Koroop is a region in northern Victoria within the triangle formed between Koondrook, Cohuna and Kerang. The soils are black heavy clay that develops large cracks when as they dry out in our summer. The soil maps of this region have named one of the soils Koroop clay. It's a good soil for growing annual pastures and certainly benefits from applications of gypsum.
Bruce and Christine Lindsay farm here about seven kilometres from Kerang. Christine works off farm in a jewellery business at Kerang.
Their farm is bordered by the Pyramid Creek, which is a natural waterway now used and maintained for irrigation. The top soils adjacent to the creek are excellent in some areas and include patches of better red loam.
Bruce, in partnership with his brother Barry, took over running the farm from his father Geoff more than 20 years ago. In 2015 Bruce took over the dairy business, while Barry runs his own enterprise down the road.
The farm runs 300 spring-calving cows and 150 autumn-calving cows, milked in a 60-unit rotary. This was upgraded from the original 30 units in 2001.
The farm employs Bruce and Christine's, son Andrew, and John Corry and two part-timers to assist with milking.
John has been with Bruce for many years and is familiar with the running of the farm. Andrew likes the work and owns and lives on a block just up the road where a lot of the silage is stored and is at times incorporated into the dairy enterprise.
Bruce's attitude to employed labour is that he would not ask a worker to do anything he would not do himself. He is conscious of his obligations, especially the safety aspect of the work and using machinery. Long hours are the norm though, especially when irrigating virtually nonstop for 60 days.
The nature of the enterprise has been much decided by events outside the management's influence. In January 2011, central Victoria received more than 400 millimetres of rain and the resultant floodwaters in the Kerang floodplain district inundated Bruce's and other district farms. The house and dairy were saved with levee banks but the cows were all parked away.
All summer permanent pasture was lost and the decision to not resow was made. Bruce instead decided on all annual pasture.
The farm is 500 hectares with 1050 megalitres water allocation. Hence the decision to harvest and store feed from spring surplus growth and feed this out later in the season.
Quality hay is also bought in. The efficiency lies within the costs and quality of feed grown and bought, harvested and stored, conversion by the cows and ultimately the price received for the milk. The latter is always an issue.
Bruce aims for 650 kilograms of milk solids per cow and will probably achieve that this season. Last year was difficult as the hay season was wet and quality suffered. To offset this, the temporary water price was low at the end of the season and has benefitted the enterprise this year with a good quantity of carryover water obtained.
However, the business is still reliant on the temporary water market and there will still be a need to purchase some extra towards the end of this season.
Irrigation starts February 20 and the sowing mix includes 5kg/ha of millet. Bruce said this millet shades the new annual pasture plants, especially if there is a hot spell. The milkers are budgeted to graze the new green feed at the start of April.
In 2003 Bruce decided to purchase a 20-tonne Schuitenmaker feed wagon. It is towed and operated with a 90 kilowatt Case IH tractor.
Both hay and pit silage is used to make a mixed ration. The grain component is not mixed in the wagon but fed in the milking shed.
The principle of the feeding is to provide an 18 per cent protein grain ration and involves a commercial mix, which is varied and adjusted monthly. The energy requirements vary with the mixer feed available and the stage of lactation. This is guided by the individual cow collars and the computer controlled bail feeding.
"We monitor the feed and quality constantly as it is easy to get carried away and lose sight of the costing," Bruce said. The metabolisable energy, protein and bypass protein levels are considered each month and the aim is to fully feed the cows. The ration is wheat/barley based and lupins, corn and canola oil are used to adjust the energy.
The cows are big and nice dairy types with weights to 800kg. The herd is in good condition and Bruce uses Peter Williams, from Geelong, for his joining strategy. "We need to start reconsidering the breeding strategy as the size of the cows is becoming excessive," Bruce said. "They have trouble fitting on the milking platform.
"When we built the new 60-unit shed, this was the same problem then, the cows had gotten too big for the old platform."
The cows are monitored for production, somatic cell counts and fertility. Herd testing is done every six weeks and cows are culled in priority with in-calf, mastitis and production. Temperament does not play such a big part anymore as the breeding is taking care of that. However, any cow that plays up is sold immediately.
All calves are kept and reared off-farm on Andrew's block and fed milk, hay and grain till weaning. The 100 annual heifer replacements are targeted to be 600kg at calving and prioritised for production and any not big enough are held over until the next joining period.
All heifers are synchronised and joined by artificial insemination to Holsteins with beef bulls picking up the stragglers. The heifers are depastured on turn out blocks or agisted depending on the feed availability. The springers are fed a lead feed and hay ration.
Bruce admits that the feeding area is not ideal. When it is wet the area is moved to sacrifice paddocks, which can be renovated in autumn.
The feed area was initially built up to assist with surface drainage but at times Bruce reckons it is conducive to mastitis problems, especially during wet periods. He has long-term consideration of a better area and surface as well as an upgrade of the feedout wagon.
The last five years has given the enterprise a different perspective without permanent pasture and with irrigation water changes. However, capital costs at this stage are kept to a minimum and the emphasis is to get the processes right and then do the capital improvements.
One excellent investment has been a JCB Agri telehandler. Bruce said this machine was so versatile and capable that he could not imagine the business doing without it. It assists greatly with hay handling and preparing and loading the feed the wagon.
Effluent disposal from the dairy and yards is all diverted to a large ponding area, which is cleaned when required and the solids stored till manageable and then spread widely around the farm. The feedout area is also cleaned by excavator and also distributed around the farm.
Bruce and Christine can be justly proud of their good working farm with careful management of invested capital and emphasis on cow condition, production, feeding and young stock.D