Sun setting on another season

Sun setting on another season

Sun setting on another season

The Montrose Dairy farming calender revolves around our herds calving date. Our herd is a seasonal calving herd, which means all the cows calve in one batch over a few weeks. This calving period is timed to match the seasons and when our farm grows grass.  Before each cow calves she has a break from milking so at the moment almost all the herd is on ‘holiday’. For the next few week we will only be milking a few cows, these cows remaining in the milking herd will begin their ‘holiday’ soon and they will calve at the later end of the calving season. Cows that are (on holiday) not currently in lactation or being milked are called ‘Dry Cows’.

With the first of the new season calves soon to arrive we are busy preparing for the start of a new season. Planning for the new season this year has been particularly difficult, with very poor autumn rains.  Like most dryland farmers across southern Australia we are short of grass. The feedwedge on our farm is well below the magic blue line where we want it to be.

Pasture cover on our farm yesterday.

Fortunately we still have some silage on hand and some hay reserves. We have had good rain in the last few days so now we need some sun shine and mild weather to get the grass growing.

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Why we plant trees

We are often asked by visitors and others why we plant trees on our farm.  Shade and shelter for our cows, biodiversity and habitat for native species and creating a great place to live and work are the reasons we plant trees.

When we head out to plant we say “We are off to go tree planting”.  It is not only trees that are planted however.  We plant trees, shrubs & grasses that are local to our area.

IMG_1326 adjustedMelaleuca ericifolia ready to plant

It is extremely rewarding to watch as the trees grow up and the landscape around us changes.  It is especially satisfying to see our animals rewarded with shade on hot days and shelter on cold & windy days.

Each year we prepare new sites for planting, replace trees & shrubs that have died and manage weeds in our existing treed areas.

IMG_4449A two year old plantation along a creek line

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Early ANZAC morning.

Early ANZAC morning.

This morning I milked the cows as many Australians gathered for dawn services to  remember and reflect. I always find ANZAC morning particularly poignant, in the quiet of predawn (as I collect the cows for milking) the gravity of what happened on this day in 1915 in some ways seems greater.

April the 25th is an occasion of national remembrance, ANZAC Day is a time when we reflect on the many different meanings of war and remember of all Australians & New Zealanders who have served in military operations.

ANZAC Day at Fish Creek

ANZAC Day at Fish Creek

For many farmers the passing of ANZAC day is also a measure of time and the season.  In our region it is often said if we don’t get good rains by ANZAC day we’ll have a challenge getting enough pasture to get through the winter and new pastures planted after today will struggle through the winter.

Newly sow pastures

Newly sow pastures

Some of the pastures we have sown this autumn are booming along considering how dry we have had it and some are really struggling, fingers crossed for a good rain.

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Record heatwave matched and more to come

Record heatwave matched and more to come

March 10, 2013 from The AgeheatwaveWe always expect a bit of early autumn hot weather, like usual when the weather turns hot my thoughts turn to cow comfort. Keeping our cows cool is a priority, while most of our paddocks have shade, during periods of continual heat it’s important there’s plenty of shade available for the entire herd. Shady milkersWe also provide our milkers with a cold shower at the dairy to cool them down.IMG_20130116_171529[1]IMG_0215xraw

Ongoing hot weather creates a few other challenges for us. Ryegrass pastures shut down and stop growing when the temperature hits 30°C.  Most of our pastures are hardly growing but they are still looking healthy and strong ready to bounce away when the elusive autumn break arrives.



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Time to get our crap sorted

Muck spreading

Spreading sludge

Agitating the effluent sludge

Agitating the effluent sludge

Our cows like the vast majority of dairy cows in Australia live in pasture 365 days of the year. Living in the pastures means most of the cows’ manure goes directly on the pasture, providing nutrients to grow more grass. Twice a day our milking herd is collected for milking and while waiting for their turn in the dairy, some manure is collected in the milking yard.   Effluent pondThe manure cleaned from the dairy is collected in a series of effluent ponds. The liquid from these ponds is applied to pasture acting as nutrient rich irrigation water. Once a year the sludge from the first pond is stirred up and pumped out onto paddocks with a ‘Muck Runner’. This black sludge is full of nutrients and great for fertilising the soil.

This black sludge is full of nutrients

This black sludge is full of nutrients

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Comparing Notes

November discussion at Montrose

If only our pastures were still this green, it was November when our discussion group last visited Montrose Dairy.

Dairy discussion groups have been important for many reasons over many years in the dairy industry.  Sharing ideas, learning new ways, getting moral support or hearing from someone who has gone before are all valuable parts of being in a local discussion group.

Discussion groupI grew up with discussion group legend Jack Green often staying with my family while in the district. He would often arrive bearing gifts, maybe some footy socks from his beloved Bombers for my sister and an article from Hoards Dairyman for me. He was a master at not only inspiring farmers but also building the passion in the next generation of farmers.

We value the sharing and support that discussion groups offer.  They are always a great excuse for a tidy up too!

