It costs not to herd test

10 Oct, 2018 04:00 AM
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Leanne and Guy Gallatly with Jo DeMoel, from herd testing company HICO.
The figures don’t lie, but if you don’t have the figures you don’t really know.
Leanne and Guy Gallatly with Jo DeMoel, from herd testing company HICO.

Gippsland dairyfarmers, Guy and Leanne Gallatly, have a clear goal with herd testing - they want information on their cows so they can make better management decisions.

"Herd testing is a tool I need," Guy Gallatly said. "It helps me identify animals to cull for mastitis or production; and lets me assess the performance of our younger stock and refine our breeding program by making it easy to monitor the improvements in our production index with each new group of young cows coming into the herd.

"It does involve a cost but there is cost in having cows with subclinical mastitis; or feeding cows in the bale that aren't producing.

"You can think you know what your cows are doing, but you don't really know unless you have their herd test results."

ImProving Herds Focus Farm

The Gallatly farm was one of seven ImProving Herds Focus Farms in the 2015/16 season. The ImProving Herds project set out to demonstrate how herd test data could be used for improved farm decision making by following how each farm used their herd-test information.

Mr Gallatly said their experience with herd testing clearly showed that a cow's production or cell counts couldn't be assessed by just observing the animal in the dairy.

"It certainly showed up some of the higher producing animals weren't the ones that I thought they'd be - it's the same with milk quality," he said.

"The figures don't lie, but if you don't have the figures you don't really know."

The Gallatly family have used herd testing ever since they started dairyfarming and became involved because they wanted to have figures on every cow in the herd.

"We've moved farms a couple of times - and have had milked herds ranging from 170 to 340 cows," Mr Gallatly said.

"We were originally sharefarming when we started herd testing, so we knew what the cows were doing.

"When we decided to buy a buy a small farm where we could milk 170-180 cows, we sold off a number of cows and decided, which cows to sell based primarily on calving dates as well as herd tests figures.

"Unfortunately, the move to our own farm coincided with a fall in the milk price so we dropped out of herd testing because we needed to reduce our costs and after four years we sold the small farm and moved onto the 102ha farm we currently lease."

The current farm has a 44-unit rotary and is on the Macalister River allowing for 100 per cent irrigated pastures under sprays, a centre pivot and flood irrigation.

The farm is home to 310 milkers and is supplemented by two other blocks, which the Gallatlys own - a 16ha fodder block and a 54ha block that is used for fodder production and growing out young stock.

"Our rule of thumb is that we need three bales of silage per cow, so we aim to produce around 1000 bales of silage a year," Mr Gallatly said.

"We also feed 4kg in grain in the dairy all year round; it's a no-fuss system and it takes 45 minutes to milk 230 cows at the moment.

"The move to the current farm five years ago meant we needed to increase our herd size and we did this by leasing an extra 30 cows and not culling as heavily.

"It created a few challenges with reintroducing herd testing because we weren't in the position to cull cows, but we were keen to restart herd testing once our we reached our target herd size. Becoming an ImProving Herds Focus Farm was perfect timing."

Each ImProving Herds Focus Farm was given six free herd tests as well as support in interpreting the results.

Herd testing

Normal milking on the rotary involves two staff - with Mr Gallatly working at cups on and another staff member at cups off. On herd testing days, the herd test technician stands just along from Mr Gallatly, which means they are not in the way but can readily talk to Mr Gallatly if they have any questions.

The Gallatlys use freeze branding for individual cow identification. The brands are clearly identifiable when the cows are in the dairy and are used for the herd-test recording.

One of the drawbacks of herd testing is the time taken to set up dairy before milking and then dismantle after milking, according to Mr Gallatly.

"Setting up can be a bit of a pain because it's another job you have to do," he said.

"It takes about an hour to set everything up on the rotary before milking and then about 20 minutes to dismantle everything after the automatic wash cycle."

For more information, contact DataGene, phone (03) 9032 7191 or email abv@datagene.com.au.

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