Family hoping to combat industry hurdles with once-a-day milking

By Dairy News

Matt and Jacinta Maddison saw dairy farming as a huge opportunity for wealth creation.

But the young couple was not blind to the “problems” that plague the industry.

“I said to Dad (Lindsay), once-a-day (OAD) milking seems like it would solve so many problems,” Matt said.

“Everyone complains about labour, costs — the cost of grain and supplement feed. It seems to solve a lot of the problems, but to justify it, it had to be profitable. That’s where the rest of the research was focused.”

Matt and Jacinta with children Amelia, 2, and Lucas, 1, will go into their second year of OAD milking this autumn. It’s also their second year dairy farming and second year in western Victoria, after moving from the north of the state. In December they moved from a leased farm near Colac in western Victoria to a farm they own in partnership at Panmure.

An electrician, Matt always had his sights set on farming and managed a Wagyu farm in Gippsland. It was in Gippsland where he got the taste for OAD milking.

Although he ran a beef property, Matt always adhered to pasture management as if he were a dairy farmer.

He said dairy pasture management was “so much more progressive” and delivered much higher production from land.

The consultant at the beef property was Jeff Urie — who operates his own OAD dairy business.

Matt then attended a Dairy Australia field day about OAD milking, and then hit the internet. He devoured New Zealand OAD research, YouTube videos, studies — anything he could get his hands on.

“There’s no data over here about what we could potentially do production-wise,” he said. “Whether or not there’s enough people doing it, I don’t know.

“I really couldn’t get anyone to turn me off. There’s plenty of people that will tell you the problems, but they haven’t done it.”

Following a stint with Pete Collins at Tennyson, learning “as much as I could about dairy” Matt and Jacinta started their own operation with cross-bred heifers.

They now milk 180 across 117 ha with 50 per cent of this under irrigation at Panmure. Their herd is still predominantly heifers weighing 450–500 kg liveweight and this year they averaged 300 kg of milk solids/cow from 1.5 kg/cow/day of grain plus pasture.

The couple has plans to milk 200 and aims to increase production to further decrease the total cost of production. But Matt said they would not chase production if it wasn’t viable.

The couple has a tight hand on the reins of costs and said this was how their business operated.

Admitting they are in the “initial period” of OAD milking, it’s proven they have less reliance on feed-especially grain — with the herd maintaining their body condition score well, and even retaining some for “reserve”.

“With less production they need less energy and you either feed less or run more,” Matt said.

“Us as young people, we want to try and build equity, rear heifers and run more stock; once-a-day milking you are still getting something.”

Using the NZ research as a guide, the Maddisons are covering costs this season after a loss last year and say they should be making money in the third year. This has been the experience for many other OAD farmers, Matt explained.

Time outside the dairy had been used productively, with Matt and Jacinta focusing on improving the capital value of their farm and rearing stock including beef calves.

“I love the idea of spreading risk, it is the same as anything you invest in, shares, cattle and the farm,” Matt said.

“With a low input dairy system, it limits the risk a bit as well.”

They moved to south-west Victoria “chasing rainfall” and believe there’s value in land with reliable water.

Matt and Jacinta both said OAD benefits were more than just economic.

They listed happier cows, family, better work-life balance and ability to diversify the business as just some of the positives.

“I think there are a lot of benefits other than the ones that can be measured,” Matt said.

For example, new to the district, they believed finding good employees would have been difficult. Thanks to OAD milking, they haven’t had to dip into the labour market as they have been able to do most of the work themselves with the help of casual “retired traveller,” who worked when they were flat-out. Contractors were used for harvest due to moving farms.

Matt said OAD milking had helped prevent burn-out.

“The general feel now is that (dairying) with such high costs, there’s talk about OAD; there’s a lot of people asking about it,” he said.

“(Dairy Australia) have got to look at it, it can’t continue on and think it is not an option, there’s so much more focus these days on mental health and stress. If we drop a little production but make our lives better, I certainly think it’s worth looking at.

“There wasn’t enough information out there; we really had to give it a go. We were lucky to be in a position to give it a go, we made money off another place and had good support from Mum and Dad (Maree and Lindsay), not just financially, they were telling us to give it a go. It’s up to us to give it a go and then maybe other young families would give it a go.”

Learning along the way, Matt said diligence was crucial to maintaining milk quality. The bulk milk cell count for the herd of heifers had never been more than 130 000cells/ml and mostly sat between 70 000–80000cells/ml.

“Watching them really closely” straight after calving was key, as well as a thorough approach to the one milking a day, in the morning.

They have a strict approach to culling and culled hard the first year. They anticipate doing the same this year as they weed-out cows not suited to the OAD system.

Cows which aren’t suited are those who don’t recover well from mastitis or get it again after the first treatment. Poor “uddered” cows also don’t suit the system.

The herd recorded a 93 per cent in-calf rate in the first eight weeks of joining. Matt synched 100 of the best over two weeks for AI then put the bulls in.

Another practice the couple has had to perfect, has been allocating pasture for 24 hours. They do not return to the cows during the day unless i’ts hot and the water requires checking.

“The once-a-day image might be lazy but it is definitely not. You can’t come in after milking once a day (and do nothing) and you need to spend your time wisely and we have been improving the farm,” Matt said.

“But I have no qualms about knocking-off at lunchtime and going to the beach with the kids or being inside every night at between five and six (pm) to have dinner with the kids and then their baths. To be involved in their lives is massive.”