Pushing ahead with new ideas

By Sophie Baldwin

MARCUS FLANAGAN is looking to make management as simple as possible on his 700-cow dairy farm at Finley.

And he is not afraid to invest in new technology, especially when it comes to reducing labour.

Installing a GEA FR1 feed pusher from Advanced Dairy Systems in Cobram has been one such investment.

The feed pusher spins its way along the concrete feed pad pushing the mixed ration back into line, making it easier for the cows to reach their food, reducing waste and, perhaps most importantly, eradicating a mundane but important job from the daily schedule.

“We used to have to stop what we were doing and jump on the tractor and manually push the feed up every single day; it was just one of those jobs that had to be done,” Mr Flanagan said.

“The FR1 now saves us at least an hour in labour every single day.”

Transponders embedded in the cement every 2.5 m guide the machine as it makes it way up and down the pad and guide its way back to the charging shed.

It can be programmed to run up to 19-hours-a-day; it just needs five hours to recharge.

Mr Flanagan is expecting the machine to come into its own over summer.

“During the hot weather the cows eat a lot overnight when it’s cooler so we can program the pusher to run up and down the pad overnight which will help us immensely.

“I am the first person to install one of these in Australia. I saw it at the World Dairy Expo and I was tossing up between two brands but I decided to go with the GEA because it spins independent of the feed, which reduces the problem of the ration being dragged along and piling up at the end of the pad.

“I think it is a real cost-effective piece of technology. I employ a few backpackers and anything I can automate to make things simpler is certainly attractive to me.”

Mr Flanagan said the pusher could be added to most concrete feed systems.

The building of the concrete feed pad has been a considered investment by Mr Flanagan, who is determined the comfort and health of his herd will always come first.

The feed pad is stage one of a five-year plan to eventually build a free-stall facility.

It has made a huge difference already to cow health and comfort, while saving three tonne of feed a day.

“We used to feed the cows in a concrete feed trough,” Mr Flanagan said.

“The pad is now saving us at least three tonne a day and based on today’s feed prices that equates to a saving of $1500 daily which is quite significant.”

An automated sprinkler system also runs along the rail of the feed pad, which will help keep the cows cool over summer. This can be programmed to come on more frequently and for a longer duration, as the temperature rises.

The milking herd has access to shade and the cows can make their way on and off the pad at their own leisure.

“My interest and passion is caring for my cows and providing everything they need to milk and produce well,” Mr Flanagan said.

“I have found confining them and bringing the feed to them is better for the cows and much better for the management of my land.”

Confining the cows stops the issues of pugging during wet conditions and will allow the business to concentrate on producing more fodder.

“I can see us growing more and more feed and bringing it to the cows over the next five years,” Mr Flanagan said.

The milking platform consists of about 400ha. The plan is to grow more corn, cereal and lucerne.

“I think we can get better water use efficiency by growing annuals and that is the way we are moving into the future.”

Mr Flanagan said he could produce about 2.2 –3 tonne of feed per megalitre of water used.

“Water has become so expensive and we really need to be getting the most out of it, we can’t afford to waste a single drop.”

The Flanagans have no permanent allocation and are totally reliant on the temporary market.

Mr Flanagan said it had been hard going to receive a text message each month confirming NSW allocations remained on zero.

“We are constantly trying to improve our business management and we have put better systems in place to handle these over the years, including improving our irrigation infrastructure and building the feed pad.

“We are doing what we can to improve our efficiencies and I think the politicians making decisions need to be more in touch with rural Australia.”