Farm succession met with optimism

By Jeanette Severs

CRAIG CALVERT took on the dairy farm at Mossiface as part of a succession plan, nearly 12 months ago. The dairy farm had been leased to independent operators for several years.

Mr Calvert is the seventh generation of the Calvert family to farm this land at Mossiface. The current 178 ha was once part of a bigger pastoral holding that has been carved up with successive generations.

An irrigation licence went to another family member; which means the dryland dairy farm has traditionally relied on town water in the dairy and a drain into the nearby Tambo River to water livestock.

Mr Calvert has taken on ownership at a time of depressed dairy prices in Australia and significant drought in east Gippsland, but he is optimistic.

Much of his focus in the past 12 months has been on consolidating the herd, improving cow health and increasing production in the dairy shed and in the paddock.

On July 1 last year, the herd’s milk output was averaging 9.8 litres.

“Within nine weeks, they were up to 28 litres,” Mr Calvert said.

“I concentrated on improving herd health in the beginning.”

That included bringing in an animal nutritionist to advise about feeding grain, testing the blood of every cow in the herd to identify mineral deficiencies, redesigning the paddocks to allow a 28-day grazing rotation and concentrating on growing crops in larger paddocks.

As cows were culled from the herd — using high cell counts, reproduction and production figures as measurements — Mr Calvert bought-in replacement cows-in-calf with production figures that mirrored what he was aiming for.

“I wrote out the key criteria for keeping cows in the herd,” he said.

“Our focus is on growing the herd. The replacements have decades of AI breeding for high performance.”

Those calves are now on the ground and will be among the first heifers he raises, to join the milking herd in 2021. He will continue to use top-line Friesian and Holstein semen in the higher-production cows — one-quarter of the herd this year is joined to the semen of a registered Holstein bull — and join Jersey-cross cows to beef semen.

“We should see positive outcomes in herd production and performance in three to four years,” Mr Calvert said.

As the east Gippsland drought bit into its third year, he bought-in oaten and millet silage and wheaten and oaten hay, while crops and pasture re-established. He leased a 20 ha outblock in nearby Bairnsdale to grow oats, barley and rye-grass, to cut hay through this winter. He will sow lucerne in spring this year.

Bores were sunk in spring 2018, with a head pressure of 4.5 m and pumping out water at 1 Ml/day. The initial investment of $70 000 to sink the bores and install troughs, pumps and two-inch pipe across the farm is paying off when compared to the cost of town water.

“We were spending $8000 a quarter using town water in the dairy,” Mr Calvert said.

“We’ve also seen improvements in production and animal health since the cows began drinking bore water.

“We instantly noticed a difference in production, with an extra 1200 litres of milk after the first day they had access to it.”

Production has also been helped by sowing sorghum, lucerne and ryecorn as crops to harvest as green chop or to bale, along with rye-grass and clover to graze. An agronomist and a seed supplier are part of the team.

“We have a calendar for our farm planning, seasonal planning for paddocks, pasture, crops, where we expect peak feed to be growing in each season, where not, and where we expect to see the cows grazing,” Mr Calvert said.

At the moment, the herd receives a green chop of half a wagon of lucerne twice a day, from a 6 ha paddock.

“We cut it in the afternoon, leave it in the trailer to de-gas, then feed it afternoon and morning,” Mr Calvert said.

“By midday, I’m expecting my cows to be sitting down — they’ve eaten enough for the day.”

A sustainability focus continues across all activity on the farm. The effluent with the washdown water goes into a tank and is spread across paddocks on a daily basis.

Colostrum milk is fed to the calves, who also get fresh milk twice a day. Excess milk is fed to pigs on another farm.