Northern Irrigation and Southern Riverina
"The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go." Dr Seuss
Inside this issue:
- Mop the floor with your bull management
- Forage cereals – A management guide for dairy farmers
- Dairy Shed Energy Efficiency
- Thermal Heat Recovery
- Monthly reminders
- What's On
Summer* Crops – Tips, Traps and Tactics
Tom Farran, DPI Tatura
It is approaching that time of year when many farmers are weighing up their summer feed options. Over the last couple of years many farmers in northern Victoria have been growing a summer crop to fill the common feed gap experienced on many farms at that time of year. This article is going to explore some of the key learning's and mistakes that local farmers have made over recent years and what tips and advice they collectively have that can help get the best out of a summer crop.
While summer crops may be green and look impressive on a scorching hot summer's day, the reality is that they can only be described as moderate quality feed for dairy cows. Generally the taller they get the poorer the quality will be. Another factor that can often be overlooked is that summer crops can have quite low amounts of some minerals.
Due to the lower quality and higher fibre content of summer crops, you will need to restrict the total amount in the cow's diet if you want to maintain a relatively good milk production level over summer.
The grazing management of a summer crop has a significant influence over the quality of the feed the cows ingest. Making sure the crop is always grazed as soon as it is ready helps to achieve a high quality crop. It is important that minimum plant height guidelines are adhered to for sorghum prior to grazing to avoid animal health issues.
Farmers that have been grazing millet every time it reaches about gumboot height have found that the cows have been milking much better off it compared to when they used to graze it at about knee height.
The taller a summer crop gets the more mature it is. The quality drops off quickly as the crop matures. Summer crops are very unforgiving in this regard.
To maintain good production it will be necessary to make sure some higher quality forms of feed are also going into the diet. This may be good quality pasture and high quality home-grown conserved fodder. For other farms this may mean purchasing in high quality supplements and fodder. Developing a plan including a feed budget is time very well spent. This plan will most likely need adjusting as the season progresses, but at least it is a starting point and is a way of making sure you have thought about it and sought advice if needed.
Amount of area to grow
A big mistake that is often made when growing summer crops is to sow too large an area. The issues with this are:
- It is harder to maintain grazing pressure which results in poorer quality feed;
- Cows can't physically keep up with the growth;
- The crop uses up too much water.
Summer crops are sporadic in the way they grow, sorghum more so than millet. They respond very quickly to the weather. During hot weather, particularly if it is humid, they will grow very rapidly. However, if they experience some cool days their growth slows dramatically. The issue farmers often have is if they have a large area of summer crop and the growth rapidly accelerates, they can't simply speed up the rotation because the cows are already eating as much as they can. The catch is that if they can't speed up the rotation then the quality of the crop rapidly declines. If paddocks then get skipped over instead of being grazed and are made into silage, the costs involved (planting, growing, watering and conserving) are normally much higher than a substitute feed of similar quality could have been purchased for.
To maintain a good milk production level there is a limit to the amount of average - poor quality feed a cow can eat. This factor is a good determinant of how much summer crop to grow on your farm. A rough rule of thumb to use is the total amount of summer crop being eaten should not exceed seven to ten kilograms of dry matter per cow per day depending on the size of the cow and your production targets. For example, if a summer crop is expected to grow at one hundred kilograms of dry matter per day during its peak on one hectare of land, then the maximum amount of summer crop that should be grown is one hectare for every ten cows (100kg/DM/ha of expected production÷ 10kg/DM/cow dietary limit).
Irrigation water is another consideration. For many farms the sums may add up at the current price to purchase temporary water to grow a summer crop. However consideration still needs to be given to the total amount of water needed for the farm this irrigation season. You need to make sure you will stay inside your annual water use limit. A water budget is vital to make sure this is going to be achieved. The best use of water in this region has been proven to be during spring and autumn and on good quality perennial pastures over summer. So it is very important to make sure there is enough room left inside your annual use limit to irrigate these crops and pastures first before irrigating a summer crop.
In ideal conditions millet will be ready to be grazed for the first time after approximately five to six weeks when the plants are well anchored in the soil. It can then be grazed every ten to twenty days until March. Begin grazing millet at a height of 25-30 centimetres in order to achieve maximum quality. Previously the common recommendation was to wait until the plant reached 60 centimetres (knee height). However the farmers that have been grazing it at 25-30 centimetres have found a far better milk response and also a much greater ability to stay in control. It is likely that by grazing at 25-30 centimetres the total yield will be lower, but the trade off for better quality feed offsets this.
