South Gippsland dairy farmers are having a bumper season, with rain falling when it’s needed to keep pasture growing.
It’s a similar story for the Wylie family, who milk a predominantly Aussie Red herd (with only a few Friesian cows) at Jumbunna-Outtrim.
“We’ve had rain falling at the right time. For example, we had three inches over five days,” Linda Wylie said.
“It’s soaking rain, which makes a difference to pasture growth.”
Linda is the third generation of the family to work on the dairy farm, alongside her parents, Don and Dawne. Her brother, Donald Jnr, and partner, John Ashmore, work off-farm but are relief milkers, maintain equipment and help with feeding out.
A local contractor harvests hay and silage off the 283 ha farm; fertiliser is spread by a contractor also. Last spring they used a gibberellic acid and nitrogen foliar spray applied by airplane across the hilly dryland farm in June and October.
“We got phenomenal growth from those two applications,” Linda said.
“We feed our cows well and keep the condition on them. The Aussie Reds hold their condition and they’re an easy mid-size cow for us to look after.
“We don’t eat out our paddocks and we feed silage and hay to support grazing.
“We normally hold our cows at the dairy, so they all go back to the paddock at the same time and have equal opportunity to graze and access the hay.”
The farm produces all the silage and most of the hay fed to the cows. With the use of GA last year, there was surplus growth, so they cut silage earlier, at the end of October.
“We buy in good quality oaten hay all year round for the cows,” Linda said.
“We’re feeding four bales of silage per day at the moment.”
The 280 to 300-cow milking herd calves for 10 months of the year, with the majority of the herd calving in March and April.
“We take advantage of autumn growth to calve down the heifers and young cows,” Linda said.
“We calve the mature cows later in the year.
“That lets us spend time with the young cows, bringing them into the herd and into the dairy quietly, getting them used to the noise and movement in the dairy.
“We also calve everything down in a shed. We bring the girls into the shed on point-of-calving, and they’re out of the weather and comfortable.
The heifers are joined to the Wylie family’s own-bred Aussie Red bulls, and the cows are joined to Aussie Reds using semen and AI. Mop-up bulls are usually Angus and Charolais, and this year they are using a Speckle Park bull.
“We’ve bred a lot of replacement heifers in the past few years — we often have 30 heifers we choose as herd replacements each year,” Linda said.
“We also let the heifers get to 18 months old before we join them to bulls, so they’re over two years old when they calve. We believe that helps them maintain fitness, health and longevity.”
Production varies across the year because there are always cows drying off or coming into the herd.
“We average 22 litres/cow/day,” Linda said.
The family’s focus on animal welfare extends into the paddocks, where they bring the cows into the dairy quietly, using laneways to direct flow.
On hot days, the herd is moved into shady paddocks with dams as well as troughs, so the cattle can take advantage of cool areas. In windy, cool weather, the herd is parked in paddocks with shelterbelts to protect them.
“Your cows make money for you, so you need to look after them,” Linda said.
“We feed them well, we look after their feet and we manage their water, feed, shade and shelter requirements every day.
“We make sure the environment is good for them.”