Grabbing every opportunity

By Rick Bayne

DYLAN LIGHT doesn’t turn 21 until next March, but he’s already moving up in the dairy industry.

With a herd topping 150, mostly young stock, and a sharefarming agreement in the pipeline for next year, the 2018 Great South West Dairy Awards’ Employee of the Year is setting a clear pathway towards farm ownership.

“By 25 or 26 I want to have a crack at buying a farm,” he says.

In the meantime, Mr Light is happy to be learning from his mentor and farm owner Matt Grant and developing his skills through a diploma course.

Mr Light started his apprenticeship at Mr Grant’s farm at Scotts Creek in September 2016.

Born in Sale, Mr Light lived in Maryborough for eight years before moving to the Camperdown area 10 years ago. Visiting dairy farms owned by his grandparents and cousins inspired his love of the land.

His current job happened in a hurry; he came in for an interview on a Monday and came back that night to milk.

He had to juggle work and finishing the final weeks of his Year 12 study, but it was worth it.

“I looked at what I wanted to do in the future and this was it,” he said.

“I like being outdoors. Every day is different and there’s always a new challenge.”

Mr Light did a Certificate III in Agriculture during Year 9 and on the Grant farm he has completed his Certificate IV; he’s now halfway through his diploma.

“After school I discuss things with Matty about what I’d learned at school and he’d explain his way and what works here. It’s good to get both sides.”

Mr Light has reared calves all his life and always found somewhere to put them. When he came to this farm, he brought 15 cows and has continued to rear young stock on powdered milk and take them to a leased 36 ha out-paddock.

“I’ve got 115 head out there now but my grandfather is selling up in Gippsland so a truck with 50 head of young stock is about to arrive,” he said.

He is looking to lease a second block.

Mr Grant has Holsteins, but Mr Light is going down the stud Jersey line.

“I’ve always been a fan of the Jerseys, a smaller animal that is good at converting feed,” he said.

Working alongside Mr Grant has been enlightening, particularly as the farm has changed its reproduction program.

The farm previously calved four times a year with set time AI in January, March-April, June and September.

March-April was the main calving period with about 150 to 180; they have reverted to even groups of about 120 three times a year.

“Most of the calving was done in two weeks but the end of April, calves were still in the shed when we’d start in June,” Mr Light said.

“Now instead of set time AIs we’re joining for six to eight weeks; Boxing day through January, April-May and then September. It’s a bit of a break and we’re calving over eight to 10 weeks instead of 1.5 to two, but we weren’t getting the conception rates we wanted; it’s much better now.”

Mr Grant’s changes have had a flow-on effect to Mr Light’s cows, which are integrated into the main herd, providing a sprinkling of brown within the black and whites.

“It works out well,” Mr Light said. “We do AI for them at the same time and this year I’ve done some sexed semen, which has worked out well.”

The main farm is 223 ha but a few years ago Mr Grant added an adjoining 55 ha property with a separate dairy. The second farm is used for young stock, but Mr Light is looking to take over the dairy next year as part of a sharefarming agreement.

“I want to keep building up the numbers over the next five years,” he said.

Only the dairy on the main farm, a 22-swingover with auto cup removers, auto teat spray and draft system, is used at the moment.

Mr Light is learning to be adaptable to the conditions.

This season started off reasonably wet with a lot of rain in June-July but has dried off earlier than usual.

“It’s been a pretty good year but we need the follow-up rain,” Mr Light said.

The pair does a lot of pasture renovation in paddocks that aren’t performing, and use fertiliser to promote growth.

For the first time, this year they have planted 12 ha of maize to counteract feed shortages and high grain prices.

“We normally feed 7–8 kg of grain but we’re back to 3.5–4 kg because of the price. We sold off 25–30 cows to accommodate for less grain and to grow more grass,” Mr Light said.

The relationship between the pair is built on shared enthusiasm.

“It’s what I love doing,” Mr Light said. “It’s more of a hobby than a job so I’m dedicated to what I’m doing and having an excellent boss to work alongside makes it easy.”

For Mr Grant, the young man’s enthusiasm is infectious, as is his ability to adjust to the farm’s practices.

“He takes things on board when you tell him something. He’s happy to do it the way I want, not bring in someone else’s habits,” he said.

Mr Grant is encouraging his employee to pursue his goals, allowing him to buy in cows from other farms.

“It’s hard to find staff who want to go somewhere in the industry,” Mr Grant said.

“We have to channel that energy in the right direction; we’re lucky in that we have the room for him to grow inside our business.

“If I’ve got someone good you need to develop a pathway to keep them.”