Archive for the ‘South Gippsland’ Category

Dairy farming in SW Gippsland – our farm.

Wednesday, June 10th, 2020

Well, much to everyone’s surprise we are still farming after 5 years! Someone said our act of faith in starting a dairy farm at a low time in the industry was like “attempting to jump over 50 cars in  a Harley Davidson without any practice”. Its true we bought a going dairy farm but we started from a low base. We had to at least double production to become viable. This meant going from  73 cows to 150 cows. To do this we have had to upgrade the dairy with a bigger vat, build a large calf shed, extend the dairy yard and build a new feed pad.

We are at Ranceby in south west Gippsland. Its close to the coast in the south east corner of mainland Australia. It has rolling hills, sometimes steep but still productive. And it’s wet, on average. There is usually a dry period of around 3 months in summer, but sometimes rain extends into summer and again starts early in autumn. This last year has been a bit like that so we’ve had green grass over a longer period.

We initially purchased 173 acres without any idea of what we might do after that. Luckily the cards fell our way and we purchased an adjoining 77 acres. This brought us to a home farm of 250 acres or 100 ha. We now lease another adjoining 100 acres and also have young stock on agistment.  If there is an advantage of age, I remember in the 1950’s and 60’s in Gippsland, most dairy farms were smaller, where 50 – 60 cows was a profitable herd!

New Mum and calf autumn 2020

New Mum and calf in autumn 2020. We calve around 1/3 of the herd in autumn and 2/3 in spring.

Because the weather here is relatively mild, the cows are out all the time grazing the paddocks.  Autumn weather is good for calving but in spring it can get cold and wet for short periods. If this happens during calving, we have a plastic igloo that can hold around 6 – 8 ready-to-calve cows.

Over the last 5 years pasture growth and utilization has steadily improved. This is calculated indirectly using a nutrition and feeding model. We know how much silage and grain the cows get and this is matched against milk production. This allows us to estimate how much grass the cows are eating. Pasture production has a strong spring bias. The amount of nutrients in supplementary feed can be calculated. Around half these nutrients leave the farm in milk. The other half is deposited as manure and urine and apart from what is deposited on the feedpad and on laneways, these nutrients support a base level of pasture growth estimated  between 1 – 2 tonne / ha.

Our supplementary fertilizer program is really a strategy for improving productivity in the short and importantly long term. The soils here are derived from marine sediments and unfortunately when it rains the soil turns back to mud, sticky and with no structure. Also our soils are poor in nutrients. Our production strategy is to build soil structure and nutrient holding ability and this means building soil organic matter. I will outline our fertilizer strategy later.

Around the farm. Because its autumn, now winter, we have been busy feeding the cows and calves. All autumn calves have been weaned. They are still in the calf igloo but have an outside area so they can run around. Our main recent job has been fencing off a bull paddock as we have raised 4 bulls and need to keep them under control!

 

Bulls, dog and R1 calves

Newly completed bull paddock with 2 bulls. Wags the dog is doing his part to keep the bulls and 6 – 9 month old calves separated.

 

Our dairy farm – waiting for rain!

Sunday, April 7th, 2019

We’ve had our dairy farm in the Strzelecki Ranges in South Gippsland for nearly 4 years now. And yes, waiting for rain. Its been dry well into autumn. We’ve had a few showers and the grass is starting to grow but much more is needed.

Around the farm.

Calving is just about finished. There are 40 milkers or fresh cows back in the herd so production is climbing again. The current herd is 137 milkers. Our next calving period will be in spring and these will be mostly heifers so our herd will grow significantly.

We were lucky that the grass stayed green well into last summer. However its been dry for the normal 3 months. We rely on dam water over the dry period so have to be careful with water.

Day to day.

The day starts at around 5.45 when the cows are brought up for milking. Whoever goes out needs a good torch to help find all the cows. The girls are fed pellets in the shed at each milking and afterwards, both morning and afternoon they are fed extra rations on the feed pad. We mix silage with crushed barley in the mornings and just silage but slightly more in the afternoon.

 

Cows eating in the feed pad. By feedin this way there is less wastage and the cows can be fed a custom diet.

Cows eating in the feed pad. By feeding this way there is less wastage and the cows can be fed a custom diet.

With all the new calves there is plenty of work feeding milk and topping up water. Each calf gets around 2.5 litres twice per day. We feed a little hay in each pen to start the calves on ‘solids’.

Building the herd.

There are three main herds of young cows on the farm. Young cows up to around 6 months, calves up to around 1 yr old and older heifers that are approaching maturity. The youngest group are still fed pellets each day – another regular job! They also get fed hay as do the 1 yr olds. The oldest heifers have taken over 3 large paddocks and mostly look after themselves. Our next group of spring calving heifers is being agisted off farm.

Projects.

We’ve taken advantage of the dry period to do some maintenance work on the tracks.  Over the past 4 years we’ve completed some big projects like the new dairy yards, new vat and feed pad. Now we can focus on many of the small jobs like putting in new gates to make moving cows easier.

Margy is our first cow. She was raised from a calf and is still going strong.

Margy is our first cow. She was raised from a calf and is still going strong.

 

Our dairy farm

Thursday, January 18th, 2018

We’ve had our dairy farm for just over 2 1/2 years and that’s also as long as we have been dairying! The farm is 250 acres of rolling hills in South West Gippsland. The current herd is 125 milkers, 50 heifers which are up and coming milkers, and 75 calves.

Around the farm.

This summer has been kind to us so far. There was good rain in late December and early January. The grass is still green and the clovers are growing well. The dams started to go down in early Summer but are now nearly full again. Because there is not as much grass for the milkers we have started to feed out extra hay and silage.  We make our own silage but buy in good quality vetch hay.

