Northern Irrigation and Southern Riverina
"We acquire the strength we have overcome." Ralph Waldo Emerson
Inside this issue:
- Updating and using those farm finance and pasture budgets
- Prepare early for calving
- Exploring compost use on dairy farms
- NCDEA courses
- Monthly reminders
- What's On
Feed a balanced transition diet to cows and heifers for 21 days before calving
Steve Little, Feed2Milk Program Leader
The three weeks before calving is the time to get springers ready for lactation and mating. It's when cows and heifers go through dramatic changes and need a diet that prepares the rumen for a milkers' ration, meets the demands of the developing calf and udder and helps prevent diseases such as milk fever.
A successful transition feeding program helps:
- prevent milk fever;
- reduce incidences of retained fetal membranes, assisted calvings and vaginal discharge;
- reduce acidosis, ketosis and lameness;
- save time and money spent on treating sick and downer cows;
- increase in-calf rates; and
- increase milk production over the entire lactation.
Depending on the approach used, a transition feeding program could cost between $20 and $60 per cow, and return up to $200+ per cow per year net benefit.
A balanced transition diet
A balanced transition diet must have the right amount of energy, protein, fibre, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and trace elements and the right DCAD level. (DCAD is the Difference between the Cations (sodium and potassium) and the Anions (chloride and sulphur) in the diet).
All feed sources (including pasture) contain different amounts of these components. Get a 'transition feed analysis' done by a feed lab on each of your transition diet ingredients and work with a nutritionist to get the balance right for your herd.
What to feed
Springing cows require 100-120 megajoules of metabolisable energy (ME) per day. To achieve this, the feed needs to contain about 11 MJ ME/kg DM and 14-16 per cent protein. Poor quality hay or forages definitely will not provide this. A good quality cereal hay, low in DCAD is a good source of energy and fibre.
As a rule of thumb, feed half the amount of grain or concentrate fed to the milkers and in the same form (e.g. pellets or loose feed). Don't feed the springers the milker ration or feed that contains sodium bicarbonate. This feed is unsuitable for springers and will increase the milk fever risk.
Timing is important. Aim to feed a transition diet for 21 days before calving to get the full benefits. The best way to achieve this is to do early pregnancy testing to get accurate dry-off lists and calving dates. Use these dates to time when to start feeding the transition diet.
Plan your fodder purchases in advance. Before bulk buying, send the ingredients such as hay to a feed lab for a transition feed analysis, to make sure it's suitable in a transition diet. This is the time to talk to your nutritionist.
Cows in transition may drip milk or develop a swollen udder (udder oedema) before calving, increasing the risk of mastitis. Manage the risk by using teat sealants at dry off, keeping calving conditions clean, spraying teats if springers are fed in the dairy and having a balanced springer diet that is low in DCAD.
Allocate who will be responsible for buying the transition diet ingredients and arranging the testing and feeding out of the transition diet. Ensure they know exactly what to do.
Decide if the cows and heifers will be fed the transition diet in the paddocks, on a feed pad or in the dairy.
Make sure the cows are eating their feed and have enough space to eat (about 0.75 metres per cow). If palatability is an issue check salt levels and feed quality.
Feed the transition diet to your heifers too. It helps establish them in the herd's social order and adapts them to the milkers' diet.
How a good transition helps
1. Preventing milk fever
In the past, the focus has been on managing DCAD levels in the transition diet. However, calcium, magnesium and phosphorus levels in the diet are also important in controlling milk fever and its flow on effects. Aim for low potassium, calcium and phosphorus and high magnesium levels in pre-calving diets.
2. Getting the rumen ready
If you are feeding the cows more than 3 kg/day of grain or concentrates after calving, you should be feeding grain or concentrates before calving too. This helps prevent acidosis or grain poisoning by giving the rumen time to adjust to grain in the diet. It takes seven days for the rumen microbes to adapt to the higher starch diet fed after calving and at least three weeks for the rumen lining (papillae) to properly develop to absorb the nutrients.
3. Body condition, energy and protein
Feeding an effective transition diet helps cows to return to full appetite sooner after calving. This reduces the time and depth of negative energy and protein balance after calving. The result is less weight loss and higher fertility at joining.
For more information and tools for transition cow management, visit
Updating and using those farm finance and pasture budgets
Helen Chenoweth, DEPI Warrnambool
Winter is an important time to update your farm budgets to see how you finished last financial year and as a base for next year.
Finance budget: Paying the bills and more
As milk prices are announced, ask your factory field officer for a cash-flow budget so you can estimate your financial position for the 2012/13 year, and more importantly identify the months when money will be tight. If the softer milk prices are going to cause cash-flow challenges - forewarned is forearmed and this enables farmers to examine options early rather than hoping the problem will solve itself. Where cash-flow becomes tight, actions to alleviate the situation may include discussing payment options with people you owe money to with the aim of making smaller repayments over an extended number of months, deferring principle loan repayments and postponing non-critical capital expenditures in the short-term.
