Wet, wintery weather often coincides with busy calving periods and an abundance of young and vulnerable calves. A change in weather can exacerbate the environmental challenge of many calf-scour pathogens, resulting in an increase in morbidity at this time of the year.
The partial mixed ration system has been a mainstay for the high production Holstein herd since the early 1990s, giving the Wheildon family the flexibility they need to cope with seasonal variations.
Mark Wheildon and his wife Deborah operate Good Luck Farms at Lower Cressbrook just outside Toogoolawah. The enterprise started by his father Ken in 1965 has been consolidated from three small dairies to a single 320 hectare unit.
Mark worked away from the farm gaining qualifications as a mechanic, a trade he has found useful since he began dairying full time in 1988.
Their son Brendan has completed his mechanical apprenticeship while now also working part time on the farm as is their daughter Bianca who is in her final year of a law degree at the University of the Sunshine Coast.
The family have milked up to 400 cows, but now focus on 250 to 300 milkers with a lactation average around 8000 litres complimented with beef breeding and selling lucerne hay.
“We’ve got good alluvial flats on the Brisbane River, but we cop a flogging when it floods. And we can get extended dry periods too.”
“Paddock feed is always cheaper, but we need security of production.
“When we first introduced a feed ration, we thought we could drop it in winter, but the cows looked for it and its now part of our year-round feed intake to get the production levels we look for,” Mark said.
“We grow our own silage, as much grain as we can and our own hay with a surplus for the local market.”
They typically feed four to five tonnes of mixed ration a day on their shaded feed pad. The grain content averages about seven kilos which includes a kilo per milking fed in the bails as a contentment ration.
About 60 hectares of corn is grown each season, half for grain and half for silage. The hammermilled corn is fed with an equal measure of wheat as a preference, sometimes barley.
About 40 hectares of ryegrass provides winter feeding from May into November.
Lucerne is a mainstay crop with about 60 hectares divided equally between grazing and hay production.
“The lucerne is marvellous for us. We can make round bale silage or quality small hay bales for our own use or for sale. It provides quality morning grazing with forage sorghum fed off at night.”
Mark said the heatwave conditions in early 2017 had proved extremely challenging. Milk production crashed five or six litres from the peak 28 litres a day, leading him to begin trials with a feed additive designed to help with heat stress.
With good access to water, four travelling guns can irrigate about 120 hectares. Pumping costs are a major expense, costing about $200 a night for each irrigator to water 3.2 hectares.
Total power bills for irrigation and the dairy exceed $10,000 a month, with some offset from two small solar panel installations.
Mark said he had done some cost comparisons on replacing the high pressure sprayers with centre pivot or lateral move sprinklers in the future.
He is attracted to the energy cost savings of low pressure systems but the question mark is over the big capital outlay.
A big spend would need to be amortised over a decade or so and would need a serious commitment to staying in dairying to justify.
The Wheildon family supply their milk to Lion Dairy and Drinks in Brisbane through the Dairy Farmers Milk Co-operative. Mark and DFMC share the view that hard work and high quality are worth a premium. Mark is also a DFMC Ward representative for the local Lockyer Valley region.
“There are only five farms left in the Toogoolawah area now. There used to be about 35 on this side of the river alone and we are the only ones left.”
The farm milks pedigree cattle with a focus on breeding since his father first registered Good Luck Friesian Stud when he started dairying.
Unjoined heifers are mated with sexed semen to help improve herd genetics. Quality Holstein semen is used on the highest performing cows and beef semen on the animals which have lower production to breed beef weaners.
In an effort to boost conception rates, the herd has this year been fitted with heat detection devices which automatically transmit data at milking.
Daughter Bianca, 21, is keenly interested in genetics and last October registered her own stud. Good Fortune Holsteins has a foundation of six Leader females from the Darling Downs which have been mated with sexed semen.
“I hope to ramp up our efforts with genetics in general but also showing our cattle. I am committed to the dairying industry and excited to see where it takes my brother and I in the future as 3rd generation family farmers,” Bianca said.