Continuing family traditions

After 15 years working on the farm, Ross Anderson is taking over the reins from his parents and plans to continue his family’s legacy of being early adopters. Photo by Supplied

Ross Anderson considers himself lucky to have parents who were enthusiastic about new ideas.

“Mum and Dad always had a big focus on being early adopters and trying to create efficiencies,” the Victorian dairy farmer said.

“I’m happy to continue that.”

Ross and his partner Jenny are in the process of taking over the family’s Denison farm from parents Graeme and Chris Anderson, who have always looked into every opportunity to increase farm sustainability and profitability.

The farm runs 500 crossbreed milking cows in the Macalister Irrigation District — Gippsland’s dairy heartland.

Innovations over the past decade include installation of 60kW solar power for the dairy and three on-farm houses, automated irrigation, three-way crossbreeding with the addition of VikingRed, a monitoring system and an upcoming spray rig.

The farm’s crossbreed herd is part Jersey, Friesian, Brown Swiss and VikingRed. Photo by Supplied

Crossbreeding four ways

The farm has been crossbreeding for decades — originally with Jersey and Friesian, more recently with Brown Swiss and, for the past two years, with VikingRed.

“We weren’t getting the quality and availability of Brown Swiss so we looked into VikingRed and found they are robust and would make a really good cross,” Ross said.

“The third cross gives a great opportunity to really develop the animal and improve on fertility and health.”

The addition of VikingRed has been an instant hit.

“The calves are beautiful and we can’t wait to get them mated and milked in coming years,” Ross said.

“We’re pretty excited about them.”

The introduction of VikingRed has also helped with fertility.

“The last two matings have been with Reds,” Ross said.

“We are mating autumn calvers now and this is our second go with the sexed semen. We’re trying to do the right thing and go away from bobby calves.

“We’re using sexed and beef semen, which helps our sustainability and it’s going well financially while there’s demand for beef calves.”

Solar system pays off

When considering ways to reduce their environmental footprint while saving money, the Andersons invested $120,000 in a 60kW solar system on the dairy and farm houses.

“At full tilt when the dairy is running, we use all 60kW,” Ross said.

“Depending on what time we milk and the weather conditions, we can cover a fair bit of the power for that milking.”

The solar system also runs pumps, crushers and other equipment during the day, allowing a shift from night-time off-peak work, leading to more efficiencies.

Installed five years ago, the solar system has already paid for itself.

Ross expects ongoing financial benefits with power prices going up.

Technology makes a difference

A new $20,000 monitoring system monitors grain levels in silos, water in tanks for the farm and hot water for the plant.

The system makes sure the right levels of chemicals are being dispensed for the washes.

Collars were added to the cows five years ago for heat detection and health alerts, creating efficiencies in labour and contributing to improvements in herd health and fertility.

Irrigation has been automated to improve labour and water-use efficiency.

“Water is limited so we’ve always been conscious of being smart with its use and not wasting it,” Ross said.

“We have a lot of catchments and no water now leaves the farm; we catch it and re-use it.”

Maximising all inputs

This year pit silage has been introduced to decrease the amount of disposable plastic.

“The year before we did 2000 bales and wrapped every one individually,” Ross said.

“This last season we did about the same number and put them in three pit stacks. We used reusable gravel bags of tyres and tarps, which means a lot less plastic.”

The next investment is a Tow and Fert spray rig, which will be in use from September, using agitators that turn urea into liquid so it can be sprayed instead of spreading granules.

“It will reduce the amount of nitrogen that we use while getting a greater impact on growth,” Ross said.

“We hope it will pay for itself by growing more feed for less cost.”

Apart from 2.5 to 3 tonnes of grain fed in the dairy, all feed is home-grown. Even the grain is fed in an efficient manner.

“We have milk meters and each cow is fed based on their production,” Ross said.

“We want them to hit their peak and hopefully maintain for as long as possible.”

Efficient and sustainable

The Andersons milk off a 120-hectare home farm, supported by a 180-hectare block for young stock. They have a high stocking rate so they need to be efficient.

A new dairy was built in 2009 — including automatic teat spray and cup removers —making it a one-person operation to improve labour efficiency.

Ross continues to makes conscious decisions to be more sustainable, not only leading to environmental improvements but to better profitability.

He’s keen to pursue new ideas as they emerge and is appreciating VikingGenetics’ commitment to data and innovation.

“The way technology has developed and the world has become smaller, it’s great to be able to access webinars out of Europe and see what is happening.

“VikingGenetics is doing a great job in collecting data about bulls and heifers.”