Getting the balance right

Ann and Mark Gardiner with son Jacob who has recently returned to the farm.

The return of their son Jacob to their Bamawm dairy farm has given Ann and Mark Gardiner a new focus and energy as they navigate management of their business forward and into the next generation.

In a changing climate, managing future risk and conserving as much feed as possible each year is now a key focus.

“Jacob coming home has given us a huge boost of energy as he has so many ideas and is so enthusiastic and excited about the future of the farm,” Ann said.

Milking 1000 cows and transitioning the herd across to A2 to a higher dollar value milk market, the family is determined to continue to prioritise animal welfare and irrigation efficiency as their key drivers.

They are running a grazing system from spring through to autumn, aided by the use of a total mixed ration (TMR) to the A2 herd (they currently run two herds).

“In 2018 we realised to stay in the industry we needed to grow more feed per megalitre; growing just 20 per cent of our home-grown feed was not a long-term proposition so we had to radically change our business model,” Ann said.

She said Murray Dairy was instrumental in the change through many of its programs, but particularly in providing them with creditable research and information and putting them in touch with other farmers.

“This has all proven to be invaluable when we decided to implement a double cropping rotation with maize, vetch and winter cereals.”

The business is now into the second year growing corn.

“We had been told to follow the directions to grow corn precisely and not to move outside of the rules and we ended up having a good yield last year of 26 tonne/ha,” Ann said.

“We are hoping to get at least that again this year and we would love to achieve the gold star of 30 tonne/ha — double cropping is now allowing us to grow so much more feed.”

She said it still very much remained a balancing act getting things right — and every year new challenges arose.

“The new cropping rotation means we have less downtime and every month we seem to be actively doing something.

“There are constant checks and balances in place but we just love our cows and there is nothing more rewarding then taking those five minutes at the end of the day to watch the herd happily grazing in a paddock.”

The business operates across 607ha including 202ha of leased land.

Aside from the 1000 cows, there are 500 young stock to manage and 120 Wagyu-cross animals, which are reared for 10 to 12 months on a semi feedlot. They would also rear additional Friesian steers but they can't find a contract and labour is an issue.

“We are always looking to avoid the bobby calf market as much as possible, and there are a lot of things we could do on-farm if we had more staff,” Ann said.

Labour and staffing are an industry-wide problem.

Ann said they would put on two more full-time staff tomorrow if they could find them.

“We would love to employ a couple, more people looking for a permanent career in dairy. It is very hard to find educated staff and we would happily train people if they were willing to stick around.”

They currently have around 12 people on staff. but because the business has grown so much, it has become necessary to divide up the roles into specialised areas — Ann is in charge of finance, Mark looks after irrigation and Jacob has labour and day-to-day operations.

Ann said in a business of this size, communication was imperative and was a key to success.

The other key to success is access to the latest industry research, data and information. That’s why Ann believes Dairy Australia’s investments nationally and regionally through Murray Dairy are so important, along with the role of facilitating networking opportunities and delivering information.

Ann and Mark have been farming together for 30 years. She is sure their business wouldn't be in the position it is today, without information they have gleaned from Murray Dairy over the years. They have actively participated in many programs and events over the years, including the Dairy Business Network (DBN).

The DBN has a significant role in their business, not just from a decision making perspective but also from a networking and social perspective, especially during tough times.

There are currently 11 businesses involved in the same DBN as the Gardiners.

Ann said it was great to see the next generation jumping on board.

“Our involvement in the Bamawm/Rochester DBN is one of the most valuable parts of our business.

“Sharing information and resources and discussing everything from milk supply companies to day-to-day management has meant all the cards are always out on the table.

“We have also had great support during the tough times and have attended many great social events over the years; it isn’t always just about farming.”

She said the DBN was inclusive, with all partners playing a significant role on the farm and through the DBN.

The Gardiners’ involvement in Dairy Base has also been worthwhile and has enabled them to build up a 10-year bank of data.

“We have been able to see how our business has changed over the years and how we have performed both good and bad,” Ann said.

“We were even able to use the data to form the basis for a drought loan because we were able to clearly illustrate how our profitability was impacted.”

Ann said being a dairy farmer was extremely rewarding and she loved her cows just as much today as she did when she first started.

“We have spent decades building up our dairy herd to where it is today and it is at the centre of everything we do.

“We are grateful to have Jacob back home, and supporting him as he moves into the business is a key focus for us.”