IT’S MILKING time at Sarah Chant’s farm in south-west Victoria.
The 240-Jersey herd ambles to the herringbone dairy from paddocks at the foot of Warrion Hill, just north of Colac.
There’s been a shower of rain, but the sun’s out and a rainbow appeared across the top of a hayshed, three-quarters full of round hay bales.
“I’m feeling pretty confident,” the 28-year-old farmer said of the industry.
“There’s not many of us left, so they — the milk processors — are going to have to pay us.”
Sarah, like many other dairy farmers in the region, is preparing to swap milk processors and will start the new season with a different sign on the front gate.
It’s almost been a year since she leased her family farm, a property just less than 202 ha with bore-fed irrigation, and three years since she started running the business.
Farm gate milk price was the driver of her swapping from Fonterra to Australian Consolidated Milk.
“I think with a smaller milk production pool, companies are going to have to pay more to get you and then to keep you,” she said.
“It (the price) had to go up, grain’s up, power is up and if the milk price didn’t go up there would be more of us leaving the industry.”
Sarah expects to break-even this season but has been able to do some major farm repairs and purchase a 36 ha block.
“Dad had always wanted it,” she said. “It is next door, it’s flat, clear land and we can irrigate it straightaway.”
The purchase of this block has consolidated the Chant business as they sold an out-block north of the farm. The new land means less travelling, but it will also open the door to build-up herd numbers.
Sarah has budgeted on lifting numbers by 10 to 15 per cent and will do it naturally. This year she reared 105 heifers with these ear-marked as replacements and to also provide cash-flow via the export market.
Producing and storing large volumes of home-grown feed has been a priority for the Chant family for the past eight years, with a direct drill used to sow a lot more annual pastures and crops.
This year almost 202 ha — plus a 40 ha outblock delivered 1200 rolls of silage and 500 rolls of hay — including 100 of rye-grass and the balance oaten hay.
This feed is stored and most used for dry cows and as back-up to the irrigated pastures and summer crops including turnips and pasja. Irrigation is available across 53 ha and ensures year-round grazing, but it’s also used to establish newly sown pastures at the beginning of autumn.
“Most of the (conserved) feed is dry cow feed but I make sure we have enough silage to get through the season,” Sarah said. “I don’t have to go out and buy hay at the price people are paying at the moment, I have enough to get through.”
This past year the season hasn’t been “too bad” overall, according to Sarah, but there were points where rain evaded the region for a little too long.
“I was really nervous last spring, all the silage crops were looking pretty desperate but then late September we got rain and it saved the crops,” she said.
“We were hoping to do the oats for hay, but they were so dry, we talked about doing them for silage — and then it rained and saved us.”
In the dairy, the herd’s grain ration in the bail was maintained.
Each cow receives about 6 kg of a crushed-grain mix, made up of mostly wheat, in the bail each day.
“I didn’t want to lose production, if you start taking food off cows you start getting trouble such as having issues getting cows in calf,” she said.
“The feed costs are low, because of the irrigation and our summer crops are cheap feed.”
Breeding, and especially Jerseys, is a passion of Sarah’s, following in her late father’s footsteps with the registered herd of Warrion Jerseys. She used a variety of sires for joining this year, including Disco, Demos, Chrome, Casino and Jeronimo.
“I’m happy with the type in this herd, that’s not to say I will be looking to let it slip in anyway, but I’m going to concentrate a bit more on milk and fertility,” she said.
During the 2018 season, the 350-day rolling herd production average was 6034 litres per cow with 510 kg butterfat and protein.
The not-in-calf rate this year was 12 per cent, Sarah wants this figure to be below 10 per cent. Autumn joining includes six weeks of artificial insemination and six weeks running with the bulls. In the spring, a beef bull is used for joining over four weeks as Sarah only wants one batch of heifers — the same age — entering the herd each year.
Sarah operates the farm with one full-time worker and said that most people were positive and supportive about her role in the dairy industry.
“There are a lot more women who are taking-over and running the show,” she said about those who are managing farms.
“Honestly, I think the only thing stopping us could be the limits we put on ourselves. There’s no reason why girls can’t do it. I just love the cows and I love breeding calves. It is a family tradition.”