Attention to detail brings rewards again

By Stephen Cooke

KEEP A watchful eye and do everything well, including the little things.

That’s Craig Stephens’ ‘secret’ to keeping his herd bulk milk cell count low.

His herd’s average BMCC of 77 000 has placed him in the best five per cent of Australian dairy farmers. He was rewarded with a silver award in the recently announced Countdown Milk Quality Awards — the third such award in the past three years.

Craig and wife Lisa have been sharefarming for Rob and Carol Tylee at Lardner for the past three years. The farm is 185ha, with out-blocks comprising a further 75 ha used for heifers and forage.

After managing farms, Mr Stephens wanted to take the next step and is in a 50:50 share arrangement. The couple bought the predominantly British Friesian herd and currently milk 290 cows, with plans to raise this to 310.

“I cull pretty hard as it is but we culled a bit harder this year,” he said.

Mr Stephens employs one worker and they both milk. He said his worker was very hands on and “loves cattle” so knows the herd well.

Being so close to the cattle means he is able to keep a close eye on milk quality. “A lot of it is visual,” he said.

“We have mastitis detectors in the line, but I can look at a cow and tell if it is off colour.

“We also test with a paddle when they are freshly calved. I’m surprised more people don’t do that.”

The cows get a blanket dry cow treatment once the herd is dried-off. Cows with a mastitis problem get a higher dose of the dry cow treatment.

Mr Stephens admits his milking takes “a long time”, attributing this to a very relaxed herd in no rush to get to the dairy — or leave it.

“Having cows that are content helps, because they’re relaxed,” he said.

The herd is currently averaging 4 for fat, which he said was down of late compared to the long-term average, and 3.6 for protein.

He manages the calf rearing and will soon change the split calving, currently 200 head in autumn and 100 in spring, to late autumn/early winter.

“It’s easier to manage one mob. It will also suit this farm and give us more of a break during the year.” Mr Stephens plans to spend this time with his young boys.

He performs all AI duties and recently inseminated 190 cows in four weeks, all naturally.

The whole herd was originally British Friesians when Mr Stephens arrived but about 25 per cent of the herd now has Holstein genetics.

“Most of them are British Friesians but we are putting Holstein over them to get more milk while keeping the components.

“Our fertility is good but we don’t want to lose that. If they’re not in calf they get sold.

“With split calving they might have got a second chance but they won’t now. We have 80 heifers a year coming in so competition is tight.”

He is using sexed semen and some of the herd is already being inseminated with beef semen, to bring in extra money.

The herd’s diet is only supplemented with 2.6 kg of wheat but Mr Stephens is currently changing the ration to add calcium, in part to address the falling components. He will also introduce lead feeding next year to capitalise on the first 120 days of lactation.

Rob Tylee and his son, Justin, locked in a very competitive wheat price early in the year and prepare all their own silage and hay. The Tylees own a tree trimming business and their son, Justin, owns a contracting business..

“Having that equipment on hand is a great benefit,” Mr Stephens said. “And if I jump on a wagon or something it comes off my bill.”

He planted 9 ha of turnips this year. “I tried to grow it for winter feed but it didn’t grow. It’s come on now though so we’ll graze it soon and that will give us more grass for silage.”

About 12 ha are planted to summer crops and irrigated each year, including chicory, pasja, millet and rape. They will plant 30 ha this year, irrigating it from a large dam on the farm.

They have planted 1.5 tonnes of annual and one tonne of permanent pasture this season.

“We needed a good cut, that’s why the annuals went in,” Mr Stephens said.

“We’re lucky we did it, the way the season is.”