Farming passion in Johnstons’ DNA

By Dairy News

JACE JOHNSTON is 14-months-old and already his favourite activities are farm-related.

He is eager to interact with cows and calves and his favourite toy is a tractor, a bit like his dad.

Jace is the sixth generation of Bundalaguah’s Johnston family to be involved in dairy farming. He is the fourth generation in Australia.

His parents, Justin Johnston and Shorna Ross, are as committed as previous generations to the future of the dairy industry.

Apart from continuing to operate the Glomar Holstein Stud set up by Robert Johnston, Justin has purchased nearby farmland to grow out heifers. It is part of the stud and milking herd’s ongoing future, and enables them to diversify for the export and domestic markets.

Justin involves himself with mentoring and developing young people in dairy, paying back the interest he received.

In 2016, Justin represented Australia’s Holstein youth at the World Holstein Friesian Federation Conference.

Jace Johnston, 14-months-old, is the sixth generation of his family to be interested in dairy farming.

Justin teaches at youth camps and supports youth development, including helping to select other young people to represent Australia at international events.

He has been in charge of the youth competition at local shows across Gippsland, at the International Dairy Show and, last year, he provided the cattle at a Holstein Australia youth camp.

“It’s important to develop an ongoing interest among young people to breed good lines of cattle,” Justin said.

“They learn more than setting up cattle to show — leading and clipping — they learn about veterinary care, breeding and feeding cattle. Supporting youth development in our industry is encouraging the next generation of dairy farmers.”

The Johnston family milks a 780-head pure-bred self-replacing Holstein herd off an effective 397 ha milking area, on an irrigated farm of 486 ha.

Irrigation licences enable them to access 450 Ml from the Lake Glenmaggie system and 1600 Ml from a bore. A centre pivot irrigates 28 ha of pasture, with another 28 ha irrigated by fixed sprinklers.

The wash down water used in the 20 double-up dairy is captured in a holding pond and used to irrigate 15 ha of grazing paddocks around the dairy.

A further 49 ha farm is used to grow out heifers. Initially a lease, this land was purchased recently by Justin and is flood irrigated. He is transitioning the traditional short-term rye-grass pasture to a long-term variety and adding to the clover mix. Justin keeps it stocked for effective year-round rotational grazing.

“We keep about 100 to 120 heifers each year, picked on genomics and cow family,” Justin said.

“The rest (usually about 150) are prepared for the export heifer market, unless the domestic market matches those rates.”

The split-calving herd is all joined with artificial insemination, including sexed semen, and embryo transfer.

Agribusiness a family focus

The agribusiness involves Lynette and Robert Johnston, his brother, John, and Justin and Shorna. An additional full-time employee helps with milking and tractor work.

Glomar Holstein Stud was set up 45 years ago, when Robert took on ownership of his father’s commercial Holstein milking herd.

“That seedstock still exists within the herd,” Robert said.

The milking herd is all registered stud cows, genomically tested as calves for bull markers. Fifty bull calves are reared every year, with about 10 per cent used in semen centres.

“It’s very enjoyable to see their daughters doing well in other people’s herds,” Robert said.

“Our focus is on producing cows of good sound type and producing a lot of milk. Some of our cows go back to one cow in the herd 30-plus years ago. We breed for production.

“What we’re breeding, we’re consistently seeing results in the dairy and in the show ribbons.”

Lynne and Robert Johnston in the dairy.

Traditionally a split-calving herd, 25 per cent autumn and 75 per cent spring, Justin and Robert are gradually increasing to an 85 per cent spring calving herd. To support this, they are changing their pasture management to reduce their reliance on bought-in fodder.

“Feed was tight in 2018–19 and we didn’t know what last year’s autumn would be like, so it was an easy decision to make,” Justin said.

“We’ve still got feed in front of us this year in autumn and it’s a decision that’s taken pressure off the paddocks at this time of year.”

The farm produces grass silage and the business buys in hay, grain and calf meal. Immediate plans are to develop some of the grazing paddocks to sow lucerne, for grazing and to harvest silage. Justin is making the investment to reduce the cost of bought-in fodder.

“We can produce pasture hay and silage in a good year, but we rely a lot on buying fodder. Our ultimate goal is to be self-sufficient,” Justin said.

“There’s too much variance in quality and price of fodder that comes in the farm gate. In the last two to three years, 500 to 600 tonnes of silage has been bought in.

“I’m using the irrigation to invest in producing more of our own silage. I’m sowing lucerne this year in some undeveloped paddocks, where we have a travelling irrigator, and we should start to see the benefits of that crop in 2021.

“Then we’ll only need to buy in a bit of cereal hay for the spring herd.

“Or if I buy another piece of land and grow maize, fed as chopped silage, that will fit the bill.”

He geared up the machinery in the past couple of years, upgrading tractors and investing in power harrows.

“You can afford to do it when you’ve got the work for them on farm,” Justin said.

This autumn he is sowing annual rye-grass across the 57 ha of irrigated paddocks; then he’ll power harrow and sow the lucerne in spring for grazing — Sardi 7 series 2, as recommended by his agronomist from Graham Seeds. In its second year, he will graze the lucerne paddocks and harvest as pit silage and wrapped bales.

“We can utilise water better growing lucerne, with its long tap root. That country is loamy soil and white sand; you can put water on it today and it’ll by dry tomorrow,” Justin said.

“It’s a seven-year project. Once the lucerne is sown, there’ll be ongoing fertiliser and harvesting costs, but no re-seeding costs.

“And it grows a high protein feed source for the cows.”