Two decisions in the past year have been transformational for south-western Victorian dairy farmers Roger and Amanda Heath.
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Roger Heath says including probiotics for his Camperdown herd has lifted production and milk solids, while improving herd health. Photo: John Leech.

The couple milks 380 head at Wanstead Jerseys — including 70 Illawarras under Amor Illawarras — just outside Camperdown.

One of their six children, Tayla, 20, now works alongside them in what is finally a season in which most dairy farmers are happy to be milking cows.

Roger admits there have been times when they have questioned whether they should continue.

They were milking through a 20-a-side swing-over herringbone, labouring under poor payouts and the seven-hour commitment in the dairy every day.

Roger said he “dreaded” going to milking because it took so long, and they weren’t sure if they would ever be in a position to change it.

After the 2016 milk price crash, the Heaths joined ACM, and — as things started to improve — they decided to push on and build a new 50-stand rotary dairy in October 2020.

“Honestly, if ACM hadn’t come along, I don’t think we’d still be milking cows,” Roger said.

“We needed a change, and we had no confidence left in the whole industry.”

The new dairy was built next to the old herringbone, which has since been transformed into an undercover yard.

“It’s absolutely fantastic,” Roger said.

“It’s cut our milking times in half. We can put 300 cows through in an hour now, and we can feed to production — and that ticks a lot of boxes for us.

“It’s made a massive difference to our life.”

The second change was their decision to replace antibiotic buffers in their in-feed system with probiotics from Australian Probiotic Solutions (APS).

Roger knew it was a big call, because they feed lucerne pasture and bloat can be an issue. However, his preference for natural products drove him on.

In September 2020 they added BioPro to their grain mix.

APS says it is made from a unique combination of 11 powerful biological compounds, five selected strains of probiotic bacteria and a specific strain of active live dry yeast — Saccharomyces cerevisiae — which stimulates cellulose-digesting bacteria, improving fibre digestibility and rumen development.

The probiotic bacteria are micro-encapsulated, to reach the lower GI tract for improved immune function and the competitive exclusion of pathogens.

Finally, APS says a blend of five digestive enzymes in BioPro supports feed breakdown, allowing more surface area for microbes to work on.

Multiple herd health benefits

Roger said he was a little nervous as he looked at his lucerne pasture when it was ready to graze.

“The first day we went back in there, I thought, ‘Here we go, I better stay here and watch this in case the cows blow’.

“But, it just wasn’t an issue. The cows were fine, and that not only excited me, it blew me away.”

It didn’t take him long to notice other subtle shifts in his herd’s health.

The first was increased rumination. Roger said he now looks back and estimates that roughly 40 to 50 per cent of his cows used to chew their cud.

“Within 10 days of adding the BioPro, I’d go up the paddock at 9am, and 98 per cent of the cows would be sitting down chewing their cud,” he said.

“They looked fuller, and they were just so content. I took a video the other day of the cows waiting to go into the dairy — all chewing their cud.

“I guess you get a bit complacent about that, but when you see so many cows doing it, you realise something significant had to have been missing.

“We also had a production lift of about one to two litres per cow, and our milk solids lifted by about half-a-percent. It had to be the BioPro, because we had literally changed nothing else.

“There were also noticeable changes in their manure. They were digesting their feed better, it’s simple as that.

“We had been getting a bit of grain and fibre coming through in their manure. Within a fortnight to three weeks, we had basically eliminated that.”

General cow health also improved.

“You’d get those cows that always look a little bit flat — who are not necessarily aggressive. I think we’ve eliminated those cows. They’re just not there.

“I think it’s great we’re not using antibiotics. We haven’t been using the BioPro long enough yet to know if it will make a massive difference to our in-calf rates, but I believe it will, because the cows are just so content.”

Into the calf sheds

Roger has extended the probiotic program to their calf sheds — available through Daviesway DASCO — adding SuperCalf to the milk.

Designed for whole milk, APS says SuperCalf includes five industry-leading-strength micro-encapsulated probiotics (at 15.5 billion colony forming units or CFUs), five digestive enzymes, active live yeast, Actigen (a yeast carbohydrate, which normalises gut microflora and promotes microbiome diversity), Yucca (an extract derived from Yucca schidigera, which is native to the US deserts and leads to higher microbial yields through rumen nitrogen uptake), vitamins and minerals.

“We certainly haven’t had any sick calves, and the calves look really healthy,” Roger said.

“I think this product has helped them get on to the grain quicker, and if they do that, at the end of the day you can pull them off their milk sooner, so the weaning ages become a little bit sharper.”

The Heaths also offer OptiGuard, a premium, finely-milled zeolite product for treating diarrhoea in calves.

The BioBoost paste — a probiotic paste with the addition of vitamin E — completes the regime. Roger said the paste was ideal for cows who were slightly “off”, and new, stressed or sick calves.

“I give it to every calf that goes into the shed, because it gets things going for them immunity-wise,” he said.

“I also use it if the cows might have a bit much grain — we give them 15 to 20g of that for three days and it certainly gets them back quicker.”

Final piece in the puzzle

Roger’s next step will be to use APS’s lead feed, SuperStart.

APS says this product includes more than 70 billion CFU probiotics delivered daily in a targeted anionic salt, vitamin and mineral blend.

“We like BioPro, and we love what it’s done for our cows,” Roger said.

“We’re keen to try the SuperStart lead feed in the spring. Once we do that, I think we’ll see even bigger changes.

“I’ve been telling people about these products all over the place. It’s too important not to share.”

THE Dairy Industry Code of Conduct has brought about a “significant culture change” within the dairy sector and helped increase competition at the farmgate, according to Australian Competition & Consumer Commission deputy chair Mick Keogh.

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