SPREAD­ING RISK IN SA

Mixed farm­ing pro­vides buf­fer against fall­ing prices.

Dairy News Australia - - FRONT PAGE - STEPHEN COOKE

RUN­NING BEEF and sheep has suited South Aus­tralian dairy farm­ers Bill and Therese Fiebiger for years, but it’s proven par­tic­u­larly help­ful over the past 18 months. The Mur­ray Goul­burn sup­pli­ers, based at Keyne­ton in the Barossa Val­ley, are milk­ing 180 cows. They also run 200 beef cat­tle, com­pris­ing cows, breed­ing stock, calves, steers, and a stud Red An­gus herd of 20 breed­ers, and 300 firstcross sheep on 560 hectares. They also share­farm a fur­ther 80 ha. “Mixed farm­ing is the way to go, par­tic­u­larly when beef and sheep prices are up,” Bill said. The Fiebigers were on the cusp of in­stalling ro­botic milk­ers be­fore Mur­ray Goul­burn crashed prices last year. They re­duced their dairy herd and in­creased their num­ber of sheep and beef as a risk strat­egy. It didn’t hurt that prices for these com­modi­ties were at above av­er­age lev­els. “Re­duc­ing our milk­ing herd by 30–40 cows has made it more man­age­able for both of us,” Therese said. The Fiebigers will re­duce their milk­ing herd down 5 per cent to another 165 milk­ers and slowly in­crease their beef and sheep num­bers, to spread their risk and de­crease their work­load. Their usu­ally re­li­able an­nual rain­fall of 500 mm has been ab­sent this year so far but they have a stock­pile of hay and silage fol­low­ing a good sea­son last year. “We’ve had a slow start to the sea­son. Small amounts of rain have kept things tick­ing over,” Bill said. “There has been a lot of frost, so ev­ery­thing has stopped grow­ing, which is start­ing to be a con­cern. “Peo­ple are try­ing to off-load sheep with the bad start to sea­son, so we could get 100 ewes fairly cheap.” A good sea­son last year en­abled them to carry hay and silage over, which re­lieves the pres­sure. They have also sent 50 young dairy steers on ag­ist­ment nearby so they can pre­serve their hay and silage. “The ag­ist­ment op­por­tu­nity came up so we thought we’d get in early. We’d rather pay for fresh green grass than bring in hay”.

Pas­ture

The Fiebigers have al­ways grown Lucerne but are now grow­ing more for­age ce­re­als. “They are bet­ter than they used to be,” Bill said. They utilise a split sow­ing strat­egy which elim­i­nates hand feed­ing in winter. They plant Out­back late ma­tur­ing oats in early March, which gives them plenty of feed dur­ing winter and into spring. They com­bine this with sow­ing Moby for­age bar­ley in early April, which Bill said gives ex­plo­sive growth through the winter, and fol­lows on with good spring feed. When ren­o­vat­ing, they will plant a ce­real crop, fol­lowed by a rye-grass crop. Pad­docks will then be sown to pas­ture in the third or fourth year. They set aside 80 hectares to pro­duce their own hay and silage and want to pro­duce 1000 rolls of each ev­ery year. The lack of rain has made for a drawn out process this year, but they man­aged to plant 100 ha of oats and vetch in June, as well as 80 ha of an­nual rye-grass. “It’s been a pretty un­usual sea­son, it’s pretty re­li­able here usu­ally,” Bill said. “We av­er­age 500 mm of rain and it falls at the right time nor­mally. When we’ve missed out of late, it’s nor­mally in the spring. “We’ve had a lot of frosts this winter too, which has added pres­sure.”

Calv­ing

The Fiebigers have a split calv­ing — calv­ing 6 weeks from end of Jan­uary, and again in spring — to cre­ate flat milk sup­ply, and to free up time for spring lamb­ing. They rear all dairy bull calves, grow­ing them out to two years old. Therese han­dles calf rear­ing. A hay shed was re­cy­cled into the calf shed and in­stalled with au­to­matic calf feed­ers for milk and grain seven years ago. “With calf rear­ing, you get out of it what you put in. Even though we have au­to­matic calf feed­ers, you still have to be there. I spend hours in there mak­ing sure they are all drink­ing and eat­ing. “We went two years with­out los­ing a dairy heifer.” Calves re­ceive colostrum in the first 36 hours and have ac­cess to grain and hay. “We like them to have grain and hay as quickly as pos­si­ble be­cause it’s good for their ru­men,” Therese said. Calves are fed a mix of bar­ley, trit­i­cale and lupins. Lupins help drive ap­petite. The Fiebigers in­stalled their own disc mill and mix their own calf feed. Heifers re­main in the calf shed for 65 days and are then moved into a pad­dock with grain feed­ers, with grain pur­chased from grow­ers in Keyne­ton and Eudunda. They also have ac­cess to hay and green pick. In the last few years they have re­tained dairy steers, sell­ing them in lots at 4 months and 8 months. They are run with the beef steers and fed home­grown feed. They have fetched prices of up to $5.60/kg.

Therese and Bill Fiebiger have ex­pe­ri­enced less rain and more frosts than nor­mal on their Keyne­ton farm.

They set aside 80 hectares to pro­duce their own hay and silage and want to pro­duce 1000 rolls of each ev­ery year.

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