Case study 5: Chris Nixon, Bete Bolong, Victoria
I last spoke with Chris 6 months back in early December 2017. At that time, he had started his risk management plans for last summer in mid-October. Chris's key risk management steps were to identify passenger cows, plant summer crops and more maize on the swamp country, and keep as many of the young stock for future milkers as possible. In early December, Chris's risk management strategy had paid off. His next trigger point was in mid-January when pregnancy testing was scheduled.
When I chatted with Chris recently in early June in this second interview, he said the following;
"We dry-planted our crops and dry-over sowed with pasture seed back in March, which have only just germinated in the last shower of rain received two weeks ago. So we have virtually no feed that is of grazing quality at this stage. We are therefore feeding our dairy herd maize silage out in the paddock in a lot feeding style, virtually where they are standing, as they are getting very little fresh grass. My guess is the herd is struggling to get even 0.5 kg DM/cow/day from grazing pasture. We are also feeding canola meal and grain in the shed whilst they are being milked."
"All the maize silage we are feeding out in the paddocks currently we grew ourselves. The canola meal and grain I did have locked in at a price but I've run out of contracts so now I am swinging in the market place. And that's not good as prices are increasing rapidly".
"Over autumn, the dairy poddies were on the dairy peat flats, as they were more like normal pasture for the duration. As it is now very dry on these flats, all young dairy stock will be moved up onto what is usually used as beef country (which is quite a large area) to keep them moving forward, or to at least hold condition. To do the right thing by the young dairy stock we have lightened off our beef herd.
"I consider we had a complete failed autumn, with one of the lowest in rainfall amount that I can remember". We haven't brought in any hay yet as price wise it doesn't stack up to cost per mega joule of energy, compared to concentrates. I'll leave buying in hay until "the last death knell" when I have exhausted all other purchased feed options. I am aware that there are plenty of hay stocks in the south of the state that are currently not available and I suspect a number of suppliers are holding out for a better price. So, I am hoping to delay the need to buy in hay until late August which is when I anticipate they'll start moving those hay stocks".
"The BOM has predicted it will be a drier than average winter in the coastal east of the state and that has probably influenced my decision to sell my beef cows (currently away on agistment) and only bring the weaners back home. So of the original 400 beef cows, we had at the beginning of this milking season, we will only have 100 cows (plus weaners) at the start of the upcoming milking season. My planned strategy of building the beef herd back up next year, allows me to hang on to my dairy stock as the minimum milk price is looking to be the same for next season; so I'm reasonably confident that dairy prices will be okay. In comparison, the way beef prices have been falling away this season, I see it as a huge gamble to spend more money for bought in feed on keeping all the beef herd. So basically, we are destocking the beef herd to enable us to hang on to our dairy stock".
We actually benefit from drier winters in this end of the world (coastal east Victoria). A dry winter suits the feeding of stock because there is way less wastage, compared to when it's a wet winter. Pasture renovation costs are also kept to a minimum. On the negative side, we will get limited pasture growth in a dry winter; so we will need decent rain events by the end of August.
"For me, the next key trigger point will be late August. If it hasn't rained by 30 Aug, the plan will be to lay off three workers and decrease dairy herd numbers, because I can't run a 500 dairy cow herd without rain. I'll drop back to 350 milkers and manage them with just one worker".
"Now (at the start of this winter) we are essentially in survival mode. We've destocked three quarters of the beef herd. I'd like to hang on to what I've got beef wise because of the genetics involved. Dairy herd wise, we are down to 450 milkers and we dry off in two weeks (mid-June). We can't put the dry dairy cows where we normally would because the resown pastures haven't got to the stage where they will withstand grazing. We will continue lot style feeding the dry cows on a couple of paddocks, for a little longer yet. We are trying to get a pasture wedge ahead of us, but it's hard. That's the main issue for us currently as we start this winter - there's no pasture wedge yet, so we've got to develop one".
"Beyond this winter, I particularly see the trigger point of no decent rain by the end of August as an extremely important one, based on historical data that was presented at a recent seminar I attended. It was put to us based on number crunching of historical figures and records that show;
A dry autumn doesn't necessarily mean anything in particular for the rest of the year, but a very dry August will mean an 85% chance in East Gippsland of a failed spring".
"My main plans going forward are that I am trying to limit my buying exposure. If we get significant rain and I've got to buy in hay to get through, then I will, as the end will be in sight. I'll just wear it for say 6 weeks (and I am happy to do this if light is at the end of the tunnel). But right at this point in time (early June), I'm not comfortable enough to start buying in hay yet".