Steve Hawken looks at the construction of a deep straw compost barn on his Echuca dairy farm as an investment in the future of his business.
The region where the Murray, Campaspe, Loddon and Avoca Rivers and an assortment of creeks congregate, becomes a flooded plain instead of a flood plain.
The abundant rains experienced this late autumn, winter and early spring have caused unprecedented grass growth but also lots of heartache for dairy farmers in Northern Victoria.
Mick Coleman and Tracey Buswell milk their cows on the West bank of the Loddon just out of Kerang.
The first flooding in September did little to harm them, but the subsequent one in October inundated 30% of their home block as well as tanker access roads.
About 80% of their nearby run off block also went under water.
The milking herd and young stock were moved to the neighbour on the other side of the river to be milked in their unused dairy.
“We were overwhelmed by the support from neighbours and friends,” Mick said.
When the cows were moved, they had to travel through the floodwaters and one milking cow got stuck and subsequently died.
Mastitis has also caused anxiety.
Lots of tales and photos on social media have indicated lost gumboots in the mud, bogged motor bikes and tractors as well as feed out wagons.
Paddocks were sacrificed by only leaving cows there and feeding hay and silage, rather that accessing the other parts of the farm.
Pastures that were flooded have certainly suffered but Mick remains optimistic about the remainder of the season.
Frank and Marianne Kelly farm at Tragowel, a few kilometres south of Kerang.
Frank said parts of their hay paddocks were flooded twice by the Nine Mile Creek, an anabranch of the Loddon River.
The second time had a greater effect as there was more water and spread further.
Frank was enthusiastic about the growth on the farm: “It’s is probably the best season we have experienced and the loss of flooded pasture is more than offset by the abundant growth.”
Frank makes pit silage and they will have four pits this year; A lot of tyres to move around.
He said it’s twice the normal or good season, and no irrigation water has been used to date.
The 380 milking cows are producing well and Frank had topped up most of their main laneways this year as it was time to do that anyway.
There has been no worse bad feet problems than usual.
Last winter they had doubled their concrete holding yard as well. It seems all this work was well timed.
Their tanker had to be diverted as water covered their road twice in both September and October.
Frank said he is joining at the moment and the cows are cycling well and are in excellent condition. He is considering watering some of his annual pasture due to the cool conditions.
Our farm at Kerang east was also affected by the Nine Mile Creek.
The depression in our tanker access road and school bus route flooded.
Whilst no flood water affected our farm the abundance of grass growth has been an excellent outcome. I’ve bailed more than double the usual silage on the first cut and no irrigation at this stage.
There are reports of lost production due to wet conditions, but the season so far in the Torrumbarry irrigation region is outstanding for production, cow condition and forage conservation.
Miles and miles of hay and silage in rolls abound in the district and all grown on rainfall without costly irrigation.
Farmers are looking forward to low temporary water prices and good conception rates.
Summer management for feed options will include forage crops or watering existing summer pasture.
The long term weather forecasts are for low November temperatures so some management will also include watering annual pastures for more hay, silage or maybe even grazing and standing dry feed.
Another important strategy for this season will be the management of irrigation resources, possibly eliminating buying temporary water.
Identifying water efficient summer forage crops will be part of that strategy.
The mix of double the normal rainfall for the April to September this season and the cooler growing conditions have provided an abundance of growth for the region.
Whilst other forms of irrigation farming like rice growing may well be wishing for hotter October weather, the dairy farmers are loving this season’s weather.
As Frank Kelly said of the wet conditions in winter and early spring, “it was short term pain for long term gain.”