Irrigation options investigated

AUBREY PELLETT and Jacqui Morrison of Hill End, in west Gippsland focus on autumn calving to make the most of their pasture and production system.

In the past year Mr Pellett has investigated opportunities for irrigating pasture — the subsequent plans will be implemented in the next few months.

The couple owns 210 ha of quite hilly land as the effective dairy area, supported by a lease property of 52 ha to grow out heifers.

The 400 predominantly-Friesian milkers, peaking at 450, start calving in late March. The cows are joined using artificial insemination, with a focus on three AI cycles.

Based on carrying capacity, the couple rears 120 to 140 replacement heifers annually.

Future plans include selectively joining cows using Angus semen, breeding offspring for the beef market.

“In the next few years, we’ll use more sexed semen within the heifers and young cows,” Mr Pellett said.

Production is consistent at an average 500 kg MS/cow.

“We built the herd numbers up slowly, keeping every heifer we could, no matter the breeding,” Mr Pellett said.

“Now, using semen selectively, we’re breeding a high Balanced Performance Index, reasonable production animal.”

Hit by the dairy crisis and then depressed prices in the market, the couple pulled back from herd testing; but Mr Pellett said they would look at bringing it back into their business model.

“Herd testing was something we pulled the pin on in 2015–16 and we just haven’t reinstated it yet,” he said.

“All our counts are good. Our milkers have completed the Cups On Cups Off course and use milking time to check the cows. We rely on their expertise.

“We blanket dry milking cows and teat seal.”

The cows go through a 50-bail rotary milking platform and the milkers utilise a manual cups on, cups off system and ready-to-use teat seal.

Mr Pellett is a relief milker and concentrates his time on raising the heifers and working alongside a farm worker to grow the best pasture possible.

“One of our workers completed the Pastures for Profit course and we use those principles,” he said.

“We have a fair bit of machinery and renovate 30 per cent of the farm every year.

“We make our own silage and fodder, taking the seasonal surplus.”

They harvest a minimum 600–700 rolls; a longer spring can produce up to 1400 bales.

“We also opportunistically buy standing hay,” Mr Pellett said.

Perennial rye-grass dominates the system. This season, Mr Pellett sowed 10 per cent of the farm to sorghum, for summer grazing of dry cows, and turnips for grazing during the pre-drying-off period.

The farm is reliant on autumn rainfall. Annual average rainfall is 1000 mm, ranging from 750 to 1400 mm.

“Autumn rainfall sets up the system for winter grazing. Quite a lot of the farm is red soil, which is very useful because it resists pugging,” Mr Pellett said.

There is a right to irrigate about 140 Ml across the farm dams, for seasonal and strategic use of water. It has enabled the couple to gradually increase the home-grown feed, using a travelling gun irrigator and hydrants to irrigate up to 30 ha each year.

In a bid to improve their irrigation system, in 2018 Mr Pellett investigated some options. This included talking to Tasmanian dairy farmers, with similar farm topography, about their irrigation infrastructure.

“I then used Google Earth to find the largest circle on the property,” Mr Pellett said.

After identifying an appropriate site, Mr Pellett and his farm workers completed some earthworks, filled in a couple of dams and removed and resited fences. A few troughs and trees were also removed.

Once the infrastructure is complete, an additional 23 ha will be irrigated by a centre pivot.

“We’re still deciding how best to utilise that land,” Mr Pellett said.

“We’ll be pumping out of the 100 Ml effluent dam. I pump water into the dam during the winter and it has the capacity to irrigate 23ha.

“Our focus is growing more feed to grow production.”

Because they are using the effluent, albeit shandied, they bought a poly-lined centre pivot with a self-cleaning filter.

“I talked to a few farmers and asked their advice, analysed the water test results and the manufacturer’s recommendations,” Mr Pellett said.