TRAVIS Thompson has a clear vision for the sheep and cropping country surrounding the dairy farm he manages in the New South Wales Riverina. He sees an opportunity to develop a sizable dairy industry based on the type of large-scale feedlot system more common to parts of the northern hemisphere. By CAMERON WILSON.
The Blighty, NSW, farmer switched from pasture to feed wheat to combat falling water allocations and has also built a feed pad for ease of management in dry seasons.
Andy has successfully grown wheat fodder crops to 14 tonne/ha for the last few years, purchasing temporary water to beat the very poor seasonal conditions experienced in the district in that time.
When Andy, his wife Cathy and his mother Helen decided to expand their herd in 2009 they purchased British-blood Friesians for their ability to produce a higher percentage of fat and protein compared to the Holstein.
Their herd of 280 cows comprises 200 registered Holsteins, including 50 pureblood British Friesians purchased from Alan, Francis and Edward Jeffard of Solney Friesians.
“The British Friesians provide longevity and fertility,” Andy says. “When we purchased the cows from Solney they had 25 cows over 15 years old.”
They now have 80 purebred British Friesians and say the in-calf percentage has risen, with the last preg test results being 72% in calf after the first six weeks and more than 90% in calf in the season. The herd produces an average of 8000 litres.
Of the 174ha property, 100ha is sown to annual rye grass and 50ha sown to EGA Wedgetail wheat. Maize or corn is also grown depending on water availability.
“I added the wheat fodder crops three seasons ago as they don’t need as much water to establish,” Andy says.
“You give wheat one watering to sow, and one in spring, whereas pasture takes four waterings.”
Andy says the comparative return of dry matter to water is 1 ½ meg/ha for watering the wheat with a return over the season of 14t/DM, compared to 4mg/ha for pasture with a similar return.
“People were sceptical at first but now it’s very common in the area,” Andy says.
Andy says the comparison is not quite as good in a wetter season and if they received a higher water allocation they would plant more rye grass. This decision can be made at the start of the year.
The wheat is first grazed as pasture – with up to three good grazings taken from it - before the paddocks are locked up at the end of August until it is ready to be turned into silage. It can also be baled as hay or stripped for grain.
It can also be grazed after it has been cut.
“They do just as well on wheat, depending on when you cut it. In 2008 it was cut late and although the quality wasn’t as good there was more of it.
“Last year (2009) we produced better quality and nutritionally it was the equivalent of rye grass.”
Andy uses a contractor to sow it and others to chop the silage. Fertiliser is applied when it is sown and urea is applied later on.
The worst paddocks to irrigate are planted to wheat, as it only needs watering once, and some pasture paddocks are resown to wheat each year.
A decision when to cut the wheat also depends on the season. If hay is dear, the wheat crop will be cut later to ensure more bulk over quality. Andy says it is easier to add protein to the diet. They buy in high quality vetch for protein and this has helped performance of the fresher cows.
The homemade feed pad was built four years ago and the entire herd is placed there anywhere from November 1 to January 1, depending on the season. They have returned to the paddocks in early April but this could be brought forward depending on the season.
The pad was built on a paddock of 4ha and comprises 20 cement troughs on a mound covered with crushed white rock.
They will be placed there in a wet winter as well to stop the paddocks from pugging.
“The biggest expense was the cement troughs. We had access to a laser bucket so we did the ground work ourselves.”
Andy is involved in the local benchmarking program comprising other Finley district farmers and the farm is a pilot for new ideas.
One of these is the introduction of ADF dip cups in the dairy, which has stopped the spread of mastitis. Cups are sanitised between cows. It was a costly exercise for their 17 swing over dairy at $2000 for a set of cups.
He is also trialling moisture monitoring gear.
In the 425mm rainfall area, moisture monitoring will increase productivity and save time and money.
“The theory is it’s always too late when it looks dry. With the equipment, we can see when the soil needs water and how much. It also stops under or over watering.”