MANAGING TEAT health and regular herd testing are the reasons the Porters give for their success as farmers — underscored by recently receiving their second gold milk quality award in recent years.
Dairy Australia recently published the list of top-performing farms to receive 2018 Milk Quality Awards, for supplying milk with the lowest five per cent of bulk milk cell counts in Australia.
The Porter family’s Nioka Ridge backed up this award by being named among the top 100 dairy farms across Australia — for the lowest aggregate BMCC — known in the industry as the gold award.
It was a matter of excitement not only because of the significant changes the Porters have undertaken in the past couple of years, when, at a time of uncertainty in the dairy industry, they invested in expanding their business.
They have also had challenges — five years ago half of their milking herd was lost to facial eczema, so they have spent a few years rebuilding their herd through their own breeding program.
The Porters milk two herds on separate properties, with a mix of Friesian, Jersey, Brown Swiss, Aussie Red, Jerfords and Friefords (Jersey and Friesian crossed with Hereford) cows in a three-way cross.
Trevor Porter and daughter, Charlotte, manage the AI program — with semen sourced from Genetics Australia — and they use their own dairy and beef mop-up bulls. All heifers are joined to Jersey semen with the heifer calf joined to an out-cross.
“We do keep pure Friesian and Jersey lines because we use our own Friesian and Jersey mop-up bulls,” Clare Porter said.
“We use Angus and polled Hereford bulls as mop-up bulls for the main herd.
“We focus on breeding a high component, fertile, medium-sized commercial herd cow.”
For the past five years, by selecting AI semen from certified A2 bulls, the Porters have been gradually moving to an A2 milking herd.
“I’ve always believed in the A2. My belief was reinforced when one of our grandsons was diagnosed lactose-intolerant, but he could drink A2 milk,” Clare said.
The partnership of Trevor, Clare, Terry and Jonathan (known as Jacko) Porter bought Nioka Ridge, at Yarram, in October 2016, as a four-way partnership, when Trevor and Clare realised their sons wanted to be dairy farmers.
But the family — specifically the partnership of Trevor and his father, Jack, but supported by Clare and their son, Terry — received the same recognition a couple of years previously. That was for the herd on the home farm, Woranga, also at Yarram.
Woranga supports 240 milkers on an 80 ha milking area managed in 5 ha blocks, of a total 220ha. They can irrigate 40 ha of pasture from four off-source dams, connected to a pivot irrigator and a couple of lateral sprays; with water pumped from the Tarra River.
“If there’s a medium flood after rain in the high country, when the river height comes up we can open the gates into the dams and take off water,” Trevor said.
All hay for the herds is produced on-property.
A 16-swingover herringbone dairy has Milkrite cups and Milka-ware cup removers installed. Production is 1.1 million litres and 92 000 kg of milk solids.
“The last five years we’ve kept every heifer, too,” Clare said.
That meant there were 60 heifers calved and ready to go into the new dairy business in November 2016; building up to 140 milkers over an unprecedented six-month calving period in 2017.
The 64 ha Nioka Ridge is next door to a 64 ha out-block owned by Trevor and Clare and used to graze springers and support Woranga. Nioka Ridge is split into 3 ha paddocks for grazing, with 32 ha growing millet, oats and sorghum under lateral sprays, irrigating from a bore. Maintaining and managing irrigation is Terry’s responsibility.
Clare said the name of the new dairy property, Nioka Ridge, meant ‘green hill’ in indigenous language.
“We bought the farm in October and started milking in November 2016, after re-doing all the machinery in the shed,” she said.
The purchase was a strategic decision to support their two sons, who were interested in dairy farming.
“We were able to support them with buying this farm and start building a capital asset in an industry they are committed to,” Clare said.
Most of the equipment for the dairy was sourced second-hand and some parts were designed and built by Jacko, a fitter and turner.
The eight-swingover was changed to a nine-double-up herringbone.
“We realised the pulsators were back-to-front, rather than side-by-side as we’re used to on Woranga,” Clare said.
“We also installed Milkrite cups and Milka-ware removers to stop the cows from getting over-milked.”
An early season teething problem with the vacuum was sorted between Terry and Foster dairy specialist Simon Beasley.
“I saw the needle was sitting a bit high for the vacuum for the regulator,” Clare said.
“Simon is just a phone call away and he was able to sort the problem — he cleaned out the breathing holes — and set the regulator. These are the things you can overlook.”
The problem was a bit more complicated, as they discerned the problem would recur because of the mixed feed fed at each milking to the cows.
“The mixed feed was causing a lot of dust in the dairy; dust got into the regulator and all the cup removers stopped working,” Clare said.
“We changed to a different feed mix and the problem hasn’t recurred.”
A new hand spray system was installed by Tasman Chemicals, using glycerin and chlorhexidine — a system Clare delights in using.
Nioka Ridge’s herd in 2017–18 produced 543 000 litres and 43 500 kg MS.
Clare, Trevor and Terry rely on regular herd testing to manage the herd at each farm; with antibiotics kept to an absolute minimum.
“What I’ve found, is if the teat is hard, I’ll strip it out,” Clare said.
“I still reckon herd testing for cell count is one of the most important tools — and we do it two to three times a year. I’ll also do it if I think the herd is stressed.
“Herd testing pays for itself.”
Being close by the Yarram herd testing centre is ideal for same-day results.
Clare uses the pH test papers regularly.
“I can take a single sample from each quarter and I’ll know what’s wrong,” she said.
“Subclinical milk looks like normal. For example, I had one cow who had one quarter that tested 9 million cell count. That one cow is enough to put our overall cell count well up.
“The field officer will also do spot tests on cows. If you’ve got an idea this is a problem with a cow, it makes a difference with your management.”
If the test comes back with a high cell count, Clare has a couple of options.
“I will put that cow on the bucket for calf milk, or I’ll milk her in the dairy as a three-teater,” she said.
“Repeat offenders are kept for calf’s milk or put on the truck. Any cow over 250 will get dry cow antibiotic. But in the past year, we haven’t needed to use any dry cow antibiotic. Antibiotics are used very sparingly by us.”
Cows that produce two per cent fat are also off-loaded.
“It’s not good keeping them,” Clare said.
As well as BMCC order, the herd test results arrive in monetary order.
“That is one of the best tools,” Clare said.
Clare and Trevor also believe that using dogs around the cows aids to limit stress in the herd. Maremma guard dogs live with the herd on Woranga, to offset fox predation. The family uses border collies to move the herd or bring cows to the dairy.
“Using border collie dogs adds to very quiet handling of the cows,” Clare said.