Baptism of fire for first-timers

By Dairy News

Carl and Rachelle Moon couldn’t have picked a more challenging time to enter the dairy industry.

They bought their first dairy farm near Numurkah in March 2016, just before the milk price crashed and the winter rains started. Their first year was trying to say the least, as they faced the challenges of taking over a new farm, slogging through mud and dealing with an extremely wet winter, combined with a poor milk price and a hard year financially.

The tough introduction has given them pretty good coping skills and while they are hoping that they won’t see another season like that again for some time, they are now firmly looking to the future and working out what best suits their business.

“We have definitely done it hard early on and we have learnt how to manage on a very tight budget. Those first six months were so wet and it was such a hard slog,” Mrs Moon said.

The 105 ha farm the couple purchased hadn’t been used as a dairy farm for 10 years, but it was well laid-out with paddocks either side of a central laneway.

“I fell in love with it the minute I drove down the driveway and I could see it had a lot of potential. Things are slowly starting to take shape for us now,” Mr Moon said.

When it came to setting up the herd, the Moons chose to spend a bit extra, purchasing 100 big-framed Holsteins and topping up numbers with 40 crossbred heifers.

“By the second calving we have found out who-is-who when it comes to the crossbreeds and some of them are going really well. I love my Holsteins, though, and I love getting as much milk as I possibly can out of them,” Mr Moon said.

The herd averaged 7500 litres as a whole, while some of the Holsteins produced more than 10 000 litres.

The Moons exported some of their heifer calves to purchase in-milk animals, but they are looking forward to next autumn when their first lot of heifers will hit the dairy.

They want to peak at 150 cows but herd numbers are limited by the size of the dairy, which is a 10-double-up with cup removers.

They plan to calve at least 70 per cent of their herd during autumn for ease of management.

“We are planning on being more autumn-focused because we think it is the best time to calve cows for us. We also we want our workload to slow down over the summer months because we have three young kids which makes it easier to spend time with them,” Mrs Moon said.

The farm is sown down to annuals, although the couple is considering sowing some lucerne over summer.

“We grew some millet last year but I think that was a waste of time. It seemed to suck a lot of nutrients out of the soil and negatively affected the paddocks,” Mr Moon said.

“A lot of people grow lucerne and it is a good feed over summer and it takes advantage of any summer thunderstorms.”

The Moons recently invested in some herd monitoring gear and have installed the smaXtec bolus system in 40 of their young cows.

“We were looking for better management when it came to reproduction and I like the idea that smaXtec is an internal system,” Mr Moon said.

“The program sends alerts and allows for 24-hour-a-day monitoring of cows when it comes to heats, calving, sickness, etc. I saw it at dairy week and I think it will really help us with our herd management, take a lot of the guess work out and ultimately improve herd fertility.”

The smaXtec system relays information to a base unit at the dairy which then send alerts to the phone.

The Moons agree that while moving has been challenging, it has also been very rewarding.

“We have been involved in getting a young farmers group up and going and we currently have 23 people in the group. We have had one official night which was a success and it has been a great way to meet other people and share knowledge,” Mrs Moon said.

“The community has really struggled over the last 12 months and the flow-on effect has been pretty significant so it has been good to be involved in something positive for our local farmers.”

When it comes to their own business, the Moons are focusing on keeping things simple and doing the best job they can with what they have got.

“I want to focus on milking quality cows over quantity. I have no aspirations to milk hundreds of cows and if I can run a profitable business milking 150 cows with a bit of help from a relief milker than I will be happy,” Mr Moon said.

“Rachelle has got the calf rearing sorted and she does a good job of that. We lease 34 ha to run our heifers and things are slowly taking shape day-by-day. I don’t have any regrets at all.”