HONNIE WALLER and Aaron Bradshaw are working to achieve their own dairy farm.
After a few years working as a farm hand, Mr Bradshaw has spent the past four years running a business as a sharefarmer at Heyfield, with his partner, Ms Waller.
“I was working alongside a sharefarmer and I thought I’d have a crack,” Mr Bradshaw said.
His role encompasses all the duties of a dairy farmer and the couple appreciates the opportunities offered by the farm’s owners.
“We brought our own machinery and herd to the partnership and the farm owners enabled us to buy their heifers,” Ms Waller said.
The mixed hybrid herd peaked at 450 but because of ongoing drought conditions in the Macalister Irrigation District, in eastern Gippsland, they have reduced milking numbers to 350. Calving is split 50:50 but they are aiming to move the herd to spring calving.
“In autumn 2018 we realised we had too many cows to carry through, based on the seasonal weather conditions and outlook,” Mr Bradshaw said.
“I always wanted to be a farmer and dairy is an industry that offers opportunities to get into farming".
“Our decision to reduce numbers was based against the expenses of fertiliser and achieving our production targets. We can’t afford to be too picky.”
In early January, they pregnancy tested the herd and will sell 50 empty and carryover cows
“It’ll reduce our feed costs,” Ms Waller said.
“We’ve also got heifers coming into the herd from 2018’s autumn and spring drops.”
The couple raises 100 to 120 self-replacing heifer calves to six months, then agists them until the point of calving.
“Production was about 550 kg milk solids/cow, or 225 000 MS for the herd in the 2017–18 financial year,” Mr Bradshaw said.
They employ 1.8 labour units, rostered as three relief milkers in the 50-bail rotary dairy.
“We only get them to milk. We do everything else,” Ms Waller said.
Mr Bradshaw maintains the milking platform, machinery, shed and pumps, feeds-out to calves and cows and develops and renovates the pasture. He also milks 20 shifts a fortnight. Ms Waller is also a relief milker, helps manage the business and looks after the couple’s infant.
“Honnie is the finance minister,” Mr Bradshaw said.
“I look after the pastures — fertiliser, spraying and topping. I also control sowing pastures.
“The owners have been quite good — they’ve stood back and are supportive of me running the farm.”
The pasture renovation program includes rotating annuals, crops and perennial pastures. They planted lucerne, which has responded well to irrigation; and maize which has been a challenging crop under flood irrigation.
“It doesn’t like getting wet,” Ms Waller said.
The business’ aim is to grow all the herd’s fodder. That aim has been challenging to achieve in the past two seasons of drought. They have a mix of flood irrigation and dry country.
They have to buy 200 Ml of water each year, relying on Southern Rural Water’s auctions of excess irrigation water and trading temporary shares with other licence holders.
“It’s a farm that drinks water,” Mr Bradshaw said.
“Being irrigated, we grow a lot of our own fodder, but we also buy in a lot.
“When the dryland country doesn’t produce, we struggle to be self-sufficient.
“We forward ordered hay last year and some of that did not turn out.
“This year we’re buying it on contract.”
They harvested the lucerne crops three times from September 2018 — producing 750 round bales in spring — and in January the milking herd began grazing it. The lucerne was sown in 2016 and they have used fertiliser and water to push the system hard to produce fodder this season.
Pastures for Profit and courses about irrigation and business management have helped inform their decisions. They also talk to other farmers and take on ideas they think will work for them.
A former secondary school physical education teacher, Mr Bradshaw enjoys the variety that working as a dairy farmer provides.
“I always wanted to be a farmer and dairy is an industry that offers opportunities to get into farming. And working with animals is challenging,” Mr Bradshaw said.