Building for success

By Dairy News

OVER THE past three years, Orford sharefarmer Jos Boekhout has found that if you build it, they will come.

No, he hasn’t ventured into a baseball field among the crops a-la Field of Dreams, but he’s overseen the construction of a new rotary dairy, the addition of an adjoining farm and an almost doubling of the herd.

It’s been a challenging but thoroughly rewarding time.

“We’re very close to doubling what we did three years ago,” Jos said.

“Everything has taken shape nicely.”

With the former 32-swingover herringbone, the farm peaked at 460 cows on 210ha. There was a 325 ha supporting block, but it was a 15 km round trip to get there.

In late 2015 the absentee farm owners, Vincent and Julianna Lee, bought the beef property that separated the two parcels of land and merged all three into an 890 ha operation.

The focus was to make it self-sufficient, apart from up to two tonne of grain per cow.

“The extra land gave us that option and we could retain all young stock on the property,” Jos said.

The groundwork on the new 60-bail rotary dairy started November 2015 on a greenfield site.

“We learned from our experiences here and we visited several dairy farms around the district to come up with a plan that would work for us,” Jos said.

“We have a very good relationship with the farm owners and they said to us ‘Think of it as your dairy — you will be the ones milking in it so build what you want’. ”

What Jos wanted was easy cow flow.

“We were pushing it with 460 on the herringbone and we wanted something that was going to flow,” he said.

“The big focus was to have as little labour as possible, making it essentially a one-person shed so the other staff can be off doing other jobs.”

The dairy is equipped with all relevant checks and balances, but that doesn’t mean farmer expertise is ignored.

“We have a computer program but I still find there’s nothing better than physically stripping the herd for mastitis every Monday morning,” Jos said.

“We sometimes pick up things, but it also confirms what we’re seeing on the computers.

“We’ve got nearly three years of information and it generates a health report every morning that shows any unusual trends so we can look at those cows to find reasons why they’re off a bit.”

The farm has gone from 460 to 800 cows with no outside purchases — it’s all been through breeding.

“We carried a lot of cows through that we normally wouldn’t but we were basically trying to build numbers,” Jos said.

The shed and yard were built for 800 cows. “That was always the target; what we felt the property could cope with, while not having to buy outside feed, and so far, we’ve been able to achieve that.”

The numbers have grown from 460 to 600, 650, 730 and in 2019 will peak at the ideal 800.

“It’s been good because it has been a gentle progression,” Jos said.

The farm was achieving just over 500 kg/MS per cow before the changes. That dipped to about 470 in the changeover but has grown steadily back to 500 and the farm is hitting budget of 400 000 kg MS per year.

“Everyone said just get the first 12 months out of the way and then it’s smooth sailing,” Jos said.

“Breaking them into a rotary was an interesting period but it was worth it. If they know the platform you’ve won half the battle.”

This year he’s changing the calving system to allow a smoother introduction to the dairy platform.

With the new dairy in place, and expanded farm base, the rest of the farm had to catch up.

“We were working with new effluent and water systems had to be upgraded from two inch to three-inch pipes to the troughs, new tracks, new subdivisions; it was a huge project.”

Much of the focus was on the new land, formerly beef country.

“That was virgin dairy land and the other land was just a supporting block and it all of a sudden became one unit.”

Consultant Hugh Crockford provided farm mapping with new paddock subdivision sizes, with the focus on breaking up the virgin country through a cropping program.

“We were targeting 70 to 90 ha a year and we’ve done that,” Jos said.

They use a rape crop in spring and then sow back down to permanent pasture, mainly sticking to Matrix. This year they are trialling 150 alongside the reliable Matrix, plus annuals.

A new 1.2 km, eight-metre wide track is being built to give access to the final 80 ha of the milking platform.

The farm has 42 ha under centre pivot irrigation, the same as when it was carrying just 460 cows. Plans are in the pipeline to add a second pivot, with bore tests calculating that the water can reach the new site.

New centralised calf sheds are also planned.

“You can’t do everything overnight; it’s a work in progress,” Jos said.

The farm has seasonal calving, starting with heifers in April and the rest of the herd joining a month later and calving continues until the end of August.

It is part of a correct weight program for 

“We aim for a joining target weight of 330 kg and we’ve achieved that three years running and our number of replacements has gone up; we rear 200 heifer calves a year,” Jos said.

The opportunity to be involved in a development farm intrigued Jos, who moved from New Zealand in 2002.

He worked on the Lees Orford farm for six years before moving to Ballangeich to sharefarm with his parents, who had moved from New Zealand.

When the milk price dropped, the small 170-cow farm couldn’t sustain two families so Jos and his partner Sarah Kelly and their four children moved back to Orford.

“I made the decision I wanted to be a career sharefarmer or manager, not an owner. We’re happy with that decision,” he said.