Thursday, 21 April 2016 16:54

Modified mixer saves time and headaches

Written by  Chris Dingle
 Dave Christie with his Tulip mixer. Dave Christie with his Tulip mixer.

THE most prominent feature on Dave and Katrina Christie’s dairy farm just out of Rochester in northern Victoria is a substantial feed shed measuring 160m by 37m.

“It’s mainly a measure against the weather,” explained Dave.

“Another management tool when it’s too hot or too wet. It is 5-19°C cooler under the roof than outside.”

The cows are inside the feed shed for one feed every day.

They have three different types of feed pads; the shed, square and round concrete troughs.

The outside feed pad is the night pad in summer and day pad in winter.

Dave grew up on this farm but worked as a mechanic for 10 years before coming back about 20 years ago to take over the dairy from his parents, Norm and Elva, who still are part of the farm but now live in town.

The property encompasses 200ha with 57ha run-off block.

They have 550 cows, Holsteins and crossbreds, and Dave said he is moving more into crossbreds as they are more economical.

They calve five times each year with fixed AI so they have 450 milkers at any one time, milking on a 50 stand rotary.

Their property is only about 7km from the Rochester headquarters of Lely Australia, so it’s not surprising that when Lely wanted to trial a new feed mixer here, 18 months ago, they came knocking on the Christie’s door.

The trial machine was a 20 cubic metre Tulip Biga vertical mixer and as it was operating Dave worked with the Lely engineers to modify it a lot to suit the Australian conditions and farming practices.

The international specialist for Tulip products, Sjors van Deursen came out from the Netherlands to oversee the trials.

“Lely were great and were out here all the time modifying the mixer,” said Dave.

“The Lely R&D was second to none. If I had a drama they’d be here in five minutes.”

The modifications that were identified and made were to the screw augers, an extension to the top of the mixer to facilitate more efficient bale loading and a wider extension of the external elevator.

They do five mixes each day, usually lucerne hay and silage, maize silage, canola meal, grain and straw.

Dave works out the ingredients and proportions himself, with help from nutritionists when needed.

“We’ve been doing it for long enough now. The Lely mixed it up well, very consistent with either round or square bales. We allow 45 minutes per load to mix and feed out. It is quicker than previous machines, the time factor helps.”

The Christies were so impressed with the performance of the Tulip Biga mixer that, as soon as the trial was concluded, they ordered the 24 cubic metre version, with all the changes incorporated into it.

It was delivered the week before we visited in the last week of March and since then they had done five loads a day, equating to 24 tonnes as fed each day.

It is also feeding 230 young stock and 80-odd dry cows.

Dave said he has had feed mixers in the past and has now gone from horizontal mixing to vertical mixing, it’s easier for staff to load.

He is a big advocate for composting.

“We use manure mixed with whatever is laying about; straw, poor forage, etc. It is spread on the paddocks or goes back into the shed for bedding.”

A plough is run through the loafing areas every day to spread manure, bust up cow pats and to bring the wet material to the top and aerate it. The natural air dries the compost and makes it softer for the cows. The two loafing areas each cover 10.5m x 160m.

The feed mixer is operated by a 150hp John Deere 6150 and they have another 130hp John Deere as well as a small Fiat tractor and a silage cart converted into a litter spreader.

Sixty four percent of the feed on the farm is bought in and the Christies use contractors for their pasture renovation.

“We have annual ryegrass with a new variety of ryegrass with high protein. Thirty hectares of forage wheat is going in this autumn, then maize, if we get the water allocation.

As for the future: “It’s tough at the moment, because of the milk price, water and the season. Costs have gone through the roof and the milk price is dropping. We can’t afford to water permanent pasture.”

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