Damian Finnegan, three months into the dairy manager’s job, greeted us and provided an articulate and knowledgeable account of the operation.
It is on 89ha (220ac) of clover/ryegrass pasture beside the Broken River and comprises three flood irrigated blocks and some elevated dryland. The 150 head strong herd calves three times a year and 133 head were producing up to 45L a day each through four Lely Acrobat robotic milkers when we called. Newly calved cows were producing more like 20L a day. The Acrobats allow cows to be milked up to three times a day although the average is about 2.2.
Each cow carries an electronic tag around her neck which pretty much controls how much in bail feed she gets, how the machines adjust the application of cups to her particular udder, where her milk goes (colostrum is labelled, stored and fed to her specific calf), and at every milking, records numerous health indicators like cud chewing activity, temperature and weight.
Many cows were clearly showing their ribs and some Stock and Land members thought they were a bit thin. But Damian said they had recently been body scored at about 4.5, which he said was “pretty high” and more than adequate for maximum milk production and health.
The cows have 20kg of grass, 7kg of pellets and 3kg of hay available to them every day “which is more than they can eat,” he said.
This visitor was impressed by the quiet efficiency of the operation; the only dramatic event was the release over about one minute, of a flood of several thousand litres of recycled water from special silos, to wash down the yards and dairy floor. Because of the short term deleterious effect of effluent applied directly to pastures, it is dewatered and stored and is likely soon to be composted. Some goes to a worm farm.
Damian said the expense of running the operation, had blown out unexpectedly by about $20,000 in technician’s charges, incurred since May when they had to repair wiring chewed by an invasion of rats.
“One wire down and the whole system goes down,” Damian said.
There are about 20 Lely Acrobat automatic milking systems in operation around Australia with one dairy having 10 units. But major growth is expected in Tasmania where 18 robotic installations are planned.
The speaker for our next meeting on Tuesday October 2 will be Dr Dennis O’Brien who will speak about animal welfare. He has worked extensively in Asia on agricultural development projects and was in 2002 appointed associate professor and head of the Dookie Campus of the University of Melbourne. Dennis and wife Gail run Wagyu and Wagyu cross cattle on their farm near Stewarton.