Making more money out of dairy in these difficult times often involves a smarter approach to management, not necessarily harder work.
Fourth-generation Macleay Valley, NSW, dairyfarmer Phillip Hand and his wife Kate, Yarravell via Kempsey, have increased milk production through on-farm practice by taking advantage of a number of advisory programs.
Fert$mart, run by Dairy Australia delivered better utilisation of nutrition by first explaining the varied soil types on their farm, which runs from alluvial flats to hill country.
Dairy Australia’s Feeding Pastures for Profit program, run by Victorian consultant Phil Shannon has also proved practical.
“In the past, every year, we spread urea and super, two bags to the acre,” said Mr Hand.
“Our soil test showed we were overloaded with phosphate and lacked correct pH, not an unusual thing among farms around here.”
Taree, NSW, agronomist Matt Thompson advised a custom blend of fertilisers including sulphate of potash and chicken manure with lime and dolomite to unlock available phosphorus.
The result was a 30 per cent increase in production out of their 160 Brown Swiss cows over three years with milk yield rising by 50 per cent, simply by getting more out of their pasture.
“It wasn’t just the increased availability of phosphorus,” said Mr Hand.
“It was the better balance of micro and macro nutrients.”
The addition of supplementary cereal hay has also helped boost butterfat content compared with cows fed solely on grass and grain.
“It’s a balancing act,” Mr Hand said.
“Cows fed on grain get a build-up of acidosis whereas the cereal hay helps reduce that.”
Kate, an accountant by training with successful small business experience, has brought finance skills to the farm along with a keen eye for culling poor producing cows and sourced business analysis programs through Dairy Australia.
“Reconciliation is everything,” she said.
“Learning new skills through workshops is so important. A farmer’s wife can go to these courses while the husband stays on farm as long as there is good communication between them.”
The Hands are culling more older cows now and as a result their younger herd, combined with better on-farm practice, now produces on average 3.3 per cent protein and 3.7 per cent fat.
Growing pasture for optimum return was adopted by the Hand family with greater rotation making better use of grasses that used to be allowed to mature beyond their best.
Summer kikuyu, for instance, is now grazed at the fourth or fifth leaf usually two and a half weeks after the last grazing by their Brown Swiss dairy herd.
Through Phil Shannon’s Feeding Pastures for Profit program the Hand family also learned to leave a residual after grazing rye at optimum heights – above 75mm or three=leaf stage.
“If you graze under that height regrowth will take six weeks instead of three,” Mr Hand said.
Mrs Hand, who married into the 112-year-old enterprise, said the new farm routine had been about changing a lot of little things.
"All bases were covered to get an overall outcome," she said.
"Being new to this industry I was interested in investing in consultants and this is paying off.”
For the first time this summer the Hands have grown soybeans, planting Hayman in January with the intention of baling the crop for silage.
With no pre-emergent herbicide applied prior to sowing, weeds like crows foot and Red Amaranth have been an expensive problem to control in their new paddock.
Control involved herbicides along with an application of biological insecticide ViVus Max for the control of Helicoverpa larvae and the crop now looks healthy.
Nevertheless the summer was a dry one and Mr Hand has been disappointed with the crop when he compares it with previous planting’s of Black Stallion cowpeas, which they grazed twice before ploughing back into the soil as a conditioner.
The success with that legume over soy may convince the Hands to go back to that rotation. Although a friend planted soy two months earlier and experienced better success.