Only graze the millet down to a height of ten to fifteen centimetres (ankle height). Grazing below this height will 'eat' into the plant reserves and as a result regrowth will be compromised. It is important not to wait too long before re-grazing as the quality declines sharply as the plant matures and future regrowth is poor if plants are allowed to go rank.
Most sorghums can't be grazed until they reach a certain height due to the risk of prussic acid poisoning. This height varies for different varieties and this information should be made available to you when purchasing the seed.
The taller the sorghum gets the poorer the quality will be, so for most sorghums it is best to graze them as soon as it is safe to do so and graze them down to around fifteen centimetres in height. To avoid the risk of prussic acid poisoning, don't graze sorghum until it has reached a height greater than the recommended height for the variety (usually 60 centimetres but varies with different varieties). Don't graze the sorghum when it is drought stressed, water logged or stressed for any other reason. It is normally fairly obvious to determine if sorghum is stressed as its colour turns purple/blue. Never put hungry stock onto sorghum and if possible offer them hay or a runoff paddock when grazing it for the first grazing. Sulphur stock blocks may help reduce some animal health risks of sorghum, but shouldn't be relied on.
Preparation and Fertiliser
Careful planning, preparation and timing are critical to growing a good profitable summer crop. Making sure soil bed preparation and sowing methods are appropriate, providing adequate fertiliser, managing irrigation well and making sure all operations happen on time are all critical ingredients to growing a good crop.
Timing is critical with summer crops. Everything happens quickly and being a couple of days late with something often spells disaster.
Summer crops are high yielding crops. This means that they require high amounts of nutrients to achieve this. If you attempt to skimp on fertiliser you will get lower yields. Also beware that skimping on fertiliser will have an impact on the next crop or pasture grown as the summer crop will have mined nutrients from the soil, particularly nitrogen and phosphorus.
For summer crops to be a profitable crop, the two key ingredients that are needed to achieve this are good yields and good quality. Trying to save money on establishment costs (fertiliser and soil preparation for example), will often dramatically reduce the yield. Without good yields all the costs involved in growing the crop can not get diluted. If the crop isn't managed well and the quality declines then this will always be an expensive feed on a dairy farm as there is very limited room in a cow's diet for poor quality feed.
Top lessons learned
- Do your sums to determine if a summer crop would provide the most cost effective form of feed.
- Summer crops are no silver bullet in terms of quality.
- Limit the area of summer crop gown in order to:
- Stay in control;
- Minimise milk production losses;
- Avoid having to conserve.
- Do a feed and water budget to determine:
- Whether a summer crop is needed, or will you already have enough feed;
- If it would provide the right quality of feed you need;
- How much area to sow;
- If you have enough water to spare inside your annual water use limit.
- Graze summer crops frequently to maximise quality
- Millet grazed at 25-30 centimetres in height;
- Sorghum at the minimum height that is safe.
- If the summer crop starts to get out of control – take decisive action immediately.
- Do proper preparation and don't take short cuts. Make sure you apply adequate fertiliser or you will be disappointed with the end result.
*For the purpose of this article, when referring to a summer crop the article is referring to millet or sorghum.
Mop the floor with your bull management
Matt Reynolds, DPI Warrnambool
The general decline in fertility and increasing dairy herd production demands make mop-up bulls critically important. Bulls on many dairy farms are not being effectively used and are often a danger to the farmer and the farm's economic viability.
Effective mop-up bull management should be a priority for every dairy farmer in order to avoid the need to rebreed cows or heifers. Appropriate bulls should be capable, healthy and safe.
A ratio of one bull to forty cows (joined and unjoined) should be used with this number increasing if there is a tighter mating period. This number relates to both his ability to identify cows on heat and his serving capacity. One of the easiest assessments of a bull's serving capacity is scrotal circumference and this should be considered when buying bulls. One method available to assist in reducing the risk of unsatisfactory joining results and maintaining the bull's sexual interest is rotating his team between a rest paddock and the herd, with a second bull team also running an alternate rotation. A week is generally a sufficient rest period for a healthy bull team.
Bulls should be grouped with equivalent-sized bulls and ideally they will have grown up with one another. When managing bull groups try to avoid shuffling bulls between groups as each time a new bull enters a group, the whole social hierarchy will need to re-establish and this process can lead to stress and injury. Stress should be avoided due to its impact on future sperm production, with both environmental and management stress having an impact. Included in this is nutritional stress so bulls need to be adequately fed.
Bull health is the most important factor limiting the reproductive potential of bulls on farm. In many instances the bulls are not at an appropriate condition score, not vaccinated or are afflicted with some form of aliment. Ensuring the bull is free from injury and/or structural defect is a priority when assessing a bull's ability to get cows in calf. The bull's conformation is important due to the strenuous nature of mounting cows. A bull with foot, leg or back issues will struggle to mate cows and if the issue is significant enough, may not even attempt to mount.
