Consulting for success

By Rick Bayne

Josh and Lilli Philp like to know where they’re heading with their farm near Garvoc.

They rely heavily on their experience with the farm and the industry but they also call in the experts to make sure they’re moving in the right direction.

Josh’s parents Barry and Vicki were staunch advocates of using consultants and Josh and Lilli are happy to continue that policy.

“Some people might say we have an overkill of consultants but I don’t think we do,” Josh said.

“We source what we believe are some of the best at what they do to help us out with nutrition, pastures, soil testing, agronomy and whole-farm planning,” he said.

“It keeps us ahead of what’s happening,” Lilli said.

As an example of this successful approach, just before grain prices soared last year, the Philps assessed their feed needs and purchased 200 tonnes of hay.

Josh and Lilli, with son Archie, 3, and another baby on the way, are two years into a lease with Barry and Vicki.

The young couple has bought the cows and plant and machinery from Josh’s parents, who are no longer involved in the day-to-day running of the farm.

Josh, 34, came home to manage the farm about eight years ago after working as a merchandise manager and on a beef feedlot in Western Australia.

“I could see the lifestyle benefits and the career opportunities and how successful Mum and Dad have been. I saw it as a good career path for me and my family,” he said.

The UDC suppliers have a clear vision of being successful dairy farmers and aren’t afraid of making investments.

They farm on 440 ha, split by a railway line and Princes Hwy but connected with underground access. They bought land north of the highway about six years ago, added a smaller block south of the highway about three years ago and this year introduced a new 85 ha out-paddock at Naringal, about 10 km away.

“When I came home the farm was fairly higgledy-piggledy,” Josh said. “The second year I was home we ripped out all the internal fences and re-fenced the whole place, using GPS mapping.”

At the time they were milking about 600 cows. The new paddock layout was designed to make it easier to manage the farm on a 40–45-day winter and spring rotation.

This year they will calve down about 720, a similar number to the past few years, but with the new out-paddock that could grow.

“Everything gets carried on this farm at the moment, including the young stock and milkers,” Josh said. “The idea with the out-paddock is we’ll take all the young stock off this place in August or September so we will be able to cut a lot more fodder here.

“Our consultants predict we’ll end up with a fair excess of feed. We’re consistently buying 100–150 tonne of vetch most years so we’ll cut that out. The plan is to be self-sufficient apart from a little bit of cereal hay to calve cows down with.”

Over coming years, they plan to gradually increase to 750–800 cows.

“We’ll cut the feed and see how much we use and if we have any feed leftover, we’ll step it up over time. We don’t want too many cows that we have to buy more vetch,” Josh said.

The farm’s 48-unit rotary dairy is more than 20 years old and may be a limiting factor.

The herd is cross-bred, Jersey, Reds and Holstein, favoured for their hybrid vigour.

Barry and Vicki had a Friesian-Jersey cross herd using mainly LIC semen. About 10 years ago, to increase the cow size they introduced Reds through Viking genetics, which now cover about 90 per cent of the herd.

“It seems to work pretty well,” Josh said.

“Traditionally we have a reasonably low cell count for the size of herd, an average of just under 100 000 for the year, and herd health is good. Last year we lifted only five cows’ feet for the whole year. We don’t run sick herds.”

They produce about 500–510 kg/MS litres per cow on about 1.2 tonne of grain per cow.

The figures have improved over recent years as the bigger cows came into the herd.

“We wanted around 490–510 mature liveweight cows, but we were getting down to 440–450 and that was a bit small,” Josh said.

The farm is fully perennial pastures, over-sown as needed, although this year renovation is less than normal because of good rain.

They summer crop about 14–15 ha of dryland and about 9 ha of irrigated land.

About 109 ha of the 335 ha milking platform is under irrigation.

The heifers were due to start calving on March 18 and the cows on April 1, with the calving season going through to May 31.

The farm has two full-time staff and two part-time milkers and Josh and Lilli said their focus on running an efficient, sustainable business was the key to their success.

They’re in the process of introducing a 99.6 kW solar power system on top of the calving/hay shed.

“No-one is sure what’s going to happen with power prices and we wanted to cut costs,” Lilli said.

“When you look at it as a business, you’ve got to scrutinise all your costs and this was a long-term opportunity to save money on power.”

Lilli said knowing your farm cashflow was essential.