South Australian dairy farmers James and Robyn Mann have built a large-scale business by squeezing maximum returns from every new investment from land to machinery.
They have built Donovans Dairy into a 20 million litre per year operation and now milk 2300 cows in SA’s lower south-east.
Mr Mann, chairman of Dairy Australia, relies on contractors for most of his cropping program including sowing, silage and around 40 per cent of hay mowing.
But when it comes to activities which bolster the profit drivers of an intensive livestock business – fertiliser and feed – he keeps it in-house and relies on his John Deere fleet.
The most used machine, a 6175M tractor, clocked up 3300 hours in the first 14 months.
It is responsible for feeding out 15,000 tonnes of chopped silage, 3000 silage rolls and up to 1500 bales of hay and straw each year.
It is paired with a 683R front end loader with the new automatic mast latch for quicker connection and disconnection.
«We employ 24 full-time staff and three of these do the feeding out, so technology needs to be easy to use, easy to track and efficient,» he said.
«One of the reasons I bought the 6M tractor was it was the most comfortable tractor I had been in but, with the growth of the business, I don’t get to drive it much any more.»
Another 6175M tractor will soon join the ranks and with features such as front and rear PTOs for greater mowing capacity.
The Manns collect herd data twice a day at milking and overlay this with individual cow tests six times a year coupled with genetic information from genomic testing to paint a picture of how they are turning feed into saleable product.
«We are in the business of converting feed to milk, so we are always looking for opportunities to achieve this, whether that be land, trading stock, meat or technologies,» Mr Mann said.
Fertiliser is a key input for the Manns and they rely on their 4240 universal display and StarFire 6000 Receiver for in-season repeatability and signal stability.
«We’re involved in a pasture monitoring project run by DPI Victoria and Dairy Australia, using tools such as drones and satellites to identify areas to target inputs and we can see the potential to integrate technologies like this with GreenStar – it is part of the continuous improvement we strive for in our business.»
Mr Mann was raised on a mixed farm at Bawdsey, England, and came to Australia in the mid-1980s to study at Marcus Oldham College, Victoria.
In 1989, two years after he graduated, Mr Mann and Robyn purchased their first property, at Numurkah, near Shepparton.
They sold it nine years later to trade up to a more sizeable holding over the SA border at Wye, south-east of Mount Gambier.
This 600-hectare beef and sheep property was soon transformed and before long they were up and running.
The Manns now farm 1700 hectares including 10 centre pivots over 480ha of mainly perennial ryegrass and white clover, 40-50ha of corn for pasture renovation and silage production, dryland hay and silage production.
In addition to dairying, the livestock side of the business includes opportunistic cattle trading, composite ewes and finishing Friesian bull calves off as two-year-old steers.
A contract with Lion Dairy & Drinks and their proximity to milk processors on both sides of the border, enables them to direct product as required.