Cutting costs must be done carefully so the productive capacity and overall profitability of the farm isn't compromised. There are many stories of farmers who learnt the hard way, the negative long-term affects on their business and the inappropriate choices they made, such as cutting back fertiliser, splitting AI straws or not buying that extra load of hay when the cows really needed it.
Each cost category needs to be carefully examined and only reduced if it won't negatively impact farm productivity and profit. Remember, even when money is tight spending a dollar to make more than one back is still a good investment. It is a good idea to discuss your options with your accountant or private consultant and continue to monitor and adjust your budgets throughout the year as circumstances change. One look at your budget is never enough and good operators will always be monitoring and adjusting their budgets on at least a monthly basis.
Pasture budget: Keeping your eye on the prize
Finally, consider assessing your business' performance by calculating your pasture consumption using the DEPI online tool at
High pasture consumption is a major profit driver for dairy farming businesses and feeding cows a lot of low cost, high quality pasture rather than higher cost supplements is a key to maintaining farm profitability.
There are many on-farm management decisions that influence pasture production and consumption that you can control. By focusing on those practical decisions such as grazing management, pasture varieties, fertiliser decisions and pest and weed control, the productive capacity of your farms' feed base can be enhanced; often for little extra cost.
Keeping a clear focus on these issues will greatly assist your management through the next season and beyond. If your pasture management could do with improvement consider getting some expert advice or doing a program such as Feeding Pastures for Profit. Getting the pasture base really firing will underpin farm profitability on our predominantly grass-based feeding systems across the country.
Finally, remember technical measures such as pasture production are a means to an end, not an end themselves. Measuring your pasture production will provide a snapshot of one area of your business however for a true picture of farm performance you need to assess these measurements in conjunction with other technical measures and a whole farm assessment of profit and cash flow.
Prepare Early for Calving
With spring calving about to get underway in a month or so, it is a good time to begin preparing your calving and calf-rearing areas to ensure your calves are born and reared in clean and comfortable conditions.
As the Rearing Healthy Calves guide says, if you can provide a clean, observable, drained and sheltered calving environment for the cow, then your calves will be better off from the beginning.
For a clean calving environment you need to consider ways to minimise the exposure of newborn calves to mud and manure. Greater exposure to mud and manure will increase the likelihood diseases and scours so a well-drained calving area helps reduce the risk
A calving environment that is easy to observe, then makes it easier for you to keep an eye on calving cows and monitor cleanliness.
The location of the calving area in respect to the dairy and yards is important. It is essential you make sure dairy shed effluent and any run-off does not drain into calving areas.
A sheltered calving area is ideal. Exposure to harsh climatic conditions after birth can compromise the health and welfare of calves. Take note of the prevailing wind direction and put in place a plan to provide shelter from cold winds. There may not be much you can do this year, but it can't hurt to start thinking of planting a shelterbelt of trees for example.
Preparation should include doing the sums on how many cows you have to calve and whether you have enough area for them to calve down on. High stocking rates result in calving areas becoming overloaded with manure. The problem further compounds in wet weather and if many calves arrive at the same time. Plan ahead and crunch the numbers to avoid over-stocking your calving areas.
Some common sense rules apply to preparing your calving areas. Calving paddocks should not be in the grazing rotation and should ideally be locked up for an extended period of time before calving begins to minimise any risk of manure contamination from the milking herd.
Do the best you can with the time and resources that you have available. You may find that over the calving period you will come with ideas for improvements that you can put in place for the future. If you find over this time your current set up is not ideal for your operation take note of the positives and negatives to assist you when it comes time to planning an upgrade. You may want to remember the areas that get boggy for example.
The benefits of a clean and comfortable rearing environment include lower instances of disease, scours and pneumonia, reduced mortality rates and increased growth rates. Before the fun and games of multiple nocturnal trips to the calving paddock begin, take the time to scrub the calf-rearing facilities from top to bottom.
If you haven't already done so after the last batch of calving, clean out all the old bedding and manure. Disease pathogens can persist in the calving environment, in organic materials such as bedding and manure. It is out with the old plus thorough cleaning before you bring in new bedding.
All components - rails, partitions, gates, feeders and walls should be cleaned of any obvious trace of manure or bedding. Use a pressure cleaner to remove organic materials from surfaces quickly and efficiently. A combination of hot water and soap is required to clean milk residues from feeding equipment. The best results can be achieved when using these methods in conjunction with a broad-spectrum disinfectant.
The quality of the water you use can also have an impact on effectiveness of your attempts to clean and disinfect calf-rearing facilities and equipment. Murky or smelly water indicates the presence of inorganic matter (sediment) and possibly also organic matter (algae) that reduces the effectiveness of disinfectants. Where possible, try to use sufficient quality water and read product labels for dilution rates.
