PAT AND Michelle Quinn have ticked all the big-ticket infrastructure items to take their 650-cow dairy herd into the future.
The couple built a new rotary dairy in 2016, a feed pad in 2017, and this year they are about a third of the way through building a shade structure over the pad.
The couple is happy with its three-year contract to supply Freedom Foods and with son Gregory, 24, returning to the farm, the future looks pretty good for the Quinn family.
“Of course, there are things in the industry out of our control but as far as our own business goes, I am pretty happy with where we stand,” Pat said.
“Gregory is all fired up, ambitious and keen to get numbers up around 700 — the herd number our dairy system has been created to support.”
Pat said the farm had come a long way from the days when it was first settled by his family back in 1948.
“We are heading into the third generation on this land.
“Years ago it was considered the end of the earth for dairy farming, but now we are one of the biggest dairy farms in the area and it has always been my ambition to succeed and leave a viable business for the kids to take on in the future.”
Pat attributes their business success to the farm’s ability to being able to expand their land holdings relatively cheaply while growing high yielding, water-efficient crops to suit the soil type including lucerne, vetch and corn.
Of course Pat said he would be unable to do what he does without water and a high reliability water allocation is an extremely important management tool.
“I have always had a culture of investing in water and even though I have traded some, I have always replaced it. Our high and low entitlements have always been enough to provide us with enough water in an average year.”
Pat remembers a time when farmers were urged not to invest in water, but he is glad he ignored that advice.
He also firmly believes growing high yielding annual crops like vetch, cereals and corn are the way of the future.
“These types of crops provide the highest return per megalitre and can be cut and carried to the feed pad. I think grazing is a luxury that is now in doubt, unless it is assisted by good rainfall.”
Hence the building of the feed pad.
Before 2017 the farm did have a feed pad, but it wasn’t a permanent structure and the wet winter of 2016 left them with a $50 000 repair bill.
“We were always going to build a concrete pad, but that wet winter motivated us to bring that job forward and make something more permanent.”
The feed pad is located close to the dairy and the cows access it via a concrete driveway.
The 175 m long pad is designed to feed more than 600 cows.
The shade structure will be built over three stages with stage one just about complete.
“Cow comfort has always been important to us and once the roof is finished, we will get on and add sprays and fans.”
Pat said feeding cows in a lot environment has the potential to produce an extra four litres per cow per day.
“Those extra litres add up to a fair bit of milk over time and go a long way toward paying the interest on our investment in tough years; we will worry about principle payments when times are good.”
Pat said the 2018–19 season had been one of the tougher ones.
“It was clear back in August after we had no rain that things were going to be tough. Water was expensive and the coming year was looking scary at its best.”
He said sitting down with consultants and developing a good solid plan had been the key to getting through this year.
They decided to water 160 ha of vetch, all the cereal and the pasture received three waters.
“You get your best return on water when you get the best growth and that’s in spring,” Pat said.
“Everything we do is about getting the most value out of water, and if the returns aren’t there, we stop watering.”
The business has conserved enough vetch and grass silage and with 32 ha corn growing, they should meet their silage requirements.
Maintaining cow numbers is the focus so the business is ready to capitalise when things turn around: feeding cows for production has been one of the ways the farm has been able to minimise grain use and control costs.
“We are aiming to break even, but at the very worst we will carry some small loss, and I am prepared to carry that loss to have stock numbers for when things turn around.”
The cows were collared in 2000 but when the dairy was upgraded in 2016 they decided to upgrade that system as well.
“Collars offer the most valuable technical support on the farm and the new system has just taken that to another level,” Pat said.
“Feeding in batches allows us to feed according to production and helps reduce grain wastage while they also help us pick up sick cows and mastitis. They are also great when it comes to joining; we can get that timing right down to the hour.”
Pat said he doesn’t regret spending money on infrastructure.
“For a very brief time we did wonder about building a rotary, but the old one was done in and we knew we had to invest. With Gregory coming home we are confident the business will carry on in the future, although water really does worry me and it is scary to think where things could finish up.
“There will be water in the system but it will be whether the system will have enough irrigators to continue to maintain it that is of concern. There has been such a huge exodus of good farmers but these factors, while a concern, are out of my control.
“We have ticked the big boxes and we have a good contract with Freedom Foods. Freedom is full of confidence in the dairy industry and they share that confidence and investment in us — I am looking forward to seeing where our business goes.”