"The pastures and lucerne just looked awesome; the whole farm was a picture!" This was one comment by a support group member after the April farm walk and meeting at the Tallangatta Focus Farm.
Mark and Narelle McDonald's dairy business has been the North East Focus Farm since July 2011. The 'awesome' pastures and state of the farm noted last month is the result of very timely actions made by Mark and Narelle, with assistance of the planning and discussion provided by the support group over the past two years.
There have been substantial changes to the farm and business since the Focus Farm commenced. At the beginning of the project, the farm peaked at 330 cows (2010-11). This has increased to 415 in spring 2012 and will hopefully reach 460 cows by June 2013.
There were some very clear objectives established by Mark and Narelle for the support group to be aware of at the start of the project:
- Reduce cash flow pressure;
- Employ more staff and achieve an improved lifestyle;
- Grow assets and if possible reduce debt; and
- Develop the farm to an optimum operating potential.
As a way to achieve these broader objectives, one specific objective was to have the cows' diet consist of 9-11 kilograms per cow of either pasture or crop at all times during the year. This has meant that crop and pasture availability had to match cow requirements.
The farm is now at crunch time; May and June are the months when there is the greatest pressure on the pasture to provide the 9-11 kilograms per cow. This is a time when all of the autumn calving cows will be milking, and none of the spring calving cows will be dry. Forward planning has resulted in 160 hectares of pasture or crop being available for the 450 cow herd, which should be able to provide 10 kilograms of fresh feed per cow.
The cows will also be fed 2-3 kilograms of silage/straw and 7 kilograms of grain with a 15 per cent canola mix. At a milk value of $6.60 per kilogram milk solids in May and June (including DI, growth and productivity and a final step up), or 51.5 cents/litre for Mark and Narelle's business, and a grain mix that costs 29.1 cents per litre, there is no reason why cows should not be well fed.
The autumn/winter nitrogen application commenced on the irrigation paddocks at 100 kilograms/hectare of urea (46 kilograms/hectare of nitrogen). On the dry land pasture it will commence after the first grazing. The support group agreed there should be enough built up nitrogen after a dry summer to achieve good growth before the first grazing.
The final Focus Farm Field Day will be held on Thursday June 27, from 11 am to 1.30 pm. The farm is situated at 2040B Yabba Road Tallangatta South. You are invited to come and see for yourself the results of two years efforts by the McDonalds and their support group to achieve their aims.
The topics to be discussed at the field day will be:
- Current pasture, crop, fertiliser, and feeding strategies on the farm;
- Changes to calving dates and ratios of autumn versus spring calving cows;
- How a lease farm operates - very relevant for the younger dairy farmers interested in future options. The McDonalds lease the farm from the Paton family; it is a great example of a relationship that provides a win for both parties, with a common goal of farm growth. Leasing of dairy farms is likely to be more common in the future.
- A review of whether or not the focus farm objectives have been achieved;
- A presentation of the 2012-13 physical and financial performance of the business, and a projection to 2013-14; and
- A summary of the advice collected from the support group, detailing what they believe Mark and Narelle need to do from now, to further consolidate their future.
Speakers will include the support group members, Darren McCormick, agronomist and assistant facilitator, and John Mulvany from ONFARM Consulting, facilitator of the Focus Farm.
There will be a farm tour and plenty of time for discussion and questions about current seasonal conditions.
For further information or to register, please contact Troy Mauger at Murray Dairy telephone (03) 5833 5927 or John Mulvany telephone 0409 935 578.