Friday, 21 July 2017 10:33

Horror season tests resilience at Harden, NSW

Written by  Gordon Collie
Wayne and Darren Prosser check their feed ration at Harden, NSW Wayne and Darren Prosser check their feed ration at Harden, NSW

A horror season has severely tested the resilience of the last surviving family dairy in the Harden district in southern inland NSW.

Brothers Darren and Wayne Prosser are still living with the legacy of 2016 on their diversified cropping and dairy property which was saturated from March to September.

“Our average rainfall is about 26 inches, but last year it never let up, the worst in I’ve ever seen and I’m in my 50s,” Darren said.

Animal heath suffered and the brothers were forced to cull about a third of their cows with lameness and mastitis issues.

“The milking herd has recovered to about 260 cows but it will take some time to get back around the 300 mark where we would like it,” Darren said.

“Our milk production also took a hit and we have been sitting around  26 litres when we should be averaging 28 to 30 litres.”

“We operate the dairy and dryland cropping as separate enterprises, but they have complimented each other over the years.”

Darren is focused on the dairy and Wayne on cropping the property of about 800 hectares with another 720 ha of leased country.

They use the land area for cash crops and to grow grain and hay for the cows which are fed a total mixed ration and confined on an area of about 8 hectares around the 50 stand rotary diary which was built in 1999.

“We used to graze pastures, but the dairy is at one end of the property and the cows were having to walk too far,” Darren said.

Their feeding program is based on a mix of home grown pasture hay and bought in lucerne hay and a grain ration, mostly wheat, processed through a ripper mill.

The daily diet comprises about 14 kilos of mixed hay, 10 kilos of grain and 4 kilos of dairy pellets.

Canola meal is used for protein and an energy supplement Megalac which comprises about 85 percent palm oil with almost 10 percent calcium which protects the fat from breaking down in the rumen, passing through to the lower gut for digestion.

About two kilos is fed in the dairy at each milking and the rest of the ration is fed twice a day onto a strip of conveyor belt matting along a fence line.

“While this reduces feed wastage, the ultimate would be a covered feed pad, but it comes back to the cost,” Darren said.

After their horror experience last season, the brothers are costing the building of self composting free access housing with a central feed alley.

“It would improve milk production and cow comfort, but it’s a question of economics. We’d need to get some upward price signals.”

They are being paid around 46 cents a litre for their milk which is supplied to Riverina Fresh at Wagga Wagga. The local processor was sold last year by Fonterra to an investment company, the Blue River Group.

Their father Ron started carting his own milk in the early 1980s and the brothers have continued the tradition, now using a 27,500 litre tanker they acquired from Fonterra.

They mostly rely on a roster of local retirees to make milk deliveries every second day.

Darren said the family had an option to switch their supply to Murray Goulburn for processing in Sydney, but decided against the move.

The brothers make use of their land area to finish dairy beef, keeping every calf born on the property.

They can be rearing up to 50 calves in peak season through a purpose-built shed with a self flushing flooring system which is used for about the first 10 days.

Steers are usually finished on oats and sold at about two years old.

“Last year we averaged about $1800 for them,” Darren said.

Heifers coming into the milking herd are fed a springer mix which includes wheat, canola and additives.

“We find much improved early milking performance if they are introduced to a feed ration. Production peaks earlier and holds up longer into the lactation.”

A dairy stud is no longer operational but a big percentage of the herd is still pedigreed with a strong Canadian influence.

The herd is natural mated with five or six new bulls introduced each year and young bulls used over the heifers.

“We have in the past used Angus bulls, but at the moment we are just using Holsteins,” Darren said.

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