Tasmania is giving Dave and Jane Field the opportunity to get big, something denied in their native New Zealand.
With growth from 800 to 1350 cows in two years, the Fields want to make their farm as efficient and self-sufficient as possible, including the introduction of once-a-day milking.
The farm at Montagu near Smithton has been selected by Dairy Australia and DairyTas as a new Focus Farm, something Dave hopes will provide a two-way street of information.
The farm brings together a former dairy and its neighbouring grazing property and covers 750 hectares, including a 450-ha milking platform.
This year they will peak at about 1350 cows
Dave and Jane moved to Tasmania from New Zealand two years ago seeking a large-scale, self-contained farm.
“We wanted that in New Zealand but struggled,” Dave said. “It’s quite uncommon in New Zealand to have dairy grazing alongside milking. If there’s a nice grazing block they tend to put a second shed on it and turn it into two dairies.
“There’s a bit more scale here; we could get one parcel of land with room to grow with the efficiency of having everything in one spot.”
The larger farm gave the Fields scope to introduce once-a-day milking and so far the experiment is working well.
“We’re trying to find efficiencies,” Dave said. “Because we’ve got more grazing land we push the milkers further away from the cow shed and milk off a larger area.”
Last October they split the herds between once and twice daily milkings as a preliminary step. “That went pretty well so we had enough confidence to put both herds on once-a-day and give it a go,” Dave said. “We started in May so it’s early days but we’ve noticed improvements in the in-calf rates, a lot less lameness, no spike in mastitis and it’s a simpler farm system for milking a lot of cows.
The Fields consulted advisers in planning the shift and looked at other farmers already using the option. “It’s just a different way of turning grass into milk and putting milk in the vat,” Dave said.
Finding efficiencies to improve work-lifestyle balance was part of their desire to run a big farm with six staff.
“We milk the cows in the morning and walk them out to the feed and shut the gates; then you don’t have to go near them until the next morning. “It’s very efficient; if they come in busting with milk then you put them back to a different paddock.”
The Fields are working on genetics to create a herd suited to once-a-day milking. “Not every cow will do it efficiently; some will get fat because they don’t produce enough milk to make it work,” Dave said.
“It’s easy to identify those not suited. They either milk well on once-a-day or they get fat and don’t milk well at all; there’s not much in the middle.”
While most have adapted easily, high sale prices has made it viable to exchange unsuitable cows for new stock.
The Fields, and their Focus Farm followers, will review the financial performance of the system. “It’s not an irreversible decision,” Dave said. “If after one or two years we can’t make it work and go back to twice a day, our herd would be so much better because a lot of the animals we’re getting rid of would be average to poor on twice a day.”
The farm has a mix of Friesians and cross bred cows, which appear to have better genetic merit for once-a-day milking. They rear about 650 calves between autumn and spring.
The cows are producing about 1.4 kg/Ms per cow and the Fields are aiming for a total of 525 000 kg/Ms in 2017–18. “We’ve got roughly one-third split between autumn-calved cows, spring-calved cows and spring heifers; we’re comfortable around 1.4 milk solids with the cost savings and the amount of grain we’re feeding,” Dave said. “It does seem to be working.”
It’s too early to tell if there will be much in-calf rate improvement. “In autumn we did a nine-week mating and had a 17.5 per cent empty rate, but most of those cows had been empty before. I was pretty comfortable with that,” Dave said.
The Fields aim to stay around 1350–1500 cows for the short-term, though improved drainage would open the option of increasing numbers.
Over the past two years most of the work has been improving laneways, along with some drainage and re-grassing to improve home-grown pasture utilisation. They are focused on growing and harvesting more pasture by increasing soil fertility, irrigation, pasture species, cow genetics and management.
“It’s a big property and we need to have good systems and good people,” Dave added.
A support group of local farmers and led by Basil Doonan from Macquwarie Franklin will meet bi-monthly to discuss on-farm decisions and the benefits for the business.
There will be up to six open days so famers can see the progress and understand the rationale behind the decisions and the outcome.
For more information on the Focus Farm project contact the DairyTas office on 6432 2233 or go to www.facebook.com/TasFocusFarm
The first open day held on November 1 attracted 60 farmers.