had noted that the previous season’s pasture management, with longer 45-day grazing rotations, resulted in high pasture covers that meant high grazing residuals as the herd could not consume all the pasture on offer.
At the time, the herd did not suffer a production loss from reduced intake as the cows were able to select the best of the pasture and leave behind the lower quality fibrous pasture.
This fibrous pasture was made into silage to manage it and later fed back to the herd.
This meant that the silage quality was lower with limited energy and protein and high fibre levels it resulted in limited intake for cows in late lactation.
The silage was also required for early lactation cows when higher levels of grain were fed to cows resulting in an overall lower fibre diet and increased intakes for higher milk production. This did impact the profitability of the additional milk produced whilst this diet was fed.
The group’s recommendation for pasture management this autumn and winter has been to have shorter grazing rotations and lower residuals, bringing heifers home to the milking area to increase feed demand resulting in less excess pasture, lower grazing residuals and potential lower fiber silage.
The aim is to have a healthy cow that can eat a lot of feed and use it well.
The group has predicted cow intake from measured milk production and known feed inputs.
From January 19 to April 19 the lower quality silage that was made in spring ‘18 impacted on dietary intake for the herd.
In spite of this, the diet has been manipulated to provide a more balanced diet and milk production, cow condition and incidence of sickness have been monitored.
Milk production on a per cow basis has lifted by 38kgMS/cow – more than the previous year using 100KgDM/cow less grain for the year.
Changes to calving date
The Brickles’ herd was bred for a different, lower input feeding system and was a May onwards calving herd when the Moons took control of the farm in July 2016.
The herd has been moved from May calving to March in three years by moving dates back three weeks for two years and two weeks for this year and using some cattle trading.
The aim was to get to autumn calving as quickly as possible whilst maintaining a manageable system.
The pregnancy test results from the June 2018 joining showed the herd had a high ‘not-in-calf’ rate of 44 per cent and the herd also had a number of cows that had not responded to the changed feeding system with energy being partitioned to weight gain rather than milk production.
With the dairy industry under a lot of pressure, and particularly so in the last financial year, markets have offered high quality cows for low purchase prices.
The Support Group recommended that the Moons sell the not-in-calf and less efficient cows and purchase some proven and capable dairy cows.
This resulted in a changed calving pattern from May to March and improved the capability of the herd in the preferred feeding system for a low cost.
The Moon Focus Farm project, which is jointly supported by GippsDairy and Dairy Australia, will conclude in July 2020.
The Support Group will continue to meet on a monthly basis and a final open day will be run at or close to the end of the project to report to the public on the Moon’s progress toward their goals.