Profitable pasture driven by data

03 Apr, 2018 12:00 PM
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Hans van Wees sees pasture as the basis for his profitable dairy farm.
Our herd focus is breeding resilient cows with fertility, production and profitability.
Hans van Wees sees pasture as the basis for his profitable dairy farm.

DATA driven quality performance indicators are helping Hans and Kerrin van Wees and Jakob Malmo to achieve high production from a pasture-based dairy system in Gippsland, Victoria.

In a 40:60 sharefarm agreement, in the Macalister Irrigation District at Tinamba, the business supplies milk to Fonterra.

The 845 self-replacing spring-calving Friesian-Jersey-Aussie Red three-way cross-bred herd is on target to produce 530kg milk solids (MS) per cow this season, milked twice-a-day.

The 50-rotary dairy servicing the herd is supported by 200 hectares of milking area and 200ha of support country, within 3330ha of flood-irrigated farmland.

A 400 Megalitre (ML) groundwater licence is supported by 1200-1300ML spill entitlement from Glenmaggie Weir and diversion licences for 35ha of country.

A re-use dam ensures 95 per cent of the milking platform uses

recyclable water; and effluent is spread over 100ha of the milking platform, in every second irrigation.

Rainfall averages 650mm.

"Our herd focus is breeding resilient cows with fertility, production and profitability, " he said.

"The production target is 520kgMS, over a 290-day lactation period. This year we're on target to achieve 530kg."

The drying off period is an average of five weeks.

Joining is with Friesian semen using artificial insemination (AI) over six weeks, followed by mop-up Jersey bulls. Only AI stock are kept in the herd.

"We have a waiting list for empty cows. The second preg test is in early April and anything empty then, goes within a couple of days," Mr van Wees said.

"We use New Zealand Friesian semen, because their focus is the

same as ours - single calving herds, so the fertility results are important; and cows that can handle eating a lot of pasture."

Cows successfully joined to mop-up bulls are sold in-calf.

After a dedicated eight-week calving program, all heifer calves and the bigger 40-50 steers are raised. Remaining steers are either sold as calves to a waiting list or euthanised.

"All staff are accredited to euthanise the remaining bobby calves; and they're sent to the knackery to be processed for pet mince," Mr van Wees said.

"Rearing 400-500 extra calves is a huge resource and time issue. So we euthanise the smaller bull calves and the Maffra knackery does a great service."

He said the RSPCA had approved the on-farm facilities. The partners also had a firm policy about downer cows.

"Jakob's farm policy with downer cows is 24 hours treatment; and if not responding they are euthanised," Mr van Wees said.

"There's a few thorny issues in this industry, but we deal with them front-on."

Daily practices also prohibit using electrified backing gates, sticks and poly pipes in the dairy shed.

Laneways throughout the farm ensure easy movement of livestock as well as vehicles. Calves are raised by Kerrin van Wees on an out-block at Newry until they are weaned.

"Birth weight is expected to be 25kg and the calves get their first colostrum from mum," Mr van Wees said.

They are shedded the first four to five days and received four to five litres of milk and 1kg of grain daily, with adlib hay and water.

"At weaning, the Friesian-type heifers are 100kg, cross-breds 90kg and Jerseys 80kg."

At this stage, the heifers become one mob.

Worm egg counts are utilised to dictate drenching and the heifers are weighed every three months.

Pasture cover and growth is measured weekly, with a weekly feed test applied against grass, hay and silage.

The entire farm was mapped using GPS technology and every owner, manager, employee and contractor has that map on their smartphones.

Contractors are used for spraying, silage making, pre-graze topping, fertilising pasture, sowing and AI.

"So pasture data is interlinked with fertility and sowing data," Mr van Wees said.

"It means, for instance, we can order exactly how much fertiliser we need."

In an average year, new pasture species are sown into one-third of the farm - using direct drilling, cultivation and round-up-and-go.

Direct drilling is used 80-85 per cent of the time and follows the cows in March and August.

"It grows 3-4 tonnes of dry matter (DM) and we only need 1tDM to pay for the annual pasture improvement program," Mr van Wees said.

"We use a fair few tetrapoids and red and white clovers. We also throw a fair bit of lime around - on a third of the farm each year."

All additive decisions are based on data from soil tests.

"Soil tests are cheap. In 2016, we did nine soil tests - every block of the farm was done at the same time," Mr van Wees said.

The pasture improvement program was developed from the results of on-farm trials facilitated by Lincoln University, in New Zealand. Mr van Wees was a dairy farmer in NZ before moving to Australia.

"We particularly study the results from on-farm trials involving irrigation farms, like we are," he said.

"We then choose a pasture mix that grows a lot and that cows can eat."

All hay and silage fed to the herd is made on farm. About 1.2t/cow of silage and hay - mostly pasture - is fed annually. A 40ha dryland lucerne crop is grown each year - it is grazed by dry cows in winter and harvested three to four times each season. Oats are direct drilled into the lucerne crop in April/May each year.

Almond hulls are bought-in for late lactating and dry cows.

At the moment, because pasture growth is about 40 per cent reduced because of the poor season, the partners are considering purchasing more almond hulls, grain and good quality silage from other sources, to see the herd through.

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