Focusing on herd and staff improvement

By Stephen Cooke

SHAREFARMER BRENTON Ziero wants to improve the efficiency of both his herd and his staff.

Through his involvement with the GippsDairy Focus Farm program, he believes he is on track to do both.

Mr Ziero has worked for owners Steve and Bec Ronalds for seven years on their Jindivick farm, moving into a sharefarming role five years ago.

Under the arrangement, he receives a 37 per cent split and provides machinery, 20 per cent of the herd (80 cows) and almost all of the labour. The business also has one full-time employee, one part-time employee and a casual relief milker.

A fourth-generation farmer, Mr Ronalds wanted a sharefarmer so he could spend more time with his family, something Mr Ziero also hopes to achieve.

They milk 390 Jersey cows for the Gippsland Jersey milk brand on 165 ha and have a 120 ha turnout block.

Mr Ziero’s goals when he started the Focus Farm program were to:

■ Feed cows better.

■ Grow bigger heifers.

■ Improve labour structures.

Discussions with the Focus Farm support group can illustrate what you are already doing well.

“It turns out our heifers are big enough,” Mr Ziero said, enabling him to concentrate on his other goals.

He said improving staff performance was a two-way street, and he will implement more meetings and provide more structure and intentional communication, to ensure his message is received.

To improve feeding, a complete mineral mix has been introduced for the cows, under the guidance of Chris Morton from Browns Stockfeeds. This has complemented the decision to improve pasture management to produce more home-grown feed for the herd.

“We’ve been putting more grass down the cows’ throats and really improved the nutrition side,” Mr Ziero said.

With a better mineral mix and more protein, the herd has less lactation milk fever, less mastitis and improvements in foot health.

Cows milked better through spring and summer, and held on better, and there was 10 to 15 per cent increase in production compared to the previous season.

Mr Ziero has improved his pasture management by maintaining a closer eye on pasture growth and quality and acting quickly.

“We’re keeping pasture short, through aggressive topping, mainly with the tractor, agistment and dry cows. We make sure we graze paddocks at the right time.

“We make sure the contractor is here when the silage is ready, and not when he can make it, and being more efficient with fertiliser through better timing. We’ve reduced the amount of urea as a result and didn’t use any over spring.”

They aim to produce 900 tonne DM silage each season and just enough hay for the dry cows.

Extension of an effluent line first established three years ago will enable them to spread effluent from their pond across 70 per cent of the farm.

The initial 800 m of effluent line was extended by a further 700 m last month. This investment, partly funded through a grant from Melbourne Water via the Fert$mart project, means effluent can be spread across a further 45 per cent of the farm. Effluent is extracted from the pond and spread throughout the year, except for the depths of winter.

“Pasture grows a lot better, and we’ve significantly reduced the amount of nitrogen and P, K and S we put on,” Mr Ziero said.

Extra grass means they are buying and feeding less grain, with no change to production.

About 12 ha of summer crops are planted each year in the worst paddocks. A Notman Pasture Seeds’ blend of paja, rye and millet provides three grazings before the paddock is planted back to perennial pasture.

“There’s not much millet in the mix, but it does better if it’s wet. It covers all bases for wet and dry paddocks,” Mr Ronalds said.

They grew 9.5 tonne/ha DM over this dry summer but 12.5 tonne/ha DM the previous summer, which was kinder.

“That’s the thing with summer crops, if growing well, you don’t need it, but when you need it, it doesn’t grow as it’s been drier.”

The herd calves three times a year for milk flow — calving 30 per cent in February-March, 10 per cent in June and 60 per cent in August-September. Calves are fed colostrum and put onto the robot feeder as soon as possible.

The herd averages 6200 litres and 500 kg of milk solids over the year.

When Mr Ziero became a Focus Farmer, his aim was to finish a better farmer than he started.

“I reckon I already am, which was the whole idea of it,” he said.

“I’ve changed the way I farm for the better. It’s helped just having the support group there with its finger on the pulse each month.”

For Mr Ronalds, watching the improvement in Mr Ziero has been the reward for the effort they have put into the Focus Farm project.

“For me, this is all about Brenton, but whatever he does, obviously, affects what we do as a business,” Mr Ronalds said.