Thursday, 17 February 2011 11:42

Northern NSW grass factory

Written by 
Cory Crosthwaite Cory Crosthwaite

UP ON the Northern Rivers of NSW – the top, eastern corner that abuts Queensland and the Gold Coast – they reckon Cory Crosthwaite is far and away the best grass grower around.

The Tweedside dairy’s 94ha, all sandy loam river flats apart from 8ha of red volcanic ‘hill’, produces more than 20,000kg of dry matter/ha a year, while pastures on your average dairy farm in the region do around 3500kgDM/ha/year. 

Crosthwaite will tell you (with tongue in cheek) it’s all down to good management, and that’s largely true.

But he also admits it helps to have a good farm, with 300 megalitres of unfailing irrigation water entitlement from the Tweed River, which forms one property boundary.

The expanding suburbia of nearby Murwillumbah forms another boundary.

From dairy shed to town centre is a shade over 5km, but he believes vulnerability to flooding from the river – last year water came nearly to the milking shed – rules out the prospect of his prime pastures eventually disappearing under brick and tiles.

No wonder he asks: “Where would I get another piece of land like this?”

Crosthwaite is the fourth generation of his family to farm the property, the first 30ha bought in 1920 by an ancestor who had share-farmed before he became a landowner in his own right.

Crosthwaite and his wife Karen were milking 200 cows in November 2010, but a recently negotiated lease of an adjoining 20ha – “river flats equivalent to our home place” – will see the number of milkers rise over the next few years.

“There’s more money in milking cows than in selling bales of silage or hay,” he says.

The farm’s river flats have been under kikuyu grass for years, with some 16ha planted along the way to Narok and Splenda setaria.

Virtually the whole farm is oversown with ryegrass – Crusader, Tetila and Eclipse – in early March each year, mulched with a power harrow before planting, to take out half the kikuyu.

Pasture production reflects the fertiliser program, all applied himself.

All pastures receive a yearly basic application of 250kg/ha of single super, with Molybdenum super every second year.

Then there’s the 300 tonnes of lime that’s spread on the farm every year, brought 200km from Warwick at around $80/t spread.

Urea goes on after every grazing, with the rate depending on the time of the year and the grazing rotation, which can vary from intervals of 12 days at peak production times to a month when pasture growth is less.

Cory says 125kg/ha of urea is his general rule, the full amount at the monthly grazing intervals and half that on the 12-day roster.

“After each grazing we also mulch any grass that’s left into the soil, which helps hold moisture,” he says.

“The system works well, because we have never missed a place in the grazing rotation; the feed comes back so quickly.

“And we’ve also benefited from the 50,000t of mill mud that’s been applied to our country over the last 15 years, $10 a truckload spread whenever it’s too wet for the trucks to get onto the sugar cane paddocks where the mud would normally go.”

The milking herd goes into a fresh paddock after each milking. Supplementary feeding comprises a tonne of grain per head a year, maize or barley, plus varying quantities of silage from the Crossthwaites’ pasture and cropping program

Excess pasture – kikuyu with its mix of ryegrass and Haifa clover, and even on its own – goes into silage, along with fodder crops like sorghum and millet planted specifically for the purpose.

“We made 3000 bales of silage last year. Now we have leased the adjoining 20ha, we will make more silage again. And we grow a fair bit of chicory and plantain too.

“Up on the hill, which is red volcanic soil, we have a legume called Shaw creeping vigna, which is just amazing. Seed costs $160/kg to buy, so even 10kg is a significant purchase, but we have planted 4ha to it on its own this year.

“We will bale it with the seed and sell the hay into what we expect to be a ready market.”

With its 60 or so paddocks all ‘hot-wired’, half of its 3km of laneways concreted at the Tweed Shire council’s expense to avoid possible contamination of its town water intake, and a 17-aside, automatically washed, swing-over milking shed, Tweedside has little need for hired labour.

Karen takes charge of afternoon milking and Crosthwaite’s dad, Geoff, both milks and performs odd jobs around the farm. Crosthwaite finds enough time to take off-farm contracting work.

When that massive Tweed river flood last year flattened just about every fence on the place, they were all up again “by lunchtime”, courtesy of mates from Murwillumbah. “All it cost was 10 cartons of beer,” Crosthwaite says.

While Tweedside has run Guernsey cows since 1940, 100% of them until 2000, the herd now comprises 140 Holsteins, 30 Guernseys and 30 Jerseys, with the latter two included to lift fat and protein.

Crosthwaite says lack of genetic depth in Guernseys will see them eventually phased out in favour of more Jerseys.

Average annual production is around 6500 litres, with the cell count generally around 150.

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