Rick Blackshaw was rightly proud of his oats crop, as he let his dairy herd into the paddock for their first grazing at the end of April last year.
In late February 2016, he sowed seven hectares down to Wintaroo oats and Enforcer ryegrass, at a rate of 75 kilograms a hectare.
Pre-sowing preparation included irrigation from the effluent pond in autumn 2015; then the soil was disc-cultivated and sprayed with herbicide before sowing.
Rain fell a week after sowing with 38 millimetres on March 11.
"That really started to kick our autumn into gear," said Mr Blackshaw, who has a dryland dairy farm at Romawi, just outside Bairnsdale, Victoria.
Regular rainfall after sowing contributed to the finished height of the oats being thigh-high (on a man) in April and the dairy herd going on to graze two weeks earlier than expected.
"We had rain of 46mm over three days in mid-March, then weekly we
had 9mm, 17mm and 12mm," Mr Blackshaw said.
"I didn't irrigate after the hot February (2016)."
He sowed a second paddock of 10ha in March, also to Wintaroo oats and Enforcer ryegrass.
His initial expectations were to graze these crops twice before resting for spring harvest.
At the beginning of last year, Rick and Tracey Blackshaw, with his parents Dennis and Maureen, and three full-time workers, were milking 480 Friesian cows in a split-calving herd, through a 50-stand rotary
Then the Devondale-Murray Goulburn situation occurred and the oats crop became a shining light in an otherwise challenging year; mostly because of the season.
"Mother Nature was so kind to us last year," Rick Blackshaw said at the start of February 2017.
He sowed the oats crop based on agronomy advice that it was "a good mix, relatively cheap and promised good results."
Although National Variety Trial results rated Wintaroo as susceptible to rust (see Table 1 previous page), Mr Blackshaw said he had no problems with rust or insect damage through the year.
He was also pleased with the production returns on the crop, measuring increased milk in the vat when the cows grazed it.
The first sowing, into 7ha, yielded four grazing periods for the milking herd, before Mr Blackshaw followed with autumn-calving heifers.
"They grubbed it out pretty well and it sat fallow through summer," he said.
"After grazing oats, on one occasion the vat rose 226 litres, so an increase of approximately 0.5 litres/cow. The oats-ryegrass crop was a great winter production booster."
The second paddock sown, 10ha, was grazed four times by milkers before being locked up, potentially for hay. Contractors harvested 84 round bales of oaten hay in
"Unfortunately, by harvest time we were down two workers and, even though we're geared to do everything ourselves, I had to bring in contractors," Mr Blackshaw said.
"It was a good decision. They harvested in the mid to the third week of October, at a time when the
pressure was on us in other areas of the farm.
"It meant they were just focused on doing that and completing that task while the weather was
"I was hesitant at first and, although it cost a little more than doing it ourselves, I'll be doing it again.
"When I finally had time to do the job, it was the last two days and I helped wrap the rolls. It started raining the following week."
National Variety Trials (see Tables 2 and 3 previous pave ) indicate an average dry matter yield on harvested oaten hay, but, when fed out, reasonably high measures of moisture, protein and metabolic energy.
Other changes on farm during the year included culling the herd heavily to take advantage of increased beef prices to offload cows into the chopper market.
"The chopper prices were so good, I made more out of them than a year's milking would have returned
ù at the peak, they returned 256 cents/kilogram. It was a magnificent help," Mr Blackshaw said.
He began 2017 with 438 milkers, with 110 to dry off into the autumn-calving system.
"Normally, there'd be 150-160 milkers for autumn-calving," he said.
While infrastructure plans were put on hold for some months, a third bore was sunk in January on the
farm, which will bring an additional 40.5ha into irrigation
production. Two existing bores irrigate 129.5ha of pasture and 34.5ha of
Initial plans are to increase the amount of oats sown for the coming season.
"I'll sow the same paddocks to Wintaroo and Enforcer," Mr Blackshaw said.
"The lucerne has come to the end of its time, so we'll replace it with the same oats and ryegrass mix, under irrigation, graze it then sow a millet crop for summer.
Then we'll put in lucerne again for 2018. This year we'll return to our normal business model."