Still at the top of his game

By Dairy News

BERNIE MCMANUS has no plans to retire from dairy farming in the near future, despite his advancing age.

The spritely 71-year-old still gets up every day to milk his 130-cow dairy herd at Bamawm with his wife Carol.

He has also just signed a new three-year contract with his milk company Tatura Milk, so it’s clear he has a few more years left in him.

Mr McManus said it had taken him decades of hard work to get the farm and his herd to where it is today — always focusing on working with, and making the best of, what he had.

“My health is good, I enjoy the challenges of dairy farming and I still get a lot of enjoyment out of my herd,” he said.

“Genetically I have a herd of good cows and, while my health is going well, I am reluctant to pull the pin just yet.”

Mr McManus’ passion has always been breeding and this year his herd Bercar ranked third overall on DataGene’s Balanced Performance Index (BPI) list (although he has been as high as number one before). The Jersey herd has placed in the top 10 for the past 15 years.

Bercar is operated as a closed herd and Mr McManus has been using AI since 1965.

He began working in the insemination industry in 1969 and he reckons over the years he has inseminated a staggering 60 000 cows.

When it comes to his own herd he always looks for high index bulls with good type and workability.

“We have had a lot of success with the sire Valentino in our herd but we are always on the lookout for a good out-cross to bring new blood into the herd.”

The nucleus of the Bercar herd comes from four very strong cow families: Peach, Biddy, Meg and Rita.

“Peach had 10 lactations with an average PI (performance index) of 125. She was a 6500 litre cow with very high components and was an outstanding foundation cow,” Mr McManus said.

“Rita was the first 7000 litre cow we had in the early 1970s. Meg was from Yarravale Danny Boy and we have had a lot of good cows descend from her as well.”

He rears a dozen bull calves each year and keeps a couple to put over the heifers while the others are on-sold.

The bull calves are reared away from the females in their own shed. Everything is kept separate to prevent contamination and the bulls have their own paddocks to run around in.

Mr McManus places a bucket of dirt in each pen, which he said stopped the bulls from eating their rice hull bedding and prevented them from getting sick.

Bercar has had 20 bulls go into AI and five have gone on to become AB proven sires.

“We had three go in, in one year back in 2004. Semen companies only take the best of the best and it is a tough gig to get a bull accepted so it is a nice recognition to make it.”

Mr McManus said breeding good stock took a lot of time and effort.

“It doesn’t just happen and you have to do the right things all the time, which includes strong breeding goals and looking after the herd well.

“I am strict with the cows, especially when it comes to high cell counts. We usually bring in around 35 heifers a year so that allows us to keep a uniform herd and allow for some culls.”

Mr McManus has always loved the Jersey breed.

“They suit the size of this small farm and you can control things pretty well with a smaller animal.”

The herd is totally spring calving, which allows the couple some much-needed time off over winter.

The cows are agisted off-farm during this time, which allows some time to rest and recover and be ready for the season start in August.

“Having the cows off-farm allows me to pasture harrow the entire property and start the season off with a good bank of feed,” Mr McManus said.

Looking after the soil has always been an important part of management, and a solid fertiliser history has ensured the little property grows as much grass as possible.

“An old farmer once said to me if you can’t afford to put super on put on twice as much and don’t cut corners. It is something I have always remembered and it is advice that is even more important when it comes to tough times.”

This season with a dry year looming, Mr McManus has over-sown his property with rye-grass. He also soil-tested to make sure his fertiliser application was spot on to achieve maximum pasture growth.

“The soil tests cost $1200 but we got a rebate through our milk company which made the testing very affordable.”

From an irrigation point of view, the farm is divided into 32 lasered bays.

“No water leaves the farm at all, it is all recycled.”

Mr McManus needs about 250 Ml to irrigate his pastures each year.

He has some high-reliability water shares, a spear point bore and he sources the rest from the temporary water market.

He has already purchased 58 Ml at $300 and he is hoping to get a small portion of environmental water through the tender process.

“I have been very upset by the way the government has handled the issue of water — water should be made available to the people who urgently need it to grow food, it shouldn’t be allowed to go to some speculator to push the price up for everyone else.

“If the government want to be fair dinkum they need to do more than pay lip service to the farming community, they need to keep farmers on farms.”