According to the Rearing Healthy Calves guidelines, there is little scientific evidence to support the use of dirt sterilisers. For dirt flooring, attempts to sterilise using products such as lime has minimal affect on the number of disease causing organisms present in the ground.
Proper disinfection requires a minimum contact time between the solution and the surface. A thorough effort before the facilities are in use should certainly save you from having to go back later to patch up any problems.
Don't leave cleaning until the last minute. Get the job out of the way before calving begins. This way you can concentrate on the health and well-being of the cows and heifers due to calve. You will have enough on your plate with transition feeding and care of the rest of the herd without having to worry about a last-ditch attempts to get your pens up to scratch.
Once the scrubbing and scraping is completed it is time for the next critical step of laying down clean, comfortable bedding. Good quality, dry, clean bedding is essential to help maintain a calf's body temperature through minimising heat loss to the external environment. And this means the less energy a calf expends keeping itself warm, the more it has to direct towards growth.
The Rearing Healthy Calves guidelines recommend a minimum bedding depth of 15cm to allow the calf to nestle deeply, obscuring their legs. Wet bedding will draw heat away from the calf's body so it is essential it remains as dry as possible.
If you are thinking of trying a new bedding material, consider things like the price, on-going availability and the degree to which the bedding will compact over time. You want to avoid using dusty material so make sure to check this to reduce the likelihood of respiratory problems. It is also important to consider whether your calves will attempt to eat the new material you trial. If calves eat their bedding they are also eating any nasty bugs that are living in it.
Getting your calving and calf-rearing areas ready ahead of time allows you peace of mind coming into what can be a busy and stressful period on the farm. Do the best you can with the resources you have at your disposal. You can always take note of what improvements you would like to make for the next calving period. Dairy farmers are inventive by nature, finding and creating solutions to improve their operation. Early planning to set up your facilities puts you in a good position coming into calving.
Q. Why did the bacon laugh?
A. Because the egg cracked a yolk!
Q. What did the scarf say to the hat?
A. "You go on ahead, I'll just hang around."
Q. What kind of tooth is worth a dollar?
A. A buck tooth!
Q. What do penguins eat for dinner?
Q. What do you call a girl with a frog on her head?
Exploring Compost Use on Dairy Farms
Composting is a hot topic for the dairy industry and a new project will examine the use of compost on dairy farms in the south-west.
DEPI, in conjunction with Monash University, applied to the Federal Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) Action on the Ground program, to carry out demonstrations and evaluation of compost use in the dairy.
Although the benefits of compost use for improved soil condition have been well documented, the use of compost in a modern, sophisticated industry such as dairying may at first seem a little odd or 'alternative'. It's important to note this isn't an 'organic' trial. The use of compost will be supplemented with inorganic inputs so production won't be compromised. The nutrient needs of the pastures will be carefully assessed using soil testing. The compost will be analysed to determine its contribution to the nutrient budget and additional inorganic fertilisers will be applied direct to pasture, or incorporated into the compost prior to spreading.
The project aims to:
- Demonstrate on-farm, the potential for composts to increase soil carbon levels, reduce nitrous oxide emissions through enhanced N use efficiency, reduce reliance on external inputs (especially N&P fertilisers) and maintain production.
- Work with farmers to convert effluent combined with spoiled hay/silage into compost.
- Enable farmers to make better decisions on the use of soil amendments to improve and maintain the stored carbon in the soil and reduce greenhouse emissions.
Detailed studies will be carried out on two farms. Fifteen other farms will be surveyed to gather production and economic data to allow comparison of this approach with conventional dairying. All participating farms are in south-west Victoria.
The project will produce a number of outputs including:
- Guidelines on the use of composts on dairy farms to maximise soil carbon, reduce nitrous oxide emissions and improve soil condition.
- Independent and scientifically valid information that improves understanding of nitrogen and carbon dynamics using mixed organic and inorganic inputs.
- Build knowledge and capacity in the dairy industry in on-farm composting for improved effluent management, nutrient management and carbon storage.
- Inform the dairy industry through workshops, field days and media articles.
The project is supported by key industry partners including Demo Dairy, Glenelg Hopkins CMA and Landcare.
For more information on this project please contact Declan McDonald, Specialist Productive Soils, Farm Services Victoria, telephone (03) 5226 4667, or email email@example.com.
"To be a successful farmer one must first know the nature of the soil."
Soil Health Seminar
Tatura Milk and the DEPI Dairy Services Branch will hold two soil health seminars
These are the first of a planned series of seminars that will investigate the importance of healthy soils for dairy production.
Each seminar will feature guest speakers who will explain the physical, chemical and biological properties that underpin the ability of a soil to sustain pasture production in a dairy system.
