Feeding options on the table

By Sophie Baldwin

EVERY DAIRY farmer is well aware of the harsh impacts this dry season is having on their business — not only for this season but also for their management moving forward.

With the spring flush well and truly over and temporary water prices hitting the stratosphere, many farmers are preparing to feed large amounts of hay, silage or mixed rations.

Agriculture Victoria recently hosted a field at Paul and Robyn Lindsay’s dairy farm at Picola, focusing on feeding infrastructure.

Dairy development specialist Scott McDonald said Agriculture Victoria had received a lot of inquiries this season regarding mobile, temporary and permanent structures.

“There are many options available, from troughs and modular feeders through to more permanent structures, it just depends what your intentions are and whether it is for feeding, loafing (or both),” Mr McDonald said.

“We have had a lot of inquiry, particularly for more permanent structures because farmers are looking to position themselves four or five years ahead.”

Feed delivered on the ground, or into poorly designed areas, will result in expensive feed waste, while a well-designed area will help to conserve fodder and minimise potential health issues.

Agriculture Victoria provides free on-farm services to help farmers in planning and organising the perfect feeding area, including correctly interpreting new land use definitions.

Mr McDonald said it was important to work out if the area was considered for grazing or intensive animal production — making sure the infrastructure complies with planning scheme criteria while mitigating impacts on neighbours and the environment is also important.

Navigating and determining if a building and works permit is required for fixed feeding infrastructure or a land use permit for intensive animal production is part of the process.

Mr McDonald said things to consider when looking at a feed pad structure included:

  • The type of feed to be fed (hay, silage or by-products).
  • Feed preparation and delivery — mixer wagon or bale.
  • How to manage spoilt feed and accumulation of manure.
  • Topography and time of use.

Mr McDonald said minimising feed waste should not be the only driver of infrastructure; other things to consider included frequency of use, time spent on the area, ability to manage different stock groups, opportunity to reduce travel from far away paddocks, ability to minimise pugging and laneway damage during wet conditions and shade and shelter during summer.

Issues to consider include wear and tear across the feed face and around stock water troughs, machinery traction and slippery surfaces for cattle, congestion and bottlenecks reducing cow flow, cows cast in troughs, cleaning, pooling of water under feed or causing pugging and odour and trough height to maximise feeding (mixer wagon access).

While the physical aspects of setting up an area are important, environmental aspects must also be considered:

  • Odour from wet manure, spoilt feed and by-product storage areas.
  • Dust from heavily trafficked areas (cows and machinery).
  • Noise — feed mixing and delivery.
  • Flies — attracted to or breeding in wet manure, spoilt feed or by-product storage areas.
  • Run-off containing manure and pathogens — beyond the property boundary and into waterways.
  • Temporary structures can be successful and practical but do require planning.

“We have had around 50 inquiries this year and 80 per cent would be from northern Victorian farmers with the rationale of not wanting to waste fodder because of the long-term cost and reliability of water,” Mr McDonald said.

“The majority of these inquiries are also from family farms looking to change their system of management in the future.

“They are finding a grazing system no longer suits — many are looking at cut and carry and hence a feed pad of some description.”

Mr McDonald said effluent research and how to manage both liquids and solids appeared to be where science was heading in the future.

In February, Agriculture Victoria dairy service will run another series of field days covering permanent feed pads and housed systems.