The Foote family, of Fish Creek, is among dairy farmers selling their total milk production direct to Coles.
John and Marion Foote, with sons, Rowen and Kristopher, and their respective wives, Sally and Jess, along with two full-time workers, milk an 800-head Holstein herd, producing 10500 litres/cow or 715kg milk solids/cow, annually.
“We put in an expression of interest last year. Coles pricing structure is quite flat so it suited us because we manage a flat curve production model,” Rowen Foote told Dairy News Australia.
“It’s also a fixed price for three years. Capital investment is a lot easier when you know what your milk price is going to be in the next three years.
“We submitted an expression of interest about how we’d manage our production and herd to fill their criteria. They only wanted a flat supply. We fitted their criteria quite well.”
The herd grazes an effective milking area of 322ha, of the total 700ha dryland farm, with undulating country and naturally fertile clay loam soils. Working closely with agronomist, Stu McNaughton, soil tests are completed every second year and lime is spread on a five-year rotation.
The entire farm is renovated on a five-year rotation with perennial ryegrass pasture, taking advantage of a rainfall where the long-term average is 950mm.
An annual cropping program sees 42ha corn harvested, chopped and stored as pit silage. A further 20ha of turnips and 15ha of sorghum are grazed.
The equivalent of 283-324ha of ryegrass is harvested as silage each year, stored in the pit mostly. About 1000 round bales are also made.
The 60-stand rotary dairy has an automatic drafting system, linked to ear tags, which is used to advantage for the rigorous joining program.
Ten per cent of the herd are cows registered to Rowen’s Jarramah Holstein Stud.
“It’s a way to build capital equity alongside the commercial herd,” he said.
“We target about 100 flushed embryos annually and use them ourselves. We do import some embryos. The stud herd is growing through the embryo transfer work.”
He sells about 15 bulls annually, keeping 10 per cent of the male calf drop from the registered cows for future AI use in the commercial and stud herds. He also sells stud heifers at specialty dairy sales.
“All the bulls are genomically tested so you have a reasonable idea from the start why you’re keeping them,” Mr Foote said.
About 350 heifers are raised each year, of which 150 are sold to the export market into China.
The split calving herd, 70 per cent spring and 30 per cent autumn, calves from June to August. The in-calf rate is high, at 88 per cent, which Rowen credits to feed practices, using fixed time AI and high conception rate semen, and pregnancy testing at 30 days.
Working closely with ruminant nutritionist, Steve Ralston, the cows are fed a supplemental fat diet from day 70 of milking until they are confirmed pregnant.
“They’re grazing in the paddocks and getting corn silage, grass silage and crushed barley on the feedpad, for about an hour, an hour and a half, twice daily,” Mr Foote said.
Diet is reviewed monthly at the longest, but effectively every three weeks.
“Each cow receives up to 11kg of concentrate – 7.5kg wheat, 2.5kg canola meal, 500g protected fat (a mixture of calcium and vegetable fats), a mineral package, long chopped grass silage and pasture,” Mr Ralston said.
The supplemental fat bypasses the rumen and is digested in the intestine, where it aims to improve food utilisation and available metabolisable energy, without affecting production.
Tweaking the feed mix begins on day one and follows the calf through to mating and beyond.
“Rowen grows heifers through to 400kg to join, with an average calving age of 23 months or 600kg. He’s willing to hold back heifers to the next joining period to achieve pregnancy rates,” Mr Ralston said.
Heifers recover quicker from their first calving and tend to maintain a better lifetime fertility across the herd.
“We’ve been using fixed time AI for eight years, intensively over the last four years to join every cow in the herd,” Mr Foote said.
Using normal tail stickers, the cows in heat are automatically drafted after evening milking time.
“We get technicians in because on a standard day, we’d have 100 cows doing AI,” Mr Foote said.
“We’re pregnancy testing at 30 days to try and get those empty cows rejoined as soon as possible. We rely 100 per cent on AI and a cow can go up to six attempts.”
From this year, the family are keeping all bull calves and growing them out for a Coles meat program.
“We’ve accepted we have a social licence to raise them and Coles has a market for them,” Mr Foote said.
“We’ll value add by growing them out to 400kg as pasture-fed steers, then they’ll probably go into a feedlot system.”