Murray Bridge farmers, Trent Mueller and his parents Ian and Julie, have had a promising foray into maize growing as a silage crop for their herd.
They have successfully harvested their first crop on 24 ha of river flats at Murray Bridge in South Australia, cutting about 920 wet tonnes, giving an average yield of about 17 tonnes of dry matter/ha.
The exercise was not without some risk as the Muellers couldn’t find any evidence of maize grown for silage in the district under the conditions they were proposing.
“It’s been grown in the region but mostly under pivot in sandy soils,” Trent said.
The Muellers had laser graded their black clay river flat soils and installed a pipe-and-riser irrigation system.
“Pivot is generally considered to be the most efficient way of delivering water and some farmers were growing maize with about 8 Ml/ha.”
This crop has been grown at 6.5 Ml/ha — an outcome they just didn’t expect.
Glenbrook Illawarras is made up of three separate farms. The dairy farm is 200 ha, which has a diverse land use profile consisting of 40 ha of irrigated lucerne under pivots and 80 ha of flood irrigation growing permanent pasture. There is also a 400 ha cropping farm and a 400 ha grazing/run-off farm where the young stock are grown out.
Irrigated pasture makes up about 50 per cent of the feed intake of cows. The rest of the diet is supplied via the feed pad of either bought-in by-products or feed conserved on the cropping farm.
The mix includes potatoes, hay, silage and brewers’ grains.
The family uses advice from a nutritionist to get the balance right.
“You need to be careful with the potatoes because they can go off quickly, but brewers grains also can deteriorate so hygiene is important,” Trent said.
The farm strategy is to grow it’s own hay and silage which recently has been successfully accomplished with one exception, the 2018 season.
They are also moving to increase their expertise in growing grain on the cropping farm.
In a climate with 300 mm of annual of rain it can be a risk when the season falls below average.
The first attempt at growing grain on the cropping farm in 2017 was successful but last year they had to cut it for hay due to poor seasonal conditions.
They have a strategy to hold about 18 months of fodder on hand and in good years they can sell excess hay.
While Trent takes charge of the feed side of the business, his father, Ian, a strong believer in the Illawarra breed, manages the herd.
The red breed accounts for about 60 per cent of the herd, with the remainder commercial Holsteins.
Just over two thirds of the herd of about 400 are put to AI, and Ian prefers a functional dairy cow with good udders width in the chest and sturdy legs which gives them good mobility — a trait which serves Australian cows well.
The herd will do about three million litres of milk and the herd average is about 8500 litres.
“We have a flatter milk supply curve so we can take advantage of higher milk prices in the autumn.”
They milk in a 15-unit double-up (feeding about 5 kg of milled wheat in the bail) and the long-term strategy is to upgrade technology for production and herd health, perhaps lifting herd numbers once they get the farm foundations further established.
The current milk price has slowed their long-term goals.
“This year we have sunk quite a bit of money into the business through farm maintenance and purchasing additional fodder and we may not be able to make a profit. You can burn a lot of money in years like this, but hopefully you can catch up in the good years,” Trent said.
While some farms have had to cut inputs and ease back on production, Trent said they have tried to maintain production levels and had hoped that when the price improved they would be able to take advantage of that.
The business uses agronomy and nutritionist advice.
“You can’t be an expert in everything. Farms are more complex these days and you just can’t be across everything.”
The farm employs two full-time and two part-time employees.
“Good workers are vital to the job,” Ian said.
Trent’s wife Emily plays an active role in the farm management and the two families have developed a strategy for farm succession.
Trent and Emily’s young daughter will be the fifth generation involved in farming with Illawarras.