Grassmere farmer Liam Ryan has reduced fertiliser use by 20%, energy use in the dairy by 85% and feed grain by 40%.
But thanks to a new automated rotary dairy and an innovative water reclamation system, Ryan is milking more cows in less time and finding more space for himself and his family.
Ryan, 28, has been on the farm since 2003 after he completed his Agricultural Science Degree at the University of Melbourne. The main farm covers 172ha of prime Western District dairying country and Ryan has recently leased an additional 42ha. He has been milking 450 cows but aims to increase that to 520 this year.
The farm was originally an out paddock for the property owned by his parents Basil and Marcia.
“We couldn’t expand on mum and dad’s land (76ha, plus a leased 72ha out paddock) and the dairy was 20 years old and basically stuffed,” Ryan says.
So the decision was made to develop the new dairy on his larger property.
“I wanted to get to the stage where we’d be big enough to employ people to get the work-lifestyle balance right,” he says. “Between me and dad we were doing everything. Now we’ve put on a school-based apprentice in June and we’ve just had another apprentice start with us.”
In designing the dairy, automation and making it a “one-person shed” were paramount in Ryan’s thinking.
“I wanted one person to be able to do it all. A lot aim for that but don’t succeed because of issues with mastitis which means they have to have someone to take the cups off to check the cows. We’ve got milk meters and low rates of mastitis so we’ve managed okay.
“We wanted to save cost and time and we have. Basically all you have to do is put the cups on.”
Ryan’s features automatic cup removal, feeding, teat spraying and drafting.
He now milks about 300 cows per hour, a big improvement on the 180 put through the old dairy.
He is one of a number of dairy farmers in the region to install an automated water reclamation system for his milking plant.
With limited groundwater in the area, the Green Cleaning System was a wise investment.
“The groundwater is just enough for watering cattle,” Ryan says.
The re-use system works by reclaiming the acid and alkali cycles of the wash process. The system features three storage tanks to deliver the water required for the cleaning process.
He now uses about 7000 litres per year of freshwater for the acid and alkali wash cycles; compared to about 400 litres daily in a conventional system.
“It has been a massive saving in freshwater plus we have savings in heating and chemical costs.”
The farm’s milk quality tests have been consistently premium since installation of the new system and Ryan is pleased with the cleaning results.
“It doesn’t take much work, just checking the pH levels, changing the cold and hot water once or twice a year each and topping the hot alkali up fortnightly to cover evaporation.”
The new dairy has also resulted in time savings for cleaning up, thanks largely to a circular holding yard washing system on the backing gate and the automatic flood wash on the feed pad which source recycled water from the second effluent pond.
“The clean-up takes us about 15 minutes as opposed to 45 minutes in the old dairy,” he says.
Ryan remains keen to implement new environmentally friendly, labour saving initiatives and is taking part in a WestVic Dairy Focus Farm group to look at other options.
“It’s good to discuss ideas and see how others are doing things and then maybe adapt them to your own system,” he says.
One of his next projects is to put in an irrigation line to spread his recycled effluent over a larger area of the farm.
The improvements have helped Ryan find time for lifestyle priorities.
He and wife Kim are starting to plan an around Australia holiday and he now has time to return to the football field. The North Warrnambool Eagles player jointly shared the Hampden Football League 2010 best and fairest award with another dairy farmer, Levi Dare, from Cobden.