Calves in calf pen.

Soon after calves are born they are brought indoors. They are fed milk for about 6 weeks. Hay and grain is also provided so their digestive systems can develop properly. We have calves in both Spring and Autumn.

Projects.

The major project at the moment is extending the dairy yard. We are expecting an increase in numbers of milkers this Autumn and another jump in Spring so we need to be ready. We recently installed a new larger vat and cooling system to cope with the expected increase in herd size. The main lane-way has been extended and is now close to 1 km long. New drinking troughs have been installed so the girls don’t have to walk too far for a drink.

Day by day

The day starts around 6 – 6:30 when we go out to get the cows. Milking usually starts around 7 am. In the afternoon we go out for the cows at around 3 pm on a normal day but later if its hot so its more comfortable for the girls. Feeding out is done in the paddocks if its dry but we also use our concrete feed pad.

After breakfast the young calves have to be fed. They get grain and sometimes silage or hay in their paddocks. The rest of the time in between is spent on all those extras like book-work, repairing fences and machinery, working on major projects and shopping for supplies. We regularly bring calves and heifers up to the dairy yards to attend to any health issues.

 

Cows grazing on our farm.

Here are some of the girls hard at work making milk! We move them around so that they only spend around 1 day in each paddock. There are around 30 paddocks in rotation. The herd is a mixture of Friesians, Jerseys and some crosses between the two. In our AI program we have introduced some Scandinavian Red and Aussie Red breeds.

 

Farm dam water filter – the results are in!

Saturday, March 11th, 2017

On our farm we require good quality water for jobs like cleaning in the dairy. We built a water filter that would be capable of treating a large volume of dam water so that it could be used to top up our rain water tank through dry periods. The design can be seen Low tech farm dam water filter.

In a slow media filter water passes slowly down through a filter medium. In our filter we used rockwool. The rockwool acts as a trap for sediment. Over time a layer of micro-organisms, mainly bacteria, builds up on top of the media. These trap and digest organic contaminants in the water. So it is a type of biological filter. Slow media filters have a simple design and have been used in many places mainly as a cheap and easy to make filter to improve drinking water. Studies have shown that they are effective in reducing turbidity and reducing bacteria and organic matter contamination in water.

A new filter needs to have water run through it for some time to condition the filter. This allows the biofilm to develop and for the filter to become effective.

Test results:

At the time of testing the dam water entering the filter was of reasonable quality. The turbidity was slightly elevated and fresh organic matter was in the low to moderate range. Coliform bacteria and total aerobic bacteria levels were elevated.

We tested before filter and after filter samples starting from day 2 after the filter was started. The tests were for coliform bacteria, total aerobic bacteria, turbidity, humic material by UV absorption and fresh or readily degradable organic matter by permanganate oxidation. Humic materials often give water from dams or creeks pale yellow or brown colours.

On day 2 before and after coliform and total aerobic bacteria counts were high and showed very little difference.

After operating for 8 days, filtered samples showed a 68% reduction in coliform bacteria.

After 18 days there was a 96% reduction in coliforms and 50% reduction in total aerobic bacteria.

At day 20 there was a 21% reduction in turbidity, 44% reduction in fresh organic matter and 15% reduction in UV absorbance.

Coliform bacteria are a large group of bacteria that are naturally present in water and soils. The group also includes some species that can cause illness. Therefore they are often used as indicators of water quality with higher than normal levels indicating possible contamination.

Slow media filter supplying water on a dairy farm

A slow media filter made from 2 x 200 L barrels on a dairy farm. The filter treats over 1000 L of dam water each day which is then used to top up a rainwater tank.

Maintenance: Our filter has now run for 6 weeks without any problems. We expect that at some later time the biofilm may build up and perhaps restrict the flow of water. There is a drain plug installed just above the biofilm layer which will allow some of the biofilm to be removed.

How the idea can be extended: If more filtered water is required then another filter with its own float valve and connection to the source water could be added. Both could then feed into the one collection barrel. A slow media filter could also be used to maintain the quality of water in a tank. In this case the filter would continuously take water from the tank, treat it then put the water back into the tank. The same type of filter could be installed in a gravity fed farm water supply. If the source water can be fed in by gravity and the treated water can be run off to below the filter then no pressurised water or pumps are needed.

A slow media filter is a low cost and low tech but effective way to improve the quality of surface water such as creek and dam water on farms.

Our new farm

Tuesday, December 8th, 2015

After a lot of searching we finally found a new home for our calves, 173 acres in Ranceby in South Gippsland.

 

Feeding cows

Feeding out hay to the milkers in the first Winter. This is not ideal especially under wet conditions.

 

The previous owners Robin and Deb McKinnon were very helpful in showing us their production figures, explaining how the farm worked and then allowing us to move some machinery and cows early.

There are some steep paddocks but most is gently undulating. About 2/3 of the farm is accessible with a tractor. We ran production and financial models on the farm and the figures showed that it was viable.

The Strzeleckis were originally under the sea so the soil is derived from sediments. It is a gray coloured loam with poor structure. When its dry weather the soil is dusty and when it rains it turns to mud.

Our family shares the farm jobs which spreads the load and makes it manageable.

We bought the existing herd and have bought in new milkers. As at December 2015 we still have 20% of the herd yet to calve. This should bring the total cows in the vat to around 95. We were aiming for 110 cows but it seems that the existing cows are doing better than anticipated so that has made up some of the difference.

Moving yearlings back to their paddock

Moving our wandering yearlings back to their home paddock. The farm has extensive shelterbelts of Southern Blue Gums. There are also many of the now uncommon Strzelecki Gums on the property.