With 750 cows being milked now, growing to more than 1000 by the end of calving, sourcing hay and fodder is a constant and expensive exercise for Maffra, Vic, dairyfarmer Justin Johnston.
Mr Johnston, who operates the family farm in East Gippsland with parents Robert and Lynette, said the 440-hectare farm was carrying around 1700 cattle including all heifers, dry stock and milkers.
The milking herd alone was chewing through 10 kilograms per cow of hay – nearly 50 tonnes of hay a week – 5kg of grain every day and a little bit of grass.
With virtually no rain recorded since September 2017, access to hay was a priority and limited by competition from local drought-affected areas as well as areas interstate.
A load of 62 large square bales delivered recently lasted just three days.
Mr Johnston said hay was sourced from three avenues and came mostly from the west and southwest of the state.
Good quality hay before Christmas was $190-$220/tonne delivered on farm but new orders a month ago was $280-$300/tonne delivered and now was $360-$380.
Vetch hay, if available, had gone from $280-$300/tonne to $450/tonne plus, he said.
He said hay supplies were tight from now on and new season’s oaten hay was expected to start in the mid $300s/tonne.
“We had 25 loads of hay locked in but we’ve only got one left,” he said.
He said he was still seeking around 500 bales to take him through to the end of September.
The drought meant young cattle needed more hay because of a lack of feed in the paddocks.
The region has received virtually no rain since December 2017.
Mr Johnston said the cows were on a pasture-based system with crushed wheat fed in the dairy and hay fed in the paddocks.
Hay plays a big role in the nutrition of the herd in the form of high protein hays as well as wheaten and oaten hay to inject more fibre into the ration.
The current supply of oaten hay was good quality showing protein of 12 per cent, 10 megajoules of metabolisable energy (ME) per kilogram of dry matter and neutral detergent fibre (NDF) of 48.2 percent.
He said it was a case of chasing outside feed all the time with the herd size and with dry stock also going through the dairy to keep them going.
“The country normally used for dry cows is all north of the Avon River, and there hasn’t been any grass growth in that area for months,” he said.
“There have been no cattle on those paddocks for two months and there is still nothing there.
“We’re waiting for spring rains to kick it off.”
The farm has access to irrigation water from Lake Glenmaggie and currently has an 85 per cent allocation.
Mr Johnston said he had watered 320ha already. Normally he wouldn’t start until September because it was normally too wet.
“If you irrigate early you can get caught out with a bit of rain and all of a sudden you’re super wet," he said.
"I call it a green drought – there’s a green tinge to it but no growth.”
Mr Johnston said he was waiting for milk prices to rise a bit more so he could sell milkers over the next six to 12 months.
“I want to be more self-sufficient in fodder and not so reliant on outside sources.”