Tuesday 31 July - Ballantyne Centre Tatura
Wednesday 1 August - Shamrock Hotel, Numurkah
For more information please contact Leah de Vries, telephone (03) 5833 5223 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The National Centre for Dairy Education Australia has two upcoming short courses. These short courses are one unit each within the Diploma of Agriculture. You can also attend a short course as a self development exercise without undergoing formal assessment.
Develop Livestock Health and Welfare Strategies
Do you manage livestock, or are you planning to manage livestock in the future? If so, do you know how to design, implement and evaluate management plans for each class of livestock on a dairy enterprise?
Do you effectively manage calves, heifers, transition cows, early, mid, late lactation and dry cows?
Do you understand the impacts that livestock management has on other components of the farm business?
Do you understand the disease risks facing dairy enterprises and the importance of biosecurity in the development of livestock management strategies?
The management of the health and welfare of livestock is a critical component of all dairy enterprises. Knowing how to best manage all classes of livestock to ensure they become productive, long-lived members of your herd is an essential skill for herd managers.
This short course will train you to develop health and welfare strategies for each class of livestock on a dairy farm.
Dates: 18, 25 July, 1 and 8 August, 2012
A $125 Dairy Australia subsidy is available.
Manage Human Resources
Do you employ staff, or are looking to employ staff? If so, do you understand how to best recruit and select suitable staff for your business?
Do you effectively manage staff recruitment, induction and performance?
Do you understand how to create an efficient and productive labour force?
Human Resources is one of the most critical components of your business. Knowing how to best manage your labour force to ensure your staff are efficient, content, challenged and appreciated is a critical skill for all Farm Business Managers.
A working knowledge and understanding of job analysis, job descriptions; recruitment, selection and maintaining staff; staff induction; staff performance; OH&S, skill requirements, personal and professional development of staff and self; legislation; mandatory record-keeping are just some of the areas covered in this unit.
The unit will train you in all aspects of managing human resources, providing valuable skills in hiring, training and retaining staff.
Dates: July 31 and August, 7, 14, 21 and 28 2012.
Units will be delivered by blended delivery. This means all learner resources will be available on-line and delivery is via video/audio link during classroom attendance days. All regions participate in the same delivery during classroom attendance days, with a facilitator present in each classroom.
To enrol or find out more information visit www.ncdea.edu.au or contact our Customer Service Team on 1300 0 NCDEA (1300 062332).
- Rotation length should be quite long by now (approximately 40 - 60 days) to allow the pasture to grow back to the optimal pre-grazing stage.
- Do not back graze pasture which has been grazed within the last three days, if strip grazing large multiple feed paddocks use an electric fence tape to prevent cows re-grazing over previously grazed areas of the paddock.
- Why not boost your early spring growth with an application of between 30 to 60 kg of nitrogen per hectare in mid to late July. Most ryegrass based pastures will give a response of about 10kgDM/kgN at this time of year. Your best pastures will give you the best response.
- Check withholding periods on any drugs used on stock, and record the treatment date. This is especially handy if a cow calves early or aborts – records can be checked to ensure there will be no residue contamination.
- Monitor condition of cows in the dry paddock and be aware of milk fever prior and post calving this season.
- Are the calving pad and calf rearing facilities ready to go? Once calving starts, things will be too busy to worry about it - get organised early.
- Cost out fodder purchases based on a cents per mega joule of energy basis so you know which feed is the best value for money.
- Stick with feeds you know or understand and have a feed test certificate and fodder declaration.
Focus farm field days
Phillips family farm - Naring, 554 Mills Road Naringaningalook
Tuesday 24 July, 10am - 12.30pm
Koondrook Focus Farm - 95 Olsen Road
Tuesday 31 July
Lunch provided, please RSVP to Tori Rath, telephone (03) 5833 5927 or email email@example.com.
Community Leadership Loddon Murray is partnering with the Gardiner Foundation to run a series of one day workshops and activities for dairy communities in 2012.
The first of these activities is an entertaining networking evening with AFL Legend Doug Hawkins.
Friday, 27 July, 6.00 pm Cohuna Golf Club
Cost $30 and CLLM Financial Members $25, includes two course meal.
For more information or to RSVP, telephone 0447 803 305, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lead and Manage Industry and Community Groups
July 17, 10.00 am – 3.00 pm
NCDEA, William Orr Campus, Wanganui Road, Shepparton.
Manage integrated crop and pasture production
August 15, 22, 29 and September 5,
10.00 am – 3.00 pm
NCDEA, William Orr Campus, Wanganui Road, Shepparton.
For more information please visit www.ncdea.edu.au or telephone 1300 0 NCDEA (1300 062332).
Any feedback or comments are welcomed by the editor Leah de Vries (03) 5833 5223.
For previous issues of the Dairy Bulletin please go to our website www.depi.vic.gov.au/agriculture-and-food/dairy.