Spending $2.7million to build a new dairy is part of a rolling upgrade and improvement plan for VAN Dairy Group, located at Cape Grim, Tasmania. Improving infrastructure is among a suite of management objectives to increase production and efficiencies among the 25 dairy farms on the 19,000-hectare Woolnorth Station.
Upgrade works began in 2010 under the previous ownership -- the investment arm of New Plymouth District Council -- and continue under the new proprietor, previously Moon Lake Investments, now known as VAN Dairy Group.
"The previous builds have been very time constrained," acting general manager Hugo Avery said. "We didn't want to be time constrained with this one."
'This one' refers to The Gums, the only 100 per cent spring-calving dairy on Woolnorth. The farm receives significant winter rainfall and the dairy sits on low land, as much of the Woolnorth property does.
The first decisions to be made were about whether to do a new build or a rebuild. Mr Avery said it was an obvious decision to go for a new build.
"We get a lot of coastal weather, an environment that is quite harsh and rusts galvanised steel," he said.
"This dairy was all gal steel. A new build would also make the dairy more central on Woolnorth.
"It was a major part of why the old 50-bail rotary dairy was replaced," he said. "The Gums is one of a number of dairies nearly past their use-by date.
"It's also a very wet property during winter, so we took some of the dry herd off for six weeks to alleviate pasture pressure."
Choosing a greenfield site enabled Woolnorth to bring 75 hectares into operation that was not previously part of a dairy farm. The greenfield site meant the new dairy platform could be built without needing to compromise the existing dairy nor interfere with work practice in its shed.
The $2.7 million cost included a 60-bail rotary dairy, three new silos, new effluent management infrastructure, tanks for washdown, constructing the entrance and exit laneways and yards, as well as an onsite cattle crush and an integrated automated dairy system.
The new shed and dairy build began in November.
"We re-used as much of the previous plant as possible on other farms," Mr Avery said.
Woolnorth's project manager Ben Davis managed the overall construction and liaised with tenderers and tradespeople and made the job relatively straightforward.
"It's now 80 days since commissioning and the herd was calved down at the new dairy," Mr Avery said.
From milking 1030 cows and producing 446,744 kilograms milk solids in the 2017 calendar year, The Gums is on track to produce the budgeted 471,538kg MS from 1050 cows this year.
The new platform is operable by one person, but Mr Avery said the herd is milked as two herds, as part of a company occupational health and safety policy.
"It's a one-person milking platform, but we try to change the milker part-way," he said. "It saves people's hands from getting strain injuries.
"It can be up to two people in the dairy at once. One might be an AI technician and another is milking."
Herd size is expected to increase at The Gums as the additional 75ha improves and boundary realignments occur to enable better pasture management and cow flow.
Mr Avery said The Gums had the potential to grow to a milking herd of 1400 cows.
[crosshead]Building the new dairy
[noindentpar]The tender for constructing the new dairy was awarded to DaviesWay, Warragul, Victoria. Mr Avery said the service capabilities of the organisation providing the plant and price was critical in choosing the successful tenderer.
"We looked at what technical support they could offer us," he said. "We also looked at what was working already for us.
"We wanted to recruit technologies that potentially could be used on our other farms."
That technology included herd-management software, automatic-drafting gates and the potential ability to record cell count testing, fat and protein.
DaviesWay project manager Nico Polato said DaviesWay assumed responsibility for the entire project, which excluded the new effluent system. While the client -- VAN Dairy Group -- had a clear idea of what the new dairy should incorporate, there was room for collaboration.
"We suggested the Halo monitoring system and they were receptive," Mr Polato said.
Developed in New Zealand, the Halo system monitors the milk along the line and into the vat and enables the farm manager to receive SMS alerts remotely.
"For example, the farm manager receives an SMS if the line is not connected to the vat," Mr Polato said.
"The system monitors if the milk vat is turned off when it should be turned on and it's able to measure the milk volume for each cow."
Mr Avery said the Halo system, networked into Woolnorth's business management technology, enabled workflow in the dairy to be monitored remotely.
It was one of only a few items of the build that were not either constructed in Tasmania or on mainland Australia. Mr Polato said most labour and trade skills contracted to the build were recruited within Tasmania.
The entire project was managed and tracked through a Gantt chart, which Mr Polato said ensured the entire team -- owners, managers and contractors -- were informed and collaborating on the timing of work throughout the five-month build.
"The project was delivered on time and on budget," he said.
A geological study and soil compaction tests were undertaken before earthworks. A quarry on Woolnorth provided soil for earthworks on The Gums site.
"We moved about 7000 cubic metres of soil onto The Gums, for the new dairy and to construct laneways," Mr Polato said.
Footings were poured as part of site preparation.
The superstructure of the dairy shed was manufactured by Bison Constructions, Scottsdale, Tasmania.
The shed stands four metres high underneath the gutter, and all the frame, wall panels and roof are hot-dipped galvanised steel, to offset the influence of coastal air.
Concrete tilt panel walls were also manufactured by Bison. The 2.4m high panel walls and the shed were assembled onsite by Bison, using cranes.
As well as the dairy platform, a building with farm office, showers and a bathroom was also constructed within the shed.
A heavy 60-bail rotary milking platform was manufactured by Yarroweyah Engineering, Yarroweyah, Victoria, and assembled on site at The Gums.
Yarroweyah Engineering operations manager Adam Hargreaves said the deck was packed as a kit and shipped to Tasmania. The firm had already installed similar platforms at other Woolnorth dairies.
"This design also works with gear that DaviesWay use," Mr Hargreaves said.
"We make everything at Yarroweyah in kit form, acid clean and wash it, then load it into a carrier to transport."
Assembly was in two parts. The hot-dipped galvanised steel undercarriage was assembled, the bails erected and the cement poured to hold everything secure.
After curing, the stainless steel upper deck was assembled across a second week of work.
"That's when the milk equipment fittings occur, then it's finished off with the entrance and exit gates and backing kick rails," Mr Hargreaves said.
A cattle crush, stockyards and automatic gates were incorporated in the build, to enable seamless workflow among the cows.
Milking equipment was manufactured in stainless steel by DaviesWay at Warragul, Victoria, and transported to The Gums to be installed.
"We provided milk harvesting equipment, a fully automated feeding system and dairy automation systems that were 75 per cent Australian built," Mr Polato said.
"Some supporting components were manufactured in Europe and North America."
Automatic cup removers, weighing, drafting and herd identification are all part of the dairy automation system. The feed system enables lead feeding as well as three different feed types to be apportioned.
"The plant is engineered to operate 22 hours a day, if needed, milking 1200 cows," Mr Polato said.
DaviesWay designed a unique system to enable veterinarians and artificial insemination technicians to safely interact with the cows during milking.
"It's a system we've developed for other dairies and we've installed on another Woolnorth farm," Mr Polato said.
"A permanent veterinary stand was included on the exit race platform and winch-operated platforms operate at each gate."
A glycol system was installed to cool the milk and pre-heat water for the dairy.
Three, 53 cubic metre steel silos were erected for storing grain and pellets.
Local contractors installed the effluent spreading system. Mr Avery said the effluent tank was manufactured in New Zealand.
"The effluent goes through a sump with a vibrating screen to get rid of solids," he said.
"The green water is utilised for washdown and surplus water is used to irrigate 100 hectares through a travelling irrigator."
DaviesWay staff led the post-construction familiarisation.
"After the dairy was commissioned, we trained the management and staff in how to use the equipment and assisted at six milkings to ensure the system works for the cows and the operators," Mr Polato said.
DaviesWay provided manuals and laminated wall charts detailing standard operating procedures.
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