Changing feed base after taking stock

By Stephen Cooke

A desire to think outside the square and investigate new options has seen the Stock family move from a PMR system to predominantly grazing on their Queensland farm.

Alan and Dolores Stock purchased the 72 hectare farm at Glenore Grove in the Lockyer Valley in 2002. They now farm it with their son and daughter-in-law, Luke and Rebekah.

Alan grew up on a family dairy farm at Killarney on the Queensland border before leaving dairying. Luke said the break allowed Alan to gain a fresh perspective.

The Stocks milk between 110–120 Jersey cows on 72 hectares, and have established the Daloram Jersey stud.

Luke said the farm was running well below its potential when they purchased it, and they ran a partial mixed ration (PMR) system as a result.

Luke Stock in the family dairy.

“We initially went into a mixer wagon/silage as we lacked the infrastructure to grow more pasture, which forced us into a PMR system,” he said.

“The PMR system is a good risk management tool on our farm but we became too reliant on it.”

It was on a trip to Victoria for the Australian Dairy Conference, and a second trip to Tasmania the following year, that the seed to move to a full grazing system was planted.

“Victorian farmers kept saying to concentrate on growing good quality grass and I was thinking, why can’t we do it?”

It turns out they could, but it required further investment in irrigation infrastructure.

They invested in a low pressure boom irrigator, which cut labour, improved water use efficiency and saved energy costs. This has seen them double the amount of pasture previously grown.

“We are working towards our goal to be a full grazing herd targeting 10kg pasture per cow each day. The advantage of farming in the sub-tropics is our ability to grow large quantities of feed.”

With better irrigation, and high water reliability, the Stocks now have to maximise pasture quality, which can have its challenges. Severe floods swept through and then settled on the farm in 2011 and 2013, washing away the top soil.

Jersey cows on the farm.

As a result, their pasture base is kikuyu, which has a low NDF but helps stabilise the soil.

They plant a mix of rye (20 kg/ha) and kikuyu (5 kg/ha) in late April/early May, which allows the kikuyu to establish. They also plant Lucerne, chicory, clover and legumes into the sward in a bid to increase energy intake.

The Stocks host trial work with the Department of Agriculture, which has a facility down the road at the Gatton Research Dairy.

When renovating paddocks and improving pasture, high quality rye grass (Aston) is planted into cultivation, to provide a strong start. Tetila rye grass is planted into kikuyu to provide early feed, before it finishes mid-October,
allowing the kikuyu to come away.

Lab lab is planted in summer, with 12 hectares to be planted this year.

Production dropped half a litre per cow since the changes but the Stocks have significantly reduced costs as they were previously purchasing brewer grain ($65  ooo a year) and corn silage ($60 000 a year).

Alan Stock at work in the dairy.

Cows receive 3/kg of barley a day and this is forward purchased and cracked at home through a disc mill.

“When we were PMR, we grew 60–70 per cent of our grain and could get 2 or 2.1t/acre, same as on the Downs, but we just couldn’t get the same quality.”

The decision to change management systems has paid off for the Stocks and Luke and Rebekah are positive about the future in a State that has been battered due to $1/litre milk.

“Whatever we put in, we will hopefully reap the rewards,” he said.