Monday, 11 September 2017 10:54

Ready to capitalise on herd, farm expansion

Written by  Stephen Cooke
Ben Elliott Ben Elliott

It’s fair to say Jindivick farmer Ben Elliott has had a bit on his plate and he’s now looking forward to capitalising on his work.

Ben sharefarms for Sam and Paddy Linklater, and receives help from his partner, Tess, a working vet, and a full-time worker, Steve.

He now manages the adjoining farm, previously run by another sharefarmer for the Linklaters, and has overseen an extensive renovation.

The addition of the second farm of 144ha has taken total land under Ben’s management to 360 hectares and the new farm required significant work.

A 50-stand rotary dairy was built and all paddocks had to be reversed. New laneways were built, all fencing was removed and replaced, a new water system was installed and 100,000 tonnes of rock was purchased to install new laneways.

“We’re all done now,” Ben said. “We just have to recoup the money doing it.”

“Over the last 3 or 4 years, we’ve focussed on getting the farm right. You just can’t afford to have lazy paddocks on a farm, you need every paddock growing.

“With milk prices the way they were last year, the best way to make a dollar is to grow grass.”

About 160ha have been seed drilled and power harrowed over the past few years, planting mainly perennials but adding some bi-annuals to boost growth.

Anything power harrowed has been sown to Matrix, which Ben says lasts better than alternatives they’ve tried. “We’ve already noticed the difference in production in the cows and on the farm.”

Ben is also planning to sow about 30ha of summer feed, probably millet, pazya, and rape, in early November. “Hopefully we get enough summer rain to keep it going.”

Poor milk prices over the past 18 months led Ben to conduct soil tests around the farm with pleasing results. He found that regular applications of fertiliser in the past meant they could reduce the amount applied last season.

“We cut fertiliser back from 250kg/ha to 150kg/ha in the autumn and winter last year, and maintained nitrogen rates. We applied eight applications of nitrogen for the year at 100kg/ha.”

“We saved a fair bit of money, and still got good spring growth, grew hay and silage and the cows milked well. We tested again this year and results are still good.”

They also used a muck runner in autumn to distribute a thick layer of solids from the effluent pond over 14ha that wasn’t fertilised.

Ben said they will resume regular application rates this year as they will be milking more cows.

The extra land has also seen a doubling of the herd in the past four years, with Ben now milking 520 cows at their peak.

All heifer calves have been retained, with 150 heifers brought into the herd, enabling him to cull older cows. Ben works with Leading Edge Genetics in Warragul to target the next generation.

“If I wasn’t milking so many cows I’d do it myself but unfortunately I don’t have the time. Working with Leading Edge takes the guess work out and we’ve had good results so far.”

The calving is split, with 100 calved in autumn and the rest in spring. This split suits the farm and the flush of grass, avoiding feed constraints; improves cash flow; and avoids excessive pasture damage through the traditionally wet winters. Calving used to occur in May/June but is now in August/September because of the wet winter.

Anything that does not get in calf in spring is granted one more chance in autumn.

Springers receive 3kg of Ridley’s lead feed (with extra magnesium for the Jerseys) for 21 days, with ad lib oaten hay and grass in the springer paddock.

Ben and Tess raise the calves in a new calf shed that was built alongside the new rotary dairy. Ben said Jersey calves require additional care for the first three weeks.

They ensure calves get a first drink from their mum before feeding them 1 ½ to 2 litres twice a day in the shed.

It’s been a mild season this year in an area that traditionally gets very wet.

“We need run off rain to fill dams, which are getting pretty low,” Ben said.

“They filled up a bit in the past week but we’ve been pumping water from another dam until now. We need a good spring rain.”

The pasture renovations have raised the quality and quantity of their home grown silage, with a target of 2200t of wet silage each year. About 600t of wet silage has been carried over from last year.

“If we do have a dry spring we have a fair bit up our sleeve,” Ben said.

Cows receive 1.5t of grain each year, as well as Ridley pellets, in the bail.

Last year, the herd averaged 495kg/MS a cow and, with the addition of better pastures, Ben has set the bar higher, looking to produce 520-550kg/MS.

That would be just reward for effort.

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