Sowing the seeds for dairy success

By Rick Bayne

Growing up on a dairy farm and later spending 10 years as a pasture agronomist sowed the seeds for Daniel Meade to become a farmer, and a Nuffield Scholarship helped those seeds to germinate.

Daniel and his wife Michaela and their three young children Seamus, Ailish and Cassidy are about to celebrate their first anniversary of leasing her father’s farm north of Noorat.

The 32 - year - old admits he’s found farming inspiration from all walks of life; his parents, Gerard and Dianne, father - in - law Bryce McSween, study at Glenormiston College, his many agronomy clients and his fellow Nuffield scholars.

“We always hoped to end up running a dairy farm; that was the goal,” Daniel said.

In 2013 Daniel and Michaela bought 50 ha at Garvoc to run young stock and do contract heifer rearing and grazing.

On April 1 last year they started a five - year lease on the Kolora farm and Daniel is keen to put his stamp on what was already a good operation. They now use the Garvoc property for their young stock.

Bryce’s 150 Jerseys came with the farm lease and Daniel has added about 150 mixed cows over the past year.

“I like a bit of a diverse herd,” he said. “Crossbreds are good for hybrid vigour and breeding, and they’re suited to a grass - based system, Friesians have benefits in surplus offspring for export and cost advantages if culling.”

Ideally the herd will grow to 350 as Daniel seeks the most appropriate stocking rate for the land, potentially increasing the level from 1.2 to 1.35 milking cows per hectare.

“Having a pasture agronomist background, I try to target home - grown feed as much as possible,” he said.

“I learnt a lot from clients about general farming practices and grazing management, pasture allocation, appropriate nitrogen and fertiliser use, over - sowing short - term rye-grass for feed gaps and trying to improve the pasture base with modern perennial species.

“It was a two - way street. I went to a lot of farms and picked up things along the way.”

About a third of the farm is barrier country, the rest flat and arable.

Daniel has embarked on a rotational summer crop program that will cover all the flat land over five years, but the stone-crushed areas also serve a purpose.

“It’s handy to have that 250 acres over winter because the warmth stays in the stones and the regrowth is quick. We’ll be grazing the stones a month before we graze the flats.

“It’s a good mix to work with.”

With pastures, Daniel aims to “keep it simple” with a selection of diploid perennials with early to mid-heading date to suit the climate.

“We try to keep a simple system with everything, one calving, one joining. It’s about maximising home - grown feed and trying to limit brought - in feed, by having the appropriate stocking rates per hectare to match dry matter yields.” Daniel and Michaela also aim to be ruthless with empty cows and continually improve herd fertility as a key principle to their farming practices.

This year the cows have each received just under one tonne of grain with no brought - in hay or silage. They aim to further reduce grain by increasing pasture utilisation.

“We had a good November and December and got about 1300 rolls of silage and we’re cautiously confident that should be enough, depending on the break,” Daniel said.

The farm is on the northern edge of the dairy district but by setting the right stocking rates, it’s good for dairying.

“It’s our first year and we don’t have the full figures but we’re happy with production,” Daniel said. “With the home — grown feed system, you’re not going to get the same production per cow as someone who has a higher percentage of imported feed, but that was our choice from the start, the model aims to have profitable production.”

Daniel is optimistic about the industry, and is particularly buoyed by Bega’s $34 million investment at Koroit. He joined Bega last July.

“There is a reduction in milk supply around the country and I feel we are a very fortunate dairying area here in south - west Victoria,” he said.

“We don’t have to rely on buying water and our seasons are relatively reliable, I’m confident we can produce an increasing percentile of Australia’s milk here.”

The farm has a 40 - unit rotary dairy with automatic cup removers, with plans for auto - ID and auto - draft to improve animal husbandry and ease of one - person operation. Bryce had re - subdivided the paddocks, making them smaller and adding tracks and troughs.

As part of his Nuffield Scholarship, Daniel studied farmer engagement with agricultural representation.

A former WestVic Dairy Board member and current Moyne Shire councillor, Daniel wanted to see how organisations could better engage with farmers and how policies and research could better reflect the wider agriculture base.

“Farmers want to be satisfied their levy money and rep group dues are being well spent,” he said.

The support of family and herd manager Charlie Fortescue helps Daniel to find time for his council work and the scholarship.

“You can do both roles if you have support, and it’s good to bring an agricultural perspective to local government. Agriculture is the major local industry and dairy is the main contributor to that.”

Daniel encourages farmers who maybe interested to apply for a Nuffield Scholarship which took him on worldwide study tours and conferences.

“It was great to meet like - minded agricultural people from all around the world,” he said. “Being around people who are keen to challenge themselves means they then challenge you back. I was very fortunate to have such an opportunity and I learnt a great deal from it in many ways. I’m very grateful to the William Buckland Foundation, Nuffield Australia and Michaela for the experience.”

Some of Daniel and Michaela’s farming model was inspired by their time in New Zealand and Ireland.

“There are also a lot of ‘Kiwi grazers’ in the UK adopting the New Zealand system, and in Ireland I found the TEAGASC research organisation profitable farming model with a pasture focus to be very good.”