When REDAN partnership took on the four-year lease of a 185 ha farm at Yannathan, the principals wanted to upgrade the calving facilities.
The quandary was how to do this, without too much capital outlay, on a property they didn’t own.
Five independent partners make up the three-way equity REDAN partnership: Noel and Anne Campbell, Evan Campbell and Dean and Rebecca Turner.
The partnership leases the dairy farm of Matt and Jo Coleman, on a four-year lease with a following four-year option.
Equity growth in the partnership is through ownership of cows, which determines the equity percentage and therefore profitability of the partners. Partnership equity is reviewed annually.
So, raising calves is a significant part of growing equity in the business and for each partner.
“Part of our agreement with the farm owners, Matt and Jo Coleman, was putting $20,000 forward to cover the cost of construction of a calf shed,” Evan Campbell said.
“Matt and Jo could determine if they wanted to add to the cost of construction.”
The 36 m long and 10 m deep shed is to be depreciated over eight years.
“If the lease isn’t renewed at the end of the first four years — next year — we’d get half the $20,000 cost returned to the partnership,” Evan said.
The cost of construction included earthworks — the floor of the shed is packed earth overlaid with compacted recycled road waste.
The shed was constructed close to the calving pad, where cows are lead fed for a fortnight, with about 2.5 kg/cow of lead feed pellets and ad lib cereal hay, and chloride salt is added into the water trough.
REDAN partnership was also responsible for installing internal gates, water troughs, feeders and other infrastructure, that isn’t permanent, into the calf shed.
“It means we can take it all away at the end of the lease and Matt and Jo get a new shed,” Evan said.
Designed to comfortably hold 120 calves, the shed can accommodate 144 calves.
Each bay is divided into two pens, so 12 pens would normally each accommodate 10 calves.
The herd of seasonal calvers begin the second week of July and go through to the first week of October.
There are two rounds of AI in six weeks, followed by mop-up bulls for a couple of months.
The focus is on using characteristics of crossbred vigour, with Jersey, Friesian and Scandinavian Reds among the genetic mix; adding further hybrid vigour to the results from using Holstein and Jersey semen in the first couple of seasons.
“We’re looking for daughter fertility, calving ease, gestation length and mastitis resistance,” Evan said.
“We try to use A2 bulls.
“We’d rather have solid, healthy animals. We’re chasing milk solids and efficiency rather than pure production.
“This year we also used some Speckle Park and Angus semen for the last two weeks of AI.”
The business sells bull calves at one-week-old, direct to a local contractor. The beef-cross heifers are sold direct too, to a number of farmers in the local area.
“Breeding the beef-cross heifers gives us the option of selling or rearing them ourselves, until they’re weaning age,” Evan said.
The partnership's aim is to grow the milking herd rapidly to 420 cows, which means keeping the majority of heifer dairy calves and strategically buying cows in-milk.
In the 2018-19 season, the herd was 377. Recent changes have created challenges about how each partner contributes to achieving that growth.
Dean and Rebecca Turner, previously sharefarming, were able to secure a lease on a dairy farm this year. It was an opportunity for them to grow their future further, but it meant they took 100 of their cows out of the REDAN herd.
Those cows were all scanned in-calf to AI semen, which also means the REDAN partnership loses the heifer calves to help grow the herd.
“The 100 cows they took are all calving to AI, the remainders are bull-joined,” Evan said.
“We’re expecting to keep minimal calves on the farm here this year. We’ll rear them as bobby calves and they won’t be retained in the herd.”
Evan, in particular, has had to fast-track his own plans, buying lactating cows to make up the discrepancy.
“Because they’ve left a few animals in the system, Dean and Bek will still be business partners.
“But I think the intention when the four-year lease is renewed, it will be a different business format.
“I expect the business will have to pay them out for any fodder reserves or machinery purchased in this past four years. There’ll have to be some sort of accounting reconciliation.”