Case study: Kevin Fitzsimmons
When I spoke with Kevin Fitzsimmons three months back, at the beginning of March, he indicated that the way the summer worked out (extremely hot) he needed to buy-in an additional 150 megalitres of irrigation water(He had previously purchased 375 megalitres earlier in the season).
Kevin’s plan was to buy in an initial 100 megalitres to kick off annual pasture to have enough feed ready for the autumn calving cows that were starting in about a month from then.
His key strategy was to over sow all annuals that week, watering them and hopefully grazing them through the last half of spring.
This time when I caught up with Kevin early June 2019, he commented:
“We initially bought 100 megalitres of irrigation water of the potential 150 megalitres we had planned for if the autumn wasn’t favourable.
As it turned out, we didn’t need it in the end. Even though I had used that initial 100 megalitres and we were looking to buy more, prices went from $500/ML to over $600/ML – it is hard to justify paying $500 but $600 was out of the question – in the end we bought-in hay as that was the cheaper option.
We got our autumn break eventually, it came at the start of May, which was a terrific follow up for all the annuals. We oversowed all our autumn pastures, with a mix of rye grasses, shaftal and balansia clovers. With the watering and the follow up rain they’ve all come up well.
So, we’ve got feed in front of the cows now as we start the second week in June 2019. We’ve now got enough feed on-hand to get us through until spring.
On our farm, we ended up with 75 millimetres of rain at the start of May which was brilliant; there was a strip that went through our area that brought a bit more rain. A lot of places got about 60 millimetres, but we got 75 millimetres and we have had regular showers of 5 to 15 millimetres since.
The extra rain we were lucky to receive in our autumn break kicked everything off just in time as we had pre-watered our annuals.
As I said, we didn’t buy any more water, as the water turned off in our supply system on the 15 May, so we didn’t have access to buy-in water on the market after that date anyway.
One of our strategies over the autumn just gone was to sell some of our autumn calving herd if the situation was right, which we ended up doing as we got the price we hoped for; we ended up selling 74 of the 100 autumn calvers. We are still milking 220.
The people that bought them wanted us to calve them down, so we’ve ended up with 52 replacement calves which we have kept. There were three main reasons for us to sell the cows:
- Obviously, it was a tough season and that helped financially.
- We are putting in a pipe and riser irrigation system, due to GMW channel rationalisation. We will be going from having nine outlets back to one, so it will be easier managing a smaller herd while that is happening.
- Feed costs and price of water next season is still a big risk.
In addition to oversowing all our annuals (which came up well), we’ve also put in 40 hectares of oats and 40 hectares of wheat. Both crops had a good strike rate, so have come up well.
We’ve got four tonnes of urea; hopefully that will go out in time with rain that’s expected in a few days time, to give both crops another kick along. We can graze 20 hectares of oats that’s planted on the home farm.
If we get enough regrowth we could also lock that paddock up for hay. The wheat we planted on a neighbouring property (which we are leasing for the first time), along with the rest of the oats, will be cut for hay.
With access to extra land and an option to plant more crops, we thought we’d give planting a wheat crop a go as we’ve bought in wheaten hay a few times now (when it was available at a good price in poor grain harvest seasons) and the cows absolutely love it.
Now that we have that additional leased land we’ve got half of our young stock on it currently as well. Due to there being a bore on that place, we were able to water it and oversow it with annuals as well, which is providing plenty of feed for the young stock that are currently there.
The rest of the young stock are on agistment nearby, which we’ve used for several seasons now as the people we lease from look after us really well.
With enough feed on hand overall, the cows are milking well. We’ll start drying-off the spring calving herd in about a week’s time, which will ease the pressure on the pasture for the milking herd for the six to eight weeks they are on hay and come back in again after calving.
Our next real hurdle is going to be spring. If we can get good spring rain and rain in the catchment and we start looking as though we might get a 100 percent water right we’ll be very happy. So that’s going to be our next biggest hurdle I guess – to know what’s going to happen then.”