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Straight into summer

There is often a lot of tractor work to be done on our dairy through spring. Silage to be harvested, pasture renovation work, summer crops to sow and all this tractor work is usually wrapped up with the end of the hay harvest which we usually do in the first few weeks of summer.  Not that there ever is a typical season, this spring has proven to be a very unusual one for us and many others in our district.  Within a month we have gone from being too wet to get machinery onto the paddocks to hay harvest done and dusted.Knocking down silageThis November we harvested the smallest silage crop we have done in 12 years. (With plenty of fodder reserves on hand and the silage/hay season looking very late we made the decision back in September not to chase fodder this year.) Harvesting silageTwo weeks after our silage was harvested the season had turned dry and we were able to get our hay in, all done by late November!Sowing chicory It hasn’t been the best start for my first foray into chicory either. We were delayed sowing the crop by the very wet early spring, it’s up and looking good now though.

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Milk advertising has been in the media of late. It is great to see some quality milk advertising.

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A single gram of farming soil will contain more than 10,000 different species of micro-organisms.

Look after the soil physical and chemical properties and the soil biology will look after itself. That was the key message I took from a recent soil biology forum I attended.

The diversity of micro-organisms in soils is far larger and more complex than, say, plant and animal populations in the Amazon forests. In fact, a single gram of farming soil will contain more than 10,000 different species of micro-organisms. And that’s only covering different species—there could be multiple thousands of each species, so we’re talking big numbers,”  (Leading microbial ecologist, Dr Damian Bougoure, of Victoria’s Department of Primary Industries)

I was asked to present on Managing soil biology from a farmers perspective. Soil biology is one of many factors which we consider when managing the complex biological system of our dairy farm.

Managing a dairy farm involves considering a diverse range of factors on a daily basis

As part of the forum I was asked to provide some notes in response to three statements which I have included below.

Briefly describe your farming system and in particular nutrient management, or grazing or pasture management and anything you do that has an impact on the soil.

We run a seasonal calving dairy farm where we place a major focus on the production and conversion of perennial pastures to milk. Management decisions on the farm are made based on best available science and best management practice principles. Whole farm nutrient budgeting, taking in to account effluent reuse and on farm nutrient cycling, provides the basis on which our input decisions are made. Soil testing to assist with nutrient budgeting is a key component of soil management. We strive to run a system where we achieve efficient utilisation of all resources.

How does your understanding of biology factor into your decision making?

Our farm consists of brown dermosol soils in undulating country in the foothills of the Hoddle Range. The soil type/classification is quite uniform throughout the area we manage, however management history of our land has a significant impact on our soils.

We farm using a systems approach, soil biology is one component of the farming system. No one component of the system can be managed in isolation, soil and soil biota is a critical part of our system which many management decisions impact on. We recognise the state of the soil biology on our farm is influenced by factors within and outside of our control and as with any other component of our farm we seek to understand and manage for sustainable, healthy and economic outcomes.

Our management regime, like many other dairy farms in Gippsland, ticks many of ‘the boxes’ when it comes to managing soil biology. Our soils are moist for much of the year. We maintain soil cover, our rotational grazing means pastures are grazed down to 1200-1400kg of DM/ha and our average farm cover is maintained around 2000kg DM/ha this means our soils are protected from extremes in temperature and erosion risk is minimised. Highly productive pastures results in large amounts of organic matter cycling in the system. Even efficient pasture utilisation by dairy cows results in around 20% of the grown pastures rotting in the paddock as well as tonnes of rotting roots. Manure direct from the cows and applied though the recycling of our dairy shed waste also contribute to the organic matter added to our soils.

Perennial pastures mean paddocks are rarely cultivated.  It is very rare for a paddock on our farm to be cultivated twice in 10 years.

It seems that there is little known of the impact of agricultural herbicides and pesticides on soil biology.   The way our farm system operates, we rarely require/use any herbicide or pesticide. Other than spot spraying of weeds, only one application of glyphosate prior to the establishment of a new pasture is used on most paddocks.

Lime is applied and incorporated into the soil before any new pasture is established.  The application of lime is a routine practice to ensure our acidic soils remain in the optimum range for our rye grass and white clover pastures.

What are the benefits to you of farming in this way?

The perennial pastures which are rotationally grazed on our farm are supported by productive soils. This allows us to operate a dairy farming system that has a minimal impact on the environment while operating in a volatile world market place.

Any form of agriculture impacts on the environment. Agriculture by its very nature is the removal of products from a farm for human use. We aim to optimise the production of agricultural produce from the land we farm on, efficiently utilising the resources and minimising the impacts.

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Dairy farming, a dogs life

A dogs life on our farm doesn’t look too bad. Jess our 22 month old Border Collie seems to love farm life. She may not be the perfect working dog but I think that has more to do with my ability as a dog trainer than her. Her exuberant puppy energy is beginning to be overshadowed by mature self control, she appears to love nothing more than the challenge of rounding up a mob of cattle.

Jess on the job

There’s always time for a laugh

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