Case study: Hans van Wees
Hans van Wees, Boisdale, Macalister Irrigation District – Gippsland
When I last spoke with Hans six months back (early June 2018) he was still dealing with lower silage production effects from the previous dry spring and buying in a bit of hay of a lower grade for his dry cows. Despite lower fodder reserves, he wasn’t going to be doing much destocking until September, when all the potential milkers would be in.
I spoke with Hans mid December 2018 to find how he faired over last winter and spring and about his management strategies for this summer.
“We watered all the farm that we could (approximately two thirds of it) as soon as the MID irrigation season began on the annual start date of the 15August. The MID Irrigation System which uses Lake Glenmaggie as its main water supply, is managed by Southern Rural Water (SRW). A new irrigation pipeline as part of SRW’s irrigation modernisation program was being constructed at that time we did our first watering and as direct result we were unable to water what amounted to a third of our usual irrigation area”.
“We made no key culling decisions until about the 3October by which time most of our cows had calved. Although we destocked about 50 to 60 late calvers then, we are currently still milking what milkers we were left with in early October, around 850 cows. We had planned to carry those 50 to 60 extra cows right through this current 2018-19 milking season in case it was a really good spring but offloaded them because it was very dry early on in spring and a late minimalist spring was looking like the best scenario at that time”.
“Spring actually ended up happening a little later because it was colder and drier but once it arrived it was in hindsight “pretty good”. It was what I call a short sharp spring. We harvested a fair amount of fodder but not as much as normal. It turned out that it wasn’t that bad of a spring overall for us really”.
“Over winter it paid to keep buying in what was at that stage fairly cheap hay for drying off and we kept (so didn’t feed out) our good quality silage which we’ve still got on hand. That strategy worked well as we saved about 250 tonnes of dry matter of our home-grown silage. In August when it was dry and there were a lot of unknowns around what our irrigation allocation was going to finish as, at the end of spill on 15 December, we considered the long-term climate outlook. Given it was looking like being drier than average for the next three months at that time and given we decided not to buy hay because they were talking $450 – $500/tonne then for milking quality fodder, we got organised and put in about 50 hectares of summer crops. We were able to do this because of some additional irrigation water from our creek diversion licence; which meant we could plant these crops early on a part of the farm that we don’t normally milk off. Over that 50 hectares, we essentially put in a mixture of millet and chicory on one half and millet and plantain on the other half. Since recent rain events, that cropping strategy is now certainly looking like it was worthwhile”.
“Currently we are continuing to make a conscious effort to maintain good growth rates of our young stock. We recently bought 100 tonnes of very good quality hay with a feed test of 12 ME (Megajoules of Energy) at what we think is a good price. Because of its quality, this hay will be used as both milker and or young stock feed as required”.
“Now that it is past the Glenmaggie spill date of 15December and we’ve been allocated 35 per cent of Low Reliability Water Share (LRWS) in addition to our 100 per cent of High Reliability Water Share (HRWS) we will irrigate flat out until the end of March using best practice irrigation. We will continue to monitor ETo (reference evapotranspiration*) and watering the whole farm (the new SRW pipeline which covers 30 hectares of our property has been in operation since early September). From our water budget calculations, we have enough water from the MID Irrigation System for 4.5 ML / ha to water the whole farm until the end of March, even if we have no further rain events and no increase in LRWS allocation.
“Prior to the very recent MID irrigation water allocation of 35 per cent of LRWS in addition to our 100 per cent HRWS, we planned to cull poor performing milkers as soon as possible after pregnancy testing which is done end January/early Feb (approximately 12 weeks after mating). But now the pressure to cull early is greatly reduced. We have 400 ML of ground water, so we can use that all the way through until the end of autumn if needed as we won’t run out of ground water. As a worst-case scenario situation, if our water budget calculations end up being “way of the mark”, we can keep at least one third of the farm well-watered in April May June if we have to”.
For more technical information, see our page on evapotranspiration, ETo and irrigation scheduling.