In the words of dairy farmer John Cockerell, the family has been ‘puttering away’ on its Baulkamaugh North farm, Warrain Jersey’s, for four decades.
John, wife Margaret, and son Edan have expanded their land holding from one settlement block to include four across 180 ha, and the herd size has more than tripled from 100, to a peak of around 350.
The family has always milked Jerseys because of their efficiency and ease of management.
This season numbers will sit around 320 with a per cow milk solid average of 600 kg-plus.
Feeding cows has always been a management priority and the establishment of a feed pad in 2000 has underpinned much of the success of doing this well, and as efficiently as possible.
“When the herd went from six bales a day back to four because of less wastage I was convinced,” John said.
The feed system started out to supplement pasture and prevent wastage, it has now become a primary source for kilograms of dry matter. Additives such as canola may be added to the mix and a nutritionist is involved in ration programming.
Initially the pad was just a temporary area set up close to the dairy with Waste Not feeders.
“I carted in dirt to build-up the area and added a foot of white rock but within 12 months I was sick of the cows digging holes, in the second year I wanted something more permanent, so I concreted it,” John said.
The dairy is a 22 a-side herringbone and the feed pad is set up to take three rows or 66 cows at a time. When both sides are filled the first side can be moved off and the next batch enter. This allows the cows approximately an hour of feeding time.
“In the first year of the feed pad, production jumped 850 litres per cow and then 250 litres the following year,” John said.
In 2006, during the millennium drought, the family decided to purchase a mixer wagon.
“Since we have had the mixer, we have found every cow has access to the same quality feed which has been great for production.”
Per cow production has increased from 5700 to 7400 litres − much of this attributed to the change in feeding.
The herd is currently chewing through about 8 kg of PMR (hay, silage and PKE), plus 5 kg of grain and minerals in the dairy.
The pad is cleaned using the bucket on the tractor as needed, to prevent problems occurring such as mastitis.
The manure removed from the pad is stored in piles and every couple of years it is spread across the farm.
This season John irrigated his perennials through October to maximise yields, but lack of water has affected the amount of feed the family has been able to grow − this season they have sourced 250 tonne of vetch, 230 tonne of cereal silage and 240 tonne of oaten hay.
“We will play it by ear for autumn, but we need water because it is critical for our business to get going in March if we can. The water situation is scary. If they did away with carry over water there would be more allocated water − you should have to use it or lose it,” John said.
The last couple of years John said the farm has managed to pay its way despite spending $300 000 on water last season.
They have also invested in collars for the cows which has made breeding and herd health a much easier and simple process to manage.
“The mating data is all there when you look on the computer screen which has been pretty good. We use mating consultant Amy Wright which has worked very well for us over the years.
“We used to breed for milk and protein, and we peaked at a herd average of 287 kg protein — it is still over 270 kg now, but we have changed our priority to include health traits, good udders and conformation.”
Both John and Margaret are looking to scale back as they start to contemplate retirement and a life after dairying.
“We have put one of the blocks on the market to make things easier for our son Edan to run and we are hoping to start to slow down.”