Eyes, nose and mouth are also crucial because a bull requires these senses to identify cows on heat. The final health component is vaccination, due to a bull's to expose a large number of cows to disease.
This means vaccinating bulls for '7 in 1', pestivirus and vibriosis as well as any other vaccine you are giving to the cows. Have the vet check them at least one month before the joining period.
Personal safety is also an important issue that deters many dairy farmers from using bulls and as a result is costing them in reduced conception rates and a need to spend extra cash on AI programs.
This issue is best managed through a zero tolerance approach to aggressive behaviour. If the bull is aggressive, either towards people or other cattle, definitely don't keep him. Let him finish the season and replace him for next year.
In summary: unhealthy bulls do nothing but cost you money and waste your time. A healthy bull can improve the fertility and the economics of your farm system. For more information on bull management or selection contact Matt Reynolds, telephone 0408 534 595.
Forage cereals - A management guide for dairy farmers
Recently, the Victorian Department of Primary Industries (DPI) released a guide entitled 'Forage Cereals – A management guide for dairy farmers', which is available for free in hard copy format or electronically.
Cereals in this guide refer to wheat, barley, triticale, oats and to a lesser extent rye corn. Traditionally cereals have been grown to produce grain, with oats sometimes being grown for hay.
Cereals are commonly grown for forage purposes (e.g. grazing, silage and hay), with some varieties being bred especially for this purpose. Any variety of cereal can be sown for grazing and fodder production, but some varieties have characteristics that allow them to achieve better yields, quality and regrowth after grazing.
The guide is especially designed for those farmers, service providers, contractors and others involved in cereal cropping but who may not necessarily be heavily engaged in a cropping enterprise. This guide will be a useful resource for those who wish to graze their cereals in the early stages of growth and also for those wishing to harvest their crops as silage or hay. All stages of growth are covered so it will be of use to all cereal growers and those new to growing forage cereals.
The guide is formatted into two sections. The first section provides a pictorial guide accompanied by descriptions of the growth stages of cereals to assist both dairy and other farmers in their management of forage cereals at critical decision making times. These include decisions such as when to start and when to stop grazing, when to harvest for silage, hay and alkalage. The second section is a basic management guide for growing and managing forage cereals on Victorian dairy farms.
To receive a free copy of this guide in either electronic format or in a hard copy, please contact Tom Farran DPI Tatura, email, firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone (03) 5833 5297.
Dairy shed energy efficiency
Dairy shed electricity costs have increased over the past five years by an average of 22 per cent. These shed costs accounted for approximately four per cent of variable costs in 2010-11.
This has prompted a closer look at energy technologies used in the dairy shed. Claire Swann (DPIV) assessed a range of energy technologies that may reduce energy consumption or costs in a report "Economics analysis of technologies to reduce dairy energy consumption". The full report can be viewed on the DEPI website www.depi.vic.gov.au/agriculture-and-food/dairy/energy-in-dairy.
This article looks at the economics of replacing the source of heating energy from grid electricity to liquefied petroleum gas (LPG).
LPG Water Heating Technology
In this comparison, the instantaneous gas heating unit is connected to the existing electrical hot water service and plumbing. A constant flow unit is installed to the hot water service and the solenoid (float) will determine when to draw water from the water supply into the hot water service. The electricity supply acts as a back up should there be any issues with gas supply.
Considerations when installing LPG water heating include:
- Volatility of gas prices due to the fluctuations in the market benchmarking Australia to Singapore.
- To heat 700 litres of water daily will require renting two 210-kilogram cylinders. This supply will be adequate for 50 days, requiring the filling of each gas bottle on alternate months.
- Access will need to be available to allow inspection by the supplier.
- Flow rates need to be set accordingly to meet the hot water supply requirements.
- A solar hot water system can be in the gas hot water system to pre-heat water. The complexity of combining different systems needs to be managed.
The cost benefit analysis is based on a case study farm in South Gippsland miking 240 cows on a milking area of 130 hectares. The dairy shed is a 20 unit swingover built in 2003 and is well maintained. The farm produces 1.7 million litres of milk. The LPG system should heat the 700 litres of water to 85 degrees Celsius.
Of the three technologies assessed for their ability to reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions when heating water, LPG has the lowest break-even period, lowest capital investment and the greatest reduction of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e).
The financial benefit of the LPG system is reliant on the LPG price, however, for LPG to become untenable would require a gas price increase of 11per cent annually.
