Allora, Qld, brothers Andrew and Chris Mullins have been operating as a dairy partnership for nine years and during this time they have focused intensively on how they manage their forage base and feeding systems.
The brothers have grown crops themselves as well as establishing partnerships with local forage growers. For the past three years they have grown and fed soybean for silage, and this year, they also have embarked on growing and ensiling wheat headlage.
Andrew said that they have gradually increased the forage levels in their cow’s diets throughout the dry years and high forage feeding was now a standard practice. The high forage system was working well with feed budgeting an important and crucial part of the system.
Knowing what the cows would eat, what had been grown and what to buy were crucial to get through the year.
The latest home-grown forage addition the brothers are taking is wheat headlage. Andrew is optimistic about the cost effectiveness of the crop compared with grain alternatives.
“It’s a trial for us this year," he said. "Our grain silos were full so we thought we would give headlage a go. There is no reason why it won’t be cost effective, anything home-grown well is going to compete with purchased grain.”
The wheat headlage presents a home-grown starch source and spreads the operational risks so the business does not rely only on corn. Andrew said he had a preference to grow wheat as opposed to other cereals such as barley as it suited his system and he’s found the wheat doesn’t lodge as readily.
The other benefit of headlage is the expected increased digestibility over cracked grain.
Andrew has grown and fed winter cereal crops for many years but a few years ago was looking for something for summer.
"After seeing a soybean crop at the Gatton Research Dairy, I thought it would be a good summer protein option for me,” Andrew said.
Three years on and Andrew has made soybean a staple summer silage option. There are some critical elements to ensure an excellent soybean silage, including harvesting at the right pod stage and moisture content (35 per cent dry matter) and using a swather. Swathing is preferred to raking to avoid soil getting into the silage.
"Once the plant is established it is pretty tough, but getting that plant established in a dryland situation can be a bit tricky," he said. "Last year we had a heat wave right at flowering and that paddock didn’t set any pods, but that is something out of our control.”
Variety selection in soybean silage is important and Hayman was chosen as it has performed well in Southern Queensland. Being bred as a forage variety, it’s a taller plant that presents a longer harvest window, about two weeks, than some of the other varieties. Other grain varietiess they have tried didn’t stand up as well as the Hayman and was harder to manage. For them the Hayman has performed considerably better.
“It’s a good source of digestible fibre in the diet and also seems to have a benefit in milk component levels for fat and protein,” Andrew said.
The soybean silage has tested at 19-22 per cent crude protein, reducing the reliance on purchased protein meals for the Mullinses.
“It’s definitely reduced the amount of protein meals we feed, in fact it’s probably halved it," Andrew said. "Last year we were blessed with a good season and we have piles of soybean silage in the bunkers.
"So as long as the seasons and other factors align we will continue to grow and feed soybean silage as part of the cow’s diet.”
On the Mullins farm, the nutritional and financial benefits of a high forage system have been positive. “That was the main reason for going for the high forage, trying to grow high protein forages, as it’s reduced the costs of bought-in by-products,” Andrew said. When questioned whether he thought this type of high forage system could be applicable to other farms in the wider subtropical dairy region Andrew said: “We’ve found it’s best for us not just for the dry years but for the wet years as well. We’ve been able to budget both what we’ve got and what we need and we’ve been able to feed them the same ration day in and day out no matter what the weather is doing.”
The DAF C4Milk will be holding a field day at Andrew and Chris Mullinses’ dairy on November 22 to discuss the recently harvested wheat headlage and the effectiveness of soybean silage on their farm. This will tie in with results from the High Milk from Forage project the C4Milk team have been undertaking at the Gatton Research Dairy.
A field day looking at soybean silage will be held at the Ledger Dairy Farm at Carters Ridge on the NSW North Coast on November 24.
To RSVP (by November 21) to either event, contact Jo Gormann, mobile 0402 515 564 or Ross Warren, 0418 749 340.