Leading with innovation
A field day in South Gippsland brought together 200 dairy farmers and service providers to discuss innovations in dairy.
Jelbart Dairy, near Leongatha South, Victoria, has a 1000-cow herd milked in a 60-unit rotary that was installed in 1993.
In recent years, the Jelbart Dairy business model has changed a couple of times because of succession decisions.
Succession remains at the forefront of the current generation’s strategic decision making.
Jelbart Dairy employs 20 full-time equivalent workers, including a farm manager.
“Most of the infrastructure investment has been about improving things for staff,” co-owner Tim Jelbart said.
“When we’ve been developing the concept plans, we engaged with staff from the beginning and all the way through.”
The field day was an opportunity to discuss the future of dairy in the context of some of the changes that have occurred in recent years at Jelbart Dairy.
These changes include cow genetics, renewable energy, an undercover calving shed and effluent management.
The field day, in December, was facilitated through the Farm Business Resilience program, which is jointly funded through the Federal Government’s Future Drought Fund and the Victorian Government’s Future Agriculture Skills Capacity Fund.
Karen Romano, from Dairy Australia, discussed the Australian guidelines for cattle shelters and feed pads.
Professor Jennie Pryce is a principal research scientist with Agriculture Victoria and, along with Michelle Axford, spoke about the role of dairy cattle genetics.
Peter Best, from Innovative Farm Services, spoke about effluent management systems.
Daniel Jung, an electrician, talked through the issues about investing in renewable energy systems.
Dairy Australia with Agriculture Victoria developed new standards for contained housing for livestock. The weblink is https://www.dairyaustralia.com.au/resource-repository/2023/10/02/national-feedpad-and-contained-housing-guidelines
At Jelbart Dairy, a large shed has been constructed, extending a hay shed, to enable undercover calving and help cows exist with extreme temperatures and changeable weather events.
Jelbart Dairy farm manager Mike Kilkenny said the barn had already improved calf mortality.
“The cows are regularly monitored because there’s always someone walking past,” he said.
“We’re more aware of cows when they’re calving, and it’s easier to help them.
“We’re also more successful at matching the cow and calf.
“We’ve had improved calf survivability and healthier cows.”
More success in cow and calf matching and improved health outcomes have enabled better decisions to be made about breeding and keeping heifer calves.
The barn floor of sand is raked daily, and the size of the structure enables good ventilation.
Dairy Australia’s Karen Romano said it was important to choose a bedding material that was fit for purpose.
Jennie Pryce and Michelle Axford discussed the advantages of breeding programs that are based on selecting dairy genetics for sustainability indices.
The drivers for creating change in a dairy system can include cow breed and size, topography of the land and milking numbers.
The Jelbart Dairy herd is genetic-tested and breeding decisions are made for improving the milking herd’s productivity; and to complement a branch of the business that focuses on growing out Wagyu-Holstein cross yearlings for the feeder market.
“We use genetic testing to identify which cows we want to keep, which to sell to other dairy farmers, and which heifers to export,” Mike said.
“We also grow out Wagyu-dairy cross cattle to 200kg on contract.
“The high sustainability index cow, for us, comes into the dairy to be milked, gets pregnant by AI sexed semen and has a heifer calf.”
Nuffield scholar Peter Best discussed dairy farmers’ effluent management system considerations.
Of primary importance is the need to retain all effluent on farm. This also means prioritising the maintenance of the effluent pump.
Peter said it was important to understand what effluent was being used for on the farm, and how to store it.
The size of effluent storage and how often it was used on the farm was dependent on how many cows are milked, how much land was available to farm, and the size of the effluent pond.
“In a wet year, you also need to store up to eight months’ worth of effluent,” Peter said.
He recommends having an on site meeting with all relevant authorities and expertise such as surveyors and contractors, to kickstart discussion and planning for responsible effluent storage and use.
“They will work with you and this type of foresight and planning at the beginning can reduce and avoid problems after you’ve spent 12 months in the planning process and submit your proposed plans,” Peter said.
“And I recommend going to other dairy farms and looking at the infrastructure they’re using. Talk to them about the issues they’ve dealt with.”
Dairy Australia has resources for each dairy state including codes of practice, online at https://www.dairyaustralia.com.au/dairytas/land-water-and-climate/soils-nutrient-effluent/dairy-effluent
The principals of Jelbart Dairy spent four years to plan and about six months to build a new effluent management system, that includes a new dam and ditches for run-off and solids settling.
A future 2km irrigation system connected to 15 hydrants will enable two megalitres per day of effluent to be irrigated across the farm.
Tim Jelbart said their investment was offset against the saving in labour costs and improved efficiency, which he estimates at $50,000 to $100,000 pa.
On top of that was increased feed production under irrigation, particularly an increased yield from corn crops.
“Their system is scale-able compared to the number of cows you milk on your own farm,” Peter said.
Installing a renewable energy system, Jelbart Dairy utilised a matching energy grant to address their high grid power bill — $70,000 per annum — and production and business inefficiency due to power supply constraints.
Electrician Daniel Jung developed a solar renewable energy solution that includes batteries for Jelbart Dairy.
He recommends farmers seek advice about renewable energy systems from people who understand farming, particularly in the dairy sector.
“Power outages disrupt milking, feeding systems and overall farm production,” Daniel said.
He said technology investment had to be viable and while the return on investment period was improving with technology improvement, it was still a problematic issue.
At Jelbart Dairy, the solar power load is connected to a battery system.
A system failure is first automatically switched to the grid, but if the grid is inadequate, a back-up generator automatically switches on.
“It’s only a micro-second of change time,” Daniel said.
Go to https://www.dairynewsaustralia.com.au/news/jelbart-dairy-field-day-gallery/ for more pictures from the field day.