By Jeanette Severs
After a lifetime working as dairy farmers, Fay and Daryl Sinclair are stepping back, with the implementation of a long-term plan to retire while still being able to enjoy living on the farm.
Mr Sinclair is a fourth-generation dairy farmer and Mrs Sinclair is a third-generation dairy farmer. In 1986, they started as sharefarmers on the Stony Creek (Vic) dairy farm they now own.
The couple began milking 140 cows in a 10-a-side swingover herringbone. They renovated that to a 16-bay herringbone in the 1990s, then rebuilt it as a 20-a-side swingover herringbone in 2001, with automatic cup removers, auto wash, auto draft and an autograin system so the milking cows get 5 kg grain mix daily. In more recent years, they installed a software system that integrates with collars worn by all the cows, to manage veterinary and health care, and joining. The herd has been AI for the past 30 years.
July 1 this year saw the couple begin an agreement with young sharefarmers to help another generation get into the industry.
“We’re giving them 12 months to get some cash behind them and get a good start,” Mr Sinclair said.
The young couple, Allan and Courtney Gilliam, come with their own pedigree in the dairy industry and have been working alongside Mr and Mrs Sinclair for the past year, on wages.
“They are now on a 34 per cent share of income for the first 12 months, providing their labour. We provide the farm, infrastructure, machinery and cows,” Mr Sinclair said.
“Their plan is to start building equity in the herd from July 1 next year. Then their share will go up.”
Mrs Sinclair still goes to the dairy for an hour every morning and Mr Sinclair is still involved in pasture management, but has handed over the reins to his other passion, calf rearing.
The 540-acre dairy farm in South Gippsland utilises 380 acres to graze the herd, where average paddock size ranges from six to seven acres. Mr Sinclair manages the grazing rotation so the 380-head self-replacing predominantly Friesian herd has four days in each paddock. Annual milk production is stable at 585 kg/cow Milk Solids.
Of the remaining 160 acres, heifers graze 60 and 100 is used to make silage. One thousand wrapped bales of silage are harvested annually, with a cut off every paddock throughout the year.
“In a good year, like last year, I’ll go around about half the paddocks again,” Mr Sinclair said.
While he relies on an exceptional coastal rainfall — annual average is 1002 mm and the climate is warm and temperate — Mr Sinclair’s pasture management is key to production. Mr Gilliam has been working alongside him for the past 12 months and Mr Sinclair said he continues to mentor him.
“We’re averaging 11–12t dry matter annually,” Mr Sinclair said.
“For the past 10 years, I’ve been using more lime then a blended fertiliser during the growing season.”
Lime is applied across the farm in late January-February, at a rate of one tonne to the hectare. A blend of nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium and sulphur is applied at a rate of 170–195 kg/ha, about six times during the growing season, April to late December.
“You have to put it on to grow it,” Mr Sinclair said.
“As soon as we get a bit of moisture in April, I start applying the fertiliser blend.”
Pastures are mostly perennial, mostly Matrix rye-grass.
“We get a long growing season before it goes to head. I’m also impressed with its longevity; the first paddock we sowed with it lasted 12 years before I oversowed,” Mr Sinclair said.
In a normal year, he harvests 1000 rolls of pasture silage.