Cross breed cows paying off for Tassie farmers

By Sophie Baldwin

Looking to produce more milk from less cows was the drive behind Tasmanian dairy farmers Paul and Nadine Lambert changing their former Jersey herd to a cross breed herd.

The process was gradual but now the family milk a majority straight Jersey/Friesian cross and Paul couldn't be happier with the decision.

“We had been milking Jersey's for four decades but really we wanted to increase production and reduce our stocking rate - cross breeds have certainly helped us achieve our goal,” Paul said.

The crossbreed herd is fed around 1.2 tonne of grain per head up from 700kg for the former Jersey herd.

“We have lifted our per cow grain as well as production and overall, we are milking five per cent less cows and producing 20 per cent more milk and each cow is producing above their body weight in milk solids,” Paul said.

A ready supply of irrigation water over the summer months makes the farm ideal for a spring calving.

Annually the farm uses around 2000 megs, 800 of which is used on the grazing area while the other 1200 is used to grow maize, potatoes, poppies and support around 200 head of beef cattle and all young stock.

“The dairy platform takes up a third of the irrigated area. This is a long narrow farm and some of the paddocks are just to far for the cows to walk too,” Paul said.

The cows are all AI with the majority joined to New Zealand genetics.

Paul said the breeding program is kept relatively simple, if the cow looks like jersey it is joined to Friesian and vice versa.

“This process is working well for us at the moment. We do use a few crossbreed bulls and have

bred a few crossbreed bulls ourselves from our better cows but we haven't gone into a three-way cross yet, I am not convinced it necessary.

Cross bred cows make easy calving mothers and hardy, robust animals according to Paul.

He said they also link into the beef side of the operation well with the poorer herd performers joined to Murray Grey, Hereford or Angus.

The Lambert farm has been in the family since 1971 while the property itself has been milking cows for 120 years.

For the last 35 years the business has been supplying Cadbury.

The change to milking a crossbreed herd has proven to be a good one for Tasmanian dairy farmer Paul Lambert who is now milking five per cent less cows but producing 20 per cent more milk. He is pictured with 11-year-old son Benji.

Paul said while he wouldn’t want to dairy farm anywhere else, Tasmania is not without challenges including climate.

“Like anywhere, dairying is hard work and doesn’t come easy some years but generally if the grass is growing well the cows are doing well.

“The return on dairy is currently four times better than beef. It is consistent and I usually know where we are going each year but there is not always money in it - some years it is all about making the losses as small as possible and maximising profits in others.”

Paul said looking after the health of the animals has always been central to their business.

“The cows are quiet and we like to keep them as stress free as possible.”

The business also focuses on keeping staff well trained and skilled in as many courses as possible. They also have their own well-equipped workshop with lathe and welders and an excavator for earthworks.

“We normally try and do things together with our workers including movies, meals and barbecues to keep things social and a bit of fun.”

Paul is passionate about the Tasmanian dairy industry and like many others he has been concerned as international owned corporates have made their way onto the island, purchasing many of the state’s dairy farms.

Circularhead Farms is an Australian corporate that owns five dairy farms and milks over 3500 cows in Tasmania.

Paul is chairman of the board and one of 30 investors.

The three main aims of the company are:

to keep land held in Australian hands because it is disappearing quickly to foreign corporates

to provide a pathway for people into the Australian dairy industry through incentives like allowing people to own their own cows

to be in the top 10 per cent for profitability.