EXPANDING their effluent irrigation system was a “no brainer” for Mark and Nikki Atkins.
The Beatties have won a $12,000 international study tour after being named the dairy industry’s Virbac Proud Achievers for 2010.
The awards aim to recognise and reward farmers who strive to improve the health and productivity of their livestock through better animal health practices and to share success stories of the best fertility, growth and health management strategies.
For Phil and Lis, good animal health is good business.
“The improvements we made have resulted in huge difference to our business,” Lis says.
“We are getting more milk and higher quality milk.”
The Beatties have introduced a system of teat sealing every cow at drying off, which they believe has led to the big improvement in mastitis.
“We also teat seal heifers before calving,” Phil says.
“We calculate we’ve had a 41% reduction in mastitis, even though it wasn’t too bad in the first place. It has made a huge difference to us... we get better milk price, more milk and our cell counts went right down.”
The mastitis improvements are the latest developments on the Beatties’ property at Bushy Park, near Hobart, which they purchased when they came to Australia from England in 2002 and converted from a dryland sheep operation into dairying.
“We were keen to move out of England due to a combination of lousy milk price, foot and mouth disease and the general feeling in the community that farmers were spongers because of EEC subsidies, even though that wasn’t the case for dairying,” Lis says.
Phil had completed a year of practical farming in Australia and New Zealand before going to university, and both he and Lis had worked on farms “down under”.
After seven visits to Australia in search of a suitable farm, they finally settled on a 900ha property at Bushy Park.
“We looked at other states but Victoria was too much of a change from what we knew. Tasmania was less unlike England than the other options,” Phil says.
“We wanted somewhere close to Hobart, not too isolated, and with a large enough irrigation water right,” Lis adds.
Their Styx River Farm has served them well since that time. “It has been a steep learning curve, and we’re still learning,” Phil says.
“We had never had anything to do with irrigation before so we had to start that from scratch. We’ve learnt that it’s easy to over-irrigate, it’s still difficult to get the amount right.”
Of the farm’s 900ha, 200ha remains as native bush. About 360ha are irrigated and the Beatties milk around 900 cows as a rolling average, with support from three milkers and an assistant manager.
They are now enjoying the spoils of their hard work, their initiative and a good season. “We’ve had a good winter and spring, but it was a bit cold over December and January. Still I went for three months without complaining about the weather... that’s not bad for a farmer,” Phil says.
The Beatties have also developed an effective calf-rearing system which has substantially lowered their calf mortality rate.
“We do it differently to what we did in the UK,” Lis says. “We have the shelters close to the dairy, small pens to hold four calves and run out paddocks at each end.
“We feed them three or four litres of colostrum according to size within six hours and are very strict about cleanliness.”
The calves are allowed time to run around in their little paddocks.
“We find the exercise is good for them,” Lis says.
Phil adds that calving through January and February has also worked well for the property.
Phil and Lis are constantly striving to find ways to further improve their farm and will use their study tour to investigate new options for their enterprise, including ways to continue improving their herd and adding value to their milk.
The couple will travel to England and France on the first part of their award and to Chile, New Zealand and Argentina later in the year.
“We realise how important the health of our cattle is to the success of the farm,” Lis says.
In the UK they plan to look at farms that make their own cheese and ice cream and in France they will visit research dairies.
“We hosted two French students for six months last year and would like to see more of the research they are doing in their agricultural colleges,” Lis says.
They hope to use the second trip to find out more about growing maize and seeing how farms operate in similar climates to Tasmania.
The other dairy finalists for the award were Victor Rodwell from Boyonup, Western Australia, and Trevor Garrett from Coorabell, NSW. They each received $1500 worth of Virbac products. Awards were also presented for sheep and beef enterprises.