Gazette farm gives Lenehan family new lease of life

By Rick Bayne

A new farm is giving a family dairy operation at Gazette a new lease of life.

Ryan Lenehan and his partner Jayne Jewell have joined with Jayne’s parents Darren and Kay Jewell to buy the farm.

The 50ha property was previously used for sheep but had run down before the mortgagee sale earlier this year.

There aren’t too many dairy farms in the area, south of Hamilton, but they are confident they have a good spot and will benefit from the new land.

“I grew up on a dairy between Kirkstall and Koroit, which is some of the best country for dairy,” Ryan said. “The land’s not really any different to what we have here and there’s a strip that runs through this side of Mount Napier that draws the rain.”

Darren and Kay bought the main 80ha farm in 2001. Initially they ran calves before expanding and building a dairy in 2008, a 22 a side swing over put together in a converted hay shed by Darren and his builder brother Stephen.

At one stage they sold 900 calves in a year. “We were milking 70 cows to do that and that’s when I got the brainwave to put in the dairy,” Darren said.

They purchased an additional 80ha out paddock in 2011. “When we first bought the out-paddock up the road it was the worst paddock in the district,” Darren said. “We ploughed 130 acres straight off and sowed rape and millet and in January we got it fine-chopped and put it down her in a pit and that fed the cows for five months at night.

They also lease an 70ha block as part of their drive to be self-sufficient home-grown feeders.

Ryan joined the farm about four years ago. He and Jayne were keen to invest in land and the neighbouring property was ideal, even if it needs some TLC. Jayne has a background in ag finance and is now working on a nearby sheep farm. “Our whole lives are going to be in agriculture,” Ryan said. “That’s where we want to be.”

The expansion has logistical benefits.

“We comfortably milk 170—180 because we cut a lot of silage from the leased farm and bring it back. Hopefully with more land our stocking rate will be a bit better,” Darren said.

“We wanted the extra land because we’re more than a cow to an acre and we’re not in a traditional dairy area. We’ll try to only milk 250 but our rotations will be better so there’s not so much pressure on everything.”

“Hopefully we won’t have to purchase brought-in feed. The aim is to be 100 per cent self-sufficient, even over the dry summers,” Ryan added.

The family has a strong emphasis on good pasture and feed management.

As the cows come out of a paddock in the winter, fertiliser goes on every day to keep things going.

They continue to raise and sell at least 400 calves a year, a nice way of supplementing income in tough years.

“We rear a lot of calves,” Kay said. “That’s the thing that has kept us here.”

The first year as a fully operational dairy was probably the worst when the price crashed in 2008. “We got 100 fresh heifers that spring,” Darren said. “The price crashed in December and we got through the first hiccup with the calves.”

Darren says that coming to the farm with a “clean slate” was a big help. “The best thing we’ve got is that we’re not restricted by tradition and we’re very conscious of growing a lot of grass,” he said.

Initially reluctant to use the services of a consultant, Darren now credit’s nutritionist John Lyons for a lot of their success.

“He (John) reckons we grow as much or more grass than they do in Timboon and management is the key,” Ryan added.

On John’s advice they have adopted many farming practices. Previously Darren and Kay would sow all rape paddocks all in one day. “John said there’s more energy in turnips and we’d get more milk in the vat, and he said we should stagger sowing so that as the cows finish one paddock they can move on to the next.”

They have also improved silage making, going as far as winning a feed test competition at Hamilton Beef Week.

“Others get suggestions but say we’ve always done that; we’re not changing, we’re always open to ideas,” Darren said. “There are opportunities to get by in dairy as long as you’re savvy with how you go about it.”

The herd is Friesians and crossbreds. Ryan is responsible for the AI breeding. They use an autumn-spring split calving system with more now being born in spring. Getting them in-calf is a challenge and one of the priorities for improvement.

The cows producing a bit over 8000 litres. “We’re trying to lift it. The average was a big higher when numbers were lower. Hopefully we’ll get up a bit with the new land,” Ryan added.

The new farm and leased block gives the family more options.

“You can really kick a few goals if you’ve got enough home-grown feed.”