Discussion Group Round-Up

discussion group wrap up

Samantha Flight and Lesley Irvine, TIA Dairy Centre

Central North Discussion Group

The Central North Discussion Group met last month on Jody and Susanna Haberle’s dairy farm at Dairy Plains. Jody and Susanna milk 550 cows at peak on 250 ha.

Drainage was a strong discussion point on the day. Dr Bill Cotching was able to provide some great discussions about the hump and hollow drainage system used on the farm. On the day, it was evident the hump and hollow drainage was working well, with the humps having a higher pasture cover than the hollows where water was flowing. We also looked at some of the paddocks that were extremely wet and discussed the future drainage plans.  There were numerous drainage options discussed, including further expansion of the hump and hollow drainage system. However, Bill Cotching suggested that underground drainage would possibly be a more effective option for the new area under discussion. The Haberle’s are also cleaning-out existing drains. The importance of good drain maintenance cannot be underestimated. Poorly maintained drains do not move water effectively from wet areas, causing a negative impact on pasture growth.

Devonport Discussion Group

Last month the Devonport Discussion Group met at the Ben and Wendy Radcliff’s dairy farm at West Pine to discuss all things about soils. 400 cows are milked on 140 hectares. Cropping is incorporated into the business, with a variety of crops such as potatoes and poppies rotationally grown on the milking area. Dr Bill Cotching led a discussion on many topics around soils one of which  was soil compaction. Compacted soils will have noticeably smaller populations of living organisms, such as a reduced earthworm population. Earthworms are an important soil conditioner as they help aerate and improve soil structure. In a healthy soil you should find 25-50 earthworms per spade full.

As most farms suffer some form of compaction caused either through livestock trafficking and pugging damage or from heavy machinery use a discussion was held on how these situations could be either avoided or reversed. Reversing damage caused by compaction is a slow process. Bill suggested sowing paddocks down to pasture for 10-15 years would allow the soil to recover. Controlled trafficking and avoiding using heavy machinery on wet paddocks and/or limiting their access will help prevent further compaction.

Compaction caused by livestock mostly occurs in wet conditions. Providing multiple access points to a paddock, back fencing, on/off grazing and the use of feed pads will all help reduce the level of compaction.

Some of the key points discussed with Bill Cotching at both of the discussion groups included:

  • Know your soil fertility levels and variability of the key elements P, K, and S across your farm – soil test all paddocks every 3 years - so you can apply appropriate fertiliser to different areas and perhaps in areas of extremely high fertility  mine the fertility that you have built up and save some ‘big dollars’.
  • Know what nutrients are moving on and off the farm through milk, crops, livestock sales, silage or hay sales or purchases etc.
  • Do a nutrient budget, so you can calculate the exact level of nutrients that need to be applied.
  • Drainage may be  essential to ensure soils don’t remain waterlogged after heavy rains or flooding events. Water needs to able to move off as quickly as possible to minimise the anaerobic (no oxygen) soil conditions which inhibit good soil microbial health.
  • Understand the impact compaction can have on the potential uptake of nutrients from the soil.
  • Learn how to assess soil for compaction damage.  This involves digging a hole and measuring the ease with which the spade goes into the soil and making a visual assessment of the structure of the top section of soil. Break apart the soil and estimate the force required (uncompacted soil is loose and friable). Give your soil a score from 1-10 on aggregate formation, with a score of 6 or less being considered degraded. See Bill Cotching’s Soil Health for Farming in Tasmania guide for more information: http://www.utas.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0005/386762/Bill_Cotching_Soil-Health-for-Farming-in-Tasmania.pdf.

Yolla/Wynyard Discussion Group

Last month the Yolla/Wynyard Discussion Group met at Richard & Melissa Duniam’s Rocky Cape farm where they currently milk 500 cows. The meeting topic, for this discussion group, was cow health, particularly at calving time. Dr Gavin Kaiser from Wynyard Veterinary Clinic was the guest speaker and shared some great tips on caring for cows during the calving period.

Gavin spoke about the importance of transition cow management. The transition period covers the 4 weeks leading up to and after calving. This is the period of greatest demands and stresses on the cow’s bodies. Cows tend to have reduced dry matter intake in late pregnancy and early lactation but still have high requirements for fibre, energy and protein. A negative DCAD diet pre-calving helps promote blood calcium and avoid metabolic issues such as milk fever. Feeding fresh cows a positive DCAD diet supports them during early lactation. Getting this right can set you up for peak lactation and hopefully a profitable year.

In addition to getting the transition diet right, it is also important to have good calf health and nutrition practices. Calves need to receive high quality colostrum immediately after birth. Maintaining clean colostrum collection procedures and having cold storage are important factors in providing quality colostrum. A refractometer is a good tool to measure the quality of your colostrum. A good quality colostrum will have a Brix value of 22% or higher. Quality, quantity and quickly are the three q’s we need to consider when feeding colostrum.

Scouring is the most common ailment of calves. Regardless of the type of scours, rehydration through electrolytes is the important first step in the treatment process.

TIA would like to extend a special thankyou to Roberts and Yolla Co-op for their continued support in providing BBQ lunches for the discussion groups.

King Island Discussion Group

Gerard Mulder was the guest speaker at the last King Island Discussion Group. The Mulder family were the winners of the 2017 Tasmanian Dairy Business of the Year Award and Gerard spoke to the group about the key profit drivers the Mulders use in their business including:

  • Maximising pasture production and consumption. This is achieved by getting the rotation right. Paddocks are grazed at the 2.5 to 3 leaf stage. This is monitored by paddock leaf stage checking and by using a paddock rotation wheel. Residual management, renovation, nitrogen and soil fertility were some other key pasture factors.
  • Making timely decisions. Opportunities (and money) can be lost, by not doing things at the right time.
  • Having a low cost system. Gerard made the point that low cost, doesn’t mean lowest cost, it is more about ensuring that money spent gives a good return.

Robotic Milking Systems Discussion Group

The RMS Discussion Group met at Cameron and Denise Suna’s farm at Wilmot. Cameron and Denise are in their second season of milking with robots. Like most farmers that start milking with robots, the first 12 months was very challenging but having survived that, they are now enjoying having a RMS.

While the original focus of the meeting was on managing long rotations (small pasture allocations) under a voluntary system, this shifted to a discussion on managing fodder crops. With many fodder crops, it is important to manage the amount of crop an animal eats, as over eating can lead to serious health issues. In conventional milking systems, allocations are given by putting the whole herd into a set-area of a crop and/or leaving them for a set amount of time on the crop. In a voluntary milking system, cows move to and from the dairy as they choose and are automatically allocated to a fresh break by the timed smart gate systems. At first look, this might seem it would be impossible to use fodder crops in a voluntary milking system, as cows would be directed to the fodder crop and potentially eat too much. However, Cameron and Denise developed a system that worked on their farm. Each afternoon cows were put onto a set allocation of crop before they were moved on to a pasture paddock which was part of their 3-way grazing allocation.

Published on: 21 Aug 2017 3:51pm