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Applying farm philosophy to bigger dairy picture

By Rick Bayne

AS A WestVic Dairy director, Matt Glennen is keen to ensure industry money is well spent —and he applies the same philosophy to his farm.

At 30, Mr Glennen is investing in a long-term future in dairy. His farm at Dixie has a full range of up-to-date infrastructure and the addition of a new outpaddock will lead to significant herd expansion.

He’s confident the new 180 ha paddock will be a good investment and he’s always on the lookout for more innovation and expansion.

His parents John and Helen bought the farm in 1987. Since then it has more than doubled to the current 300 ha with the addition of three adjoining parcels of land.

Mr Glennen has bought the 180 ha outpaddock 10 km away at Boorcan, taking possession in August.

“A lot of our young stock had been going out on agistment for weight gain,” he said.

“That was costing us around 25¢/kg MS so we’re converting that 25 cents into buying the land and cover interest costs while getting the benefits for growing our own animals out and cutting more silage and hay.”

It will also benefit the main farm. “Our calves used to stay here but with the new outpaddock we can free up another 30ha.”

The Dixie Park Farm Trust, comprising Mr Glennen and his parents, milks about 500 mainly Holstein cows; with the new block that will increase to 560 and eventually 600, while retaining the stocking rate of 1.8 to 1.9 cows/hectare.

“It’s a show of confidence in the industry, but I’m lucky to have family backing,” he said.

“There are a lot of first generation young farmers doing it tough and we’ve got to look after them and make sure they get through.”

Mr Glennen joined the WestVic Dairy board about a year ago, keen to bring a young perspective and make sure farmer levies are channelled into the right areas to provide a positive return for farmers.

He’s keen on the Focus Farm program.

“People are interested in seeing the figures and what they can do on their farms. You have to be a businessman, you can’t just be a farmer. You have to drill in on your figures.”

He applies that philosophy to his business; all developments and expansions during the past decade have been made with the bottom line in mind.

Underground drainage has been a big investment on the wetter country when cashflow has allowed.

“Depending on how wet it gets we are probably utilising 1.5–2 tonnes/ha more each year,” he said.

They use DairyBase to compare to the top 25 per cent of dairy farm businesses in Australia.

Cow manager tags were introduced this year for heat detection. “We were spending $400 to $500 on scratchies and paint; this system cost about $112 per cow,” he said.

“With a lifespan of seven years, it’s a small investment each year. Data has shown that in-calf rates improve and the amount of silent heats that the system picks up, that we normally wouldn’t, should help a lot.”

They store grain in three silos and use their own disc mill to crush the bought-in grain, but improvements to pastures are even more beneficial.

“We crush our own wheat on farm and have a concentrate pellet,” Mr Glennen said.

“This year I ran out of the concentrate pellet and thought I’d see how they go without it and production and cow health hasn’t changed. Once pasture quality declines it will be re-introduced.

“With the tight year ahead, extensive summer crops will be sown to provide a cheaper protein source. At the moment we’re feeding about 5.2 kg wheat, and the rest of the diet is grass.”

Growth this year has been slow after a late autumn break.

“We had to sow 95 per cent of the farm, a lot with Italians. We’ve used it before to top up paddocks but this year, because it’s such a late break, we needed to make sure we had feed and Italians were the quickest way.”

The farm grew about eight tonnes of pasture last year and all summer feeding was from home-grown silage and from irrigated maize crops.

The farm purchased 200 tonne wheaten hay and also cut a wheat/clover silage crop at Lake Bolac. This 140 tonne DM hasn’t been used and at a cost of $120/tonne DM was cheap feed.

“We had 100 tonnes of dry matter put aside in a pit three years ago when we had excess,” Mr Glennen said.

“Last year when we had such a good autumn break we fully fed on grass from early May so we didn’t have to feed the maize.

“Now we’ve got one pit up our sleeve each year. We’ve got 300 tonnes of maize which we’ll be able to start feeding in March when we start calving.”

In the past four years he cut grain feed from 2.2 tonnes back to 1.8.

A new 55 rotary dairy with Easy Draft and Easy ID was built 11 years ago. The herd test data allows cows to be individually fed, saving an average 800 g to 1 kg each day. At the moment the average is 5.2 kg but the higher producers still get 6 kg.

About 90 per cent of the herd calves in autumn with the rest in spring, but they plan to return to a March to May calving. “Spring calving isn’t as profitable,” Mr Glennen said.

“We’re using sexed semen on our heifers and each year we’re getting better at growing out animals. We’re close to rearing 200 heifers and they seem to be holding pretty well in calf.”

At the moment he is keeping everything because of the expansion but will consider selling heifers in the future.

“In the past we haven’t had the area to breed extra calves. We’ll now probably AI the lot, and having used genomic testing the past three years will allow us to enter the local or export markets.”

They cull any that can’t get in calf and those that have a third dose of mastitis, improving the quality of the herd.

A new calf shed used for the past three seasons has opened opportunities with space for 150 calves, much better than the previous 50.

“The old shed was full within two days,” Mr Glennen said.

“We had a salmonella outbreak four years ago and lost 25 because we had too many calves in a small area. That was when we made the call to get a new shed and it’s working really well.”

The farm runs as a trust. Mr Glennen has one-third ownership and plans to go to full ownership. His parents John and Helen remain fully active on the farm and they are supported by full-time worker Tom Stuart and a regular milker.

Mr Glennen is keen to expand where profitable.

“At the moment 600 is a good cap from a workforce and infrastructure point of view and because most silage etcetera is done ourselves, any more we’d have to start a second dairy — but I’d be tempted if something came up.”