A fierce desire to grow their equity, and the unpredictability of the Bega seasons, has seen Tom and Gemma Otton take up a share farming role with Peter and Jeanette Clark at Kongwak.
They are among the Top 100 suppliers across the nation with the lowest aggregate bulk milk cell count.
The 72ha farm has been owned by the Foords for 47 years. Their granddaughter, Siahn, and husband, Kevin, now manage the milking of 120 cows on a milking area of 52ha.
The Aussie Red-cross herd averaged 6500 litres this past season, producing 480kg of milk solids per head.
The average rainfall is 700mm but when we caught up with Kevin in July, he said it had been a dry start to the season.
“It can dry off quickly in spring so I prefer a wet winter,” he said.
The herd is regularly between 27,000 and 50,000 for BMCC – a result Kevin takes just as much pride in as the public recognition the award bestows.
“We’ve worked hard to get it here,” he said.
The bonus paid by processor, Fonterra, for supplying in the premium range is particularly important for a small farm, he said.
“That’s a big incentive. It can add up to an extra few thousand dollars a year, which helps a lot.”
As Kevin does every milking in the 16-head swing-over dairy, he can detect any potential issues in the herd quickly, but says they rarely have mastitis.
“We concentrate on doing the basics well, whether that’s lead feeding, ensuring a good transition, or keeping our cows in good condition.
“We also blanket dry cow the herd, which works well for us.”
The herd is currently run on a 50:50 split calving but this willchange to three calvings next year.
“We were 70:30 and we carried a lot over to maintain cow numbers and realised it worked for us and this farm.
“Next year we will do three calvings – March/April 6 weeks, 21 days in June, then from August 1 to September 12.”
This change will enable them to produce more fresh milk in winter and carry less empties through to spring.
“It may mean we’ll only have 7% of the herd calve in that middle period, but I’m here every day anyway, so it’s a good chance to try something different.”
Herd nutrition is prioritised, even when Fonterra dropped prices to $1.91kg/MS at the end of the 2015/16 season. “If they needed extra maize in their feed or protein, we made sure they got it. Cows took priority.”
Cows and heifers receive 5kg of pellets from Riverbank each day (1.5 tonnes a year) in addition to homegrown silage and hay. Additional silage and hay will be bought in if necessary.
Significant pasture renovation across the farm – with 40 hectares improved over the last two years – has also seen improvement in cow quality and production.
“We’ve seen a big result in the vat already – as well as the condition on the cows and how quick they are getting in calf. When you see that in-calf rate of 93% at 6 week joinings, it speaks for itself.”
They recorded a 95% submission rate in 21 days, without using PG. That result was achieved on top of bringing them back a month – calving in March this year, compared to April last year.
“Again, I believe if you feed them well, the cows reward you".
Kevin said it was the first year this year that all calves were from AI. Once calves are placed in the calving shed, they receive 2 ½ litres of milk twice a day, then 6-7 litres once a day at 5-6 weeks till 12 to 16 weeks old.
Hay and grain is also provided and he said they haven’t lost a heifer calf for two years.
The poorest yielding paddocks have been renovated first. A summer crop mix of rape, millet and paja is planted first to prevent weeds. Zoom annual ryegrass is then planted (returning almost 12 bales to the hectare last harvest) before sowing a perennial ryegrass, usually Matrix and Vic with a bit of clover.
Kevin also drilled about 8 hectares to chicory and millet for summer feed and may plant turnips this year if spring isn’t too dry.
Attention to detail has enabled Kevin and Sianh to achieve the results they have to date. With this dedication, they are every chance to add a third milk quality award to the dairy shed next year.