Farm­ers tour Canada.

Dairy News Australia - - NEWS - STEPHEN COOKE

BIG­GER ISN’T nec­es­sar­ily bet­ter for Cana­dian dairy farmer Cregg Nicoll, who is con­stantly as­sess­ing his farm in a bid to find the op­ti­mal num­ber of cows and max­imise pro­duc­tion from them. The fourth gen­er­a­tion farmer’s fam­ily has owned the farm near Coal­hurst, just west of Leth­bridge, in south­ern Al­berta, for 100 years, and are cur­rently milk­ing 350 cows. Coun­try re­stric­tions pre­vents them from ex­pand­ing the size of their herd on their farm. “We looked at the pos­si­bil­ity of start­ing a new farm over the road, but where I’m at, it’s too big of an in­vest­ment in my dairy ca­reer,” Cregg said. “In this area, you’re look­ing at about $10 000 an acre. As long as milk­ing 300–350 cows is ef­fi­cient and prof­itable, we’ll stay here.” The cows are housed on the 500 acre (200 hectare) fam­ily farm, of which 250 acres (100 ha) is cropped. They own 900 acres (360 ha) of ad­di­tional land and lease more. They are com­pletely self-suf­fi­cient, grow­ing all their own feed, in­clud­ing feed corn silage, bar­ley silage, al­falfa hay, al­falfa silage and bar­ley grain. They pur­chase pro­tein sup­ple­ments. Cregg re­turned to the fam­ily farm in 1996 af­ter com­plet­ing univer­sity. He be­came a part­ner in 1998 and the busi­ness was ex­panded. “We were milk­ing about 130 and wanted to ex­pand to 250. We built a barn for with 264 stalls, ex­tended the par­lour and pro­ceeded to grow the herd. “As we grew, we found 275–300 was our op­ti­mum. We then ex­panded to 350 to try and in­crease ef­fi­ciency. When in­creases in quota came along, we said, ‘let’s get big­ger’.” The Ni­colls in­creased the herd and in­stalled straw packs (straw bed­ding) to ac­com­mo­date cow num­bers. “We be­came bet­ter man­agers as we in­creased in size and held that level of 400 milk­ing cows for 12 months. Then we no­ticed milk was go­ing down, breed­ing per­for­mance was down and culling rates were go­ing up. When you in­crease cow num­bers, you reach a tip­ping point where mar­ginal re­turns go the other way. So we made the de­ci­sion to go down 50 cows.” They now milk 350 cows, with all cows housed in the barn and all young stock housed out­side. Cows re­main in the barn all year. They can ven­ture out­side into ex­er­cise lots but there is no out­side graz­ing. Cow groups To max­imise pro­duc­tion with 350 cows, the herd is sep­a­rated into four groups — a fresh group (cows with 30 days of milk and lower); a sick pen; a high group and a low group (pri­mar­ily preg­nant cows). With feed costs mak­ing up to 30 per cent of the to­tal cost of pro­duc­tion, the Ni­colls have also run high and low groups of cows to save money. The high group re­ceives a dif­fer­ent ra­tion, with higher en­ergy and a lit­tle more by­pass pro­tein. This ra­tion costs $8.80 per cow com­pared to $7.70 for the low group. All lac­ta­tion cows re­ceive the All­tech prod­uct, Opti­gen (called Op­tisync in Aus­tralia), a non-pro­tein Ni­tro­gen (NPN) source that en­ables im­proved feed con­ver­sion through the pro­vi­sion of ni­tro­gen for the ru­men mi­crobes. Op­tisync drip feeds ni­tro­gen con­sis­tently over

the whole day, which All­tech says helps bet­ter diet util­i­sa­tion, ru­men health and fer­men­ta­tion. Cregg worked with All­tech nu­tri­tion­ist El­don Peth­er­ick on the ben­e­fits of milk­ing a fresh group in 2016 and an­a­lysed the re­sults over 12 months. “We had done some re­search and wanted to see if we could drive peak milk pro­duc­tion. We were happy with the suc­cess so we kept go­ing with it. Out­side of about one month in sum­mer time, this group per­formed well at 100 days of milk. “We feed them high level of by­pass and dif­fer­ent en­ergy sources in­stead of starches. We sep­a­rate them, then move them back into the high group. “If we were much smaller, it wouldn’t be worth it, but at our size we can take ad­van­tage of it.” The suc­cess of the ‘fresh group’ has led to a new co­nun­drum for the Ni­colls. The fresh group shares a fa­cil­ity specif­i­cally built for pre-calv­ing cows. Cregg now thinks it’s a lit­tle too crowded for the calv­ing group and may drop back to 300 milk­ers. “When we built this fa­cil­ity — cows were calv­ing well, tran­si­tion­ing well, mov­ing into the par­lour then milk­ing well, but ex­tra num­bers have stopped that.”


The Ni­colls pro­duce their own silage and aim to car­ry­over 10–15 per cent of each com­mod­ity each year. They av­er­age 18 t/acre for corn silage, 9–11 t/ acre for bar­ley silage, 6t/acre for hay­lage on three cuts. They silage the first two cuts of hay­lage then bale the third cut. They pro­duce 5000 t of corn silage, 3000 t of al­falfa silage and make up the dif­fer­ence with bar­ley silage. It is all mixed on farm for feed.


The Ni­colls re­cently pur­chased a DeLaval Herd Nav­i­ga­tor to as­sist their breed­ing. It is at­tached to the dairy and reads pro­ges­terone lev­els from sam­ples of milk. It will also de­tect LDH as a warn­ing for sub­clin­i­cal mas­ti­tis. The Ni­colls per­form their own AI and pri­ori­tise ud­ders, with feet and legs the next con­sid­er­a­tion. “We need cows with square ud­ders, they milk out quick and easy, and then the cows are done and off they go.”


Calves are placed in calf boxes for 8 weeks be­fore they are weaned, then moved into group pens of be­tween 5 and 10 head. From here they are moved into a barn in groups of 50. Calves are fed milk (3 ½ litres per feed­ing) and a starter ra­tion (a corn/oats/pro­tein pel­let) com­pris­ing 20 per cent pro­tein.

All­tech nu­tri­tion­ist El­don Peth­er­ick with Al­berta farmer Cregg Nicoll on Cregg’s farm.

Cregg Nicoll showed this All­tech tour group of Aus­tralian and New Zealand farm­ers through his Al­berta farm.

Cows are housed in a 264-stall barn.

Calf shel­ters.

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