A horror season has severely tested the resilience of the last surviving family dairy in the Harden district in southern inland NSW.
“Looking back, we’ve achieved a lot in the space of 12 months,” said Jason.
“It’s been a big investment to scale up our enterprise and with things now coming together we will soon have 500 milkers producing over three million litres between the two farms.
“We were hopeful for an industry bounce when we started on our expansion course, but unfortunately prices have plateaued and we are still waiting,” Jason said.
Jason left school in 1995 and started work on the farm, then on to partnership with Jason’s father from 2008 and took over the family holding in 2012 at Imbil in the Sunshine Coast hinterland, which was initially cleared for dairying by his grandparents Harry and Jess who purchased the property in 1946.
The property on Yabba Creek, a tributary of the Mary River, will soon be milking 300 cows, with Jason’sfather Gary still actively involved in the enterprise.
The opportunity arose to purchase the second property about 10 km away within the footprint of the ill-fated Queensland Government’s Traveston Dam project.
“It had been run as a beef enterprise for many years, so we had to pretty much start from scratch with fencing, stock watering and irrigation systems and pasture renovation.”
A new herringbone dairy and yard facilities with automatic cup removers to facilitate one-person milking were completed to start in June.
“We bred 200 heifers in batch calvings over the space of three months for the new dairy with another 57 calved in August-September and another 67 calved at Christmas.”
Their dairy herd has a strong infusion of Brown Swiss which have been impressive performers since the first bull was introduced about 15 years ago.
“We’ve been breeding Brown Swiss fairly extensively for a good while now using bulls, artificial insemination and embryo transfers from top Australian, European and US bloodlines,” Jason said.
“We’ve reared every heifer born in the last 10 years, initially to upgrade and expand our own herds
The Beez Neez Brown Swiss stud was established about five years ago and they now enjoy strong local demand for both heifers and bulls.
“It’s been a great experience, but we still have a long way to go.
“The Brown Swiss have great heat tolerance, strong feet and legs to cope well in the wet and are very good calvers.
“They are cost effective milk producers with good components. Our averages are around 3.7% protein and 4.7% fat,” Jason said.
He has been very pleased with the results of a change in enterprise feeding focus from partial mixed ration to pasture with a bail-fed grain-based ration in both dairies.
A high-capacity automated mill can turn out multiple formulations of precision batched-weighed feed.
With the installation of grain silos they now enjoy the consistency of forward ordering wheat and barley for bulk deliveries.
Grain ration mix is bale-fed at the rate of 8 kilos a day split between morning and evening milking.
Canola meal can be blended in varying quantities to balance protein according to seasonal conditions.
“We can dial down to minute quantities during winter and crank it up to compensate for the lower feed value of summer kikuyu grazing,” he said.
The new milling and mixing system commissioned in May can produce a batch of 1500 kilos of precision blend feed in around 45 minutes.
“It’s been really good – the best thing I’ve done,” Jason said.
“You can blend to exact requirements and we make different rations for heifers, springers and calves.”
A feed additive Betain sourced from Trouw Nutritional International has proved very successful in helping combat milk fluctuations triggered by hot weather.
“We use it during the summers when a stretch of hot weather can badly affect production. Daily production can suffer by hundreds of litres during a heat event. It can really knock cows about, especially towards the end of their lactation.”
“It’s an expensive additive, but well worth strategic use to keep production on a more even keel,” Jason said.
Their pasture feeding is based on kikuyu summer grazing with annual ryegrass with a mix of chicory and plantain. Some lucerne provides end of winter – early spring feeding, but feeding needs to be carefully managed to avoid bloat issues.
The rye mix planted around March provides quality grazing through to the end of October. Cultivation with a disc and power harrow has proved most successful in getting fast crop establishment for early grazing.
This year Jason tried an application of chicken manure applied at a rate of about 15 cubic metres a hectare and worked in before planting.
“It replaced our normal pre-plant fertiliser and seems to have made a real difference. We’ve been very pleased with the result,” he said.
The family has successfully used two centre pivot irrigators on the home farm for several years. Each covers about 25 hectares.
“They provide fast, precision watering on undulating country. We use a lot less irrigation in winter, just enough to water the fertiliser in with applications stepped up during the hot summer months.’’
A pivot irrigator was customised for their second property, covering about 60 hectares in a half circle. The variable speed irrigator has nine spans with the last three hinged to wrap around an electricity pylon. An end gun fills in variations around the boundary.
“We made up wire pushers so the wheels can traverse over electric fences.”
“It’s been a brilliant set up for really efficient watering of our farming flats,” Jason said.
The family farm consigns its milk to Parmalat in Brisbane, but their new dairy supplies expanding hinterland processor Maleny Milk.
“We are still hoping for an improvement in milk prices, but at least with this arrangement we have spread our options with a local business supplying quality branded milk,” Jason said.