Table 1: Results of replacing electric water heating with LPG
|'Do nothing' option||$3,117|
|Years to break even (Before interest and tax)||5|
|Energy Consumption saved annually |
|Emissions saved annually (t CO2-e)||22.5|
- Price of electricity is assumed to increase annually by ten per cent;
- LPG to increase by two per cent annually;
- The savings in energy consumption are based on the energy savings from investing in the technology compared to the 'do nothing' option.
For further information contact Claire Swann (03) 5430 4697 or visit www.depi.vic.gov.au/agriculture-and-food/dairy/energy-in-dairy.
Thermal heat recovery
In this article we will look at thermal heat recovery systems. As discussed in the previous article, dairy shed electricity costs have increased and account for approximately four per cent of variable costs. Thermal heat recovery is another alternative source of hot water that can help you to save money.
Thermal Heat Recovery
The thermal heat recovery system captures heat from the milk vat's refrigerant gases by extracting the heat produced during milk cooling. There may be improved efficiency of the milk cooling plant using this technology, however this will need to be quantified. These systems can be implemented on a range of milk cooling plants.
The energy savings in the system will depend on:
- correct installation of the existing milk cooling system to achieve the target water temperature;
- the volume of the water tank and the quantity of water used during and between milkings;
- the quantity of milk that is cooled will determine how much heat can be captured;
- type of refrigerant gases and the configuration of the installation, and
- the network water temperature.
Using the same case study farm as for the previous article, the heat recovery system should heat the 700 litres of water to 65 degrees Celsius. The preheated water will enter the existing hot water service for further heating to 90 degrees Celsius on off-peak overnight.
Table 2: Results of utilising a thermal heat recovery system
|Capital cost (incl. installation)||$10,375|
|'Do nothing' option||$3,117|
|Years to break even |
(before interest and tax)
|Consumption saved annually (KWh)||14,965|
|Emissions saved annually (t CO2-e)||18.1|
- Price of electricity is assumed to increase annually by 10 per cent;
- The savings in energy consumption is based on the energy savings from investing in the technology compared to 'do nothing' option.
Q. What do smart birds like to study?
Q. Which object is king of the classroom?
A. The ruler.
Q. What do jokes and pencils have in common?
A. They're no good without a point.
- Check for any leaks from channels or bay outlets to make sure water goes where you want it to.
- Consider using nitrogen to boost growth if it is economical and manage your rotations carefully.
- Now is a good time to empty effluent ponds following the winter storage and re-use the nutrients when irrigating.
- Keep an eye on the cows' diet – make sure it is meeting their needs. With joining just around the corner, it is very important the quality is maintained.
- When comparing between the costs of different feeds make sure you compare them on a Dry Matter basis. Also think about how much energy and protein different feeds can provide.
- Make sure the feed you are offering the cows is of sufficient quality. A feed test could be money well spent.
- Make sure you are ready for joining: order the semen and get the bulls ready; check any non-cycling cows and treat if necessary.
- If required, drench the stock, including milkers, bulls and young stock.
- Review the cash flow budget to assess whether strategies can be financed.
- Get a milk income estimate and, if you haven't already done so, organise a chat with the bank manager to keep them up to date with your plans.
- It might be useful to get someone into help you look at the options for your business for the coming season and beyond. People
- Keep in touch with your neighbours and friends. How are they travelling?
Planning Your Farm Business Future - 'Managing change and Succession'
Estate planning is an essential part of managing your farm finances, but it's not always easy to know where to start and how to begin the difficult and emotional conversations about the future of your farming business.
Thursdays 18, 25 Oct, 1, 8 and 15 Nov, 2012.
To enrol or find out more information please contact Jasbir Singh telephone (03) 5833 2855.
2013 Dairy Industry Scholarship program
The Gardiner Foundation, Dairy Australia and the National Centre for Dairy Education Australia (NCDEA) are pleased to offer several scholarships of $2,500 each. The scholarships are open to individuals in the dairy industry and are aimed at building capability and capacity in individuals and at enhancing participation in dairy industry training and development activities.
Applications must be received by 5pm 19 October 2012 to be considered.
For more information please contact Tracy Lloyd at Dairy Australia telephone (03) 9694 3770.
Down to Business
This workshop will provide the latest information on the current business position, including cash, profit and equity of dairy farms in Northern Victoria. Daniel Gilmour and Claire Swann will present the results of the recently released 2011/12 Dairy Industry Farm Monitor Project. Bill Malcolm and the Dairy Directions team will present their latest research on using marginal economics to maximise returns from key inputs, and Phil Shannon will discuss the drivers of farm business returns and focus on making sound business decisions this season.
Friday 19 October, Shepparton. RSVP to Tori Rath, email email@example.com or telephone (03) 5833 5927.