Tom puts cows on notice

By Rick Bayne

ROCHESTER DAIRY farmer Tom Acocks reckons his cows need to start giving him more milk now that they’re eating award-winning hay.

In his first year entering the Feed Central National Hay Quality competition, Tom’s Lucerne crop won the state and national best visual analysis award.

The success took Tom by surprise. Normally he’s buying feed, not selling, but on the back of an exceptionally good season he entered the selling market for the first time.

“It’s not a bad effort for a dairy cocky from northern Victoria,” he laughs. “I’m going to tell all the cows they’re going to have to give me another five litres because they’re eating award-winning hay.”

Tom is the fourth generation to the farm in northern Victoria. The family has been on the current Riversdale Dairy since the mid-1980s. They now produce about eight million litres of milk a year from 850–900 mostly Holstein cows.

He also runs a cropping business that grows fodder for the dairy.

“The principle exercise is growing feed for cows and keeping our young stock at home so we don’t have to agist many cattle,” Tom said

“Most years we’re buying feed but it just so happened this season I had a lot of excess feed and we sold a bit.

“We had a pretty good spring. Our main source of feed is dryland vetch which is quality protein feed and this year it yielded quite well, which we used as chopped silage. Our preference would be to feed that over Lucerne hay as it’s easier to process and mix into feed and easier to store.”

The cropping part of the farm enterprise is a mixed system. Tom grows 450 hectares of vetch a year and 450 hectares of wheat, and has irrigated Lucerne and maize, usually for silage.

He grazes some cows on pasture but most are fed on a total mixed ration, 75–80 per cent from home-grown feed.

Although in the selling market last season, the previous year the farm bought in feed, mainly grain, canola meal or cotton that they can’t grow.

More than 400 ha of the 1250 ha farm is on irrigation and they milk year-round.

The successful Lucerne crop was grown on 140 hectares under centre pivot irrigation. Some was made to silage and the rest to hay that was sold.

“The key message is whether you’re growing it to sell or to feed your own cows, you’ve got to make sure you’ve got a good product. I’d be happy feeding it to my cows.”

Tom says during a hot spell in summer they cut the Lucerne with a mower conditioner, sealed rollers, and raked it into a big windrow while cutting it to hold in the leaf.

“You get a nice tight windrow and if the weather is hot enough you can cure it quite quickly even in a big windrow which keeps the colour in the product and it will retain a lot of leaf as well.

“The main thing they’re looking for is good and even colour, a lot of retained leaf and a softer, more palatable product.”

Tom is willing to put in the hard yards to get a good product.

“Sometimes with Lucerne it’s a tricky crop,” he said. “It goes from too wet to bale to too dry to bale in a matter of an hour. The timing is important. When you’re sitting out in the paddock at one o’clock in the morning waiting for dew, it’s not the most operator-friendly crop to be baling.”

His successful crop won on its visual appearance but it also had good feed analysis, recording about 20 crude protein, high 30s to low 40s NDF, and 10–11 ME.

Despite the award success, Tom admitted the Lucerne isn’t being fed to his cows at the moment. “We’re not actually feeding it to them yet in the ration,” he said. “We’re sitting on a bit of surplus fodder at the moment and waiting and watching to see what the season does. We’re an inch of rain away from a really good season and then two weeks from it turning ordinary.”

The previous year they baled and fed all of the Lucerne hay because of a poor result with vetch.

Although he has no long-term plans to keep selling hay, Tom said it would remain an option if there was excess feed.

Tom was one of three Victorian farmers to earn national recognition in the 2018 Feed Central National Hay Quality competition.

Josh Lanyon of Boort and Col Radcliffe of Kerang also won national titles in the competition which recognise and encourage growers to aim for high quality hay.

Josh had the best visual appearance vetch hay crop in Australia and also won the Victorian titles for the best cereal visual appearance and feed analysis.

Col, of Tyisha Pastoral Company Kerang, was named national winner for the best vetch feed analysis crop. He also had Victoria’s best Lucerne feed analysis test.

The Feed Central National Hay Quality awards cover the 2017–18 season and more than 400 lots were judged across Australia.

Feed Central Managing Director Tim Ford said the overall quality had returned to normal following a low-quality season the previous year.

Mr Ford said the awards were designed to encourage all producers to make the best possible hay and to honour the best in the business.

“The quality of hay has a direct impact on the performance of livestock and it’s always more profitable to eat good quality hay,” he said. “With dairy cattle in particular, good quality hay will have a dramatic improvement in milk production and beef cattle also respond better. Good quality hay makes money for the end user.”

“It’s important as an industry that we improve the quality of hay.”

Mr Ford said Feed Central National Hay Quality competition was the only one of its type based on commercial quantities and qualities.

The feed test category is based on energy and protein analysis.

Hay listed with Feed Central in preparation for sale is inspected on-farm by a certified Feed Central inspector and is eligible for entry in the competition.

More details can be found at