Swapping his 470 cow herd from a traditional 305 day lactation to 18 months has helped cut costs and reduce work load for Murrabit dairy farmer John Archard.
Mr Archard is the first to admit extending cow lactations (EL) will not suit every dairy operation, but for him and his 485ha farm, it has worked well.
“Essentially we have cut or costs by a third, cut stock losses by a third and cut our workload by a third,” he said.
“Animal health has stayed constant because the cows get extra time to clean up and put on condition before they are joined and this type of management just seems to suit our herd.
“There is no way I would go back to what I used to do before.”
The first group of EL cows produced 950kg of milk solids and around 13500 litres.
The business is now up to its third group and looks on target to produce around 1000kg milk solids and around 14000 litres of milk.
“We have a herd of pretty good cows and we haven’t lost anything by moving to 18 months – over a three year period they probably produce similar but they have less dry period, less costs and less work,” Mr Archard said.
“When we started I had no idea what the cows would produce and I have been surprised by how well they have done.
“I do believe EL only suits certain dairy herds - pure bred jerseys or smaller framed cows might struggle.”
Mr Archard began the EL process about 6 years ago.
The herd is still calved twice a year in spring and autumn.
When it comes to fertility, Mr Archard said he now gets a lot more cows in calf to AI than he used to and because the cows are getting in calf earlier, semen use has halved.
Next joining season the business will use sexed semen for the first round on the milking herd and then normal semen after that.
“We still get the animals that we can’t get in calf at all and I wonder if that is just a genetic thing with some big fresians but all in all, I would say EL has worked well.
It really suits the heifers because they get a chance to find their way in the herd and clean up before they have their second calf.”
Instead of calving cows in large groups, number have been reduced to a much more manageable 170 at a time and instead of bringing in 25 calves and wondering who the mums are – a big day is now five calves and identifying mums is now a lot easier.
One thing Mr Archard said he does have to watch is the cow’s weight in the last six months of lactation.
“Some cows can get fat and I have found that weaning the whole group back from their grain ration does help,” he said.
“I have lost a couple of cows this year from fatty liver which is something I still need to work on.”
This season tough conditions have meant the farm is down a cut of silage.
“The cows will graze until Christmas and then be fed silage until mid March.”
Mr Archard still has horrible memories of the millennium drought so he has made a conscious effort to ensure he has a couple of years’ worth of silage on hand.
“During the drought we learnt things we would never have thought of doing,” he said.
“Previously we used to just cut hay but now we try and get two cuts of silage, a cut of hay and some grazing on some of our pastures.”
Pastures consist mainly of shaftal and rye and a bit of 150 and white clover (this will be watered until December then dried off).
When the industry was deregulated, Mr Archard invested in a large 250Ml re-use dam. He now uses that to water up 280ha of pasture before the irrigation water comes on, to give his pasture an early start if needed.
“I think the irrigation season needs to be moved forward to August 1 so farmers can water when they need, rather then having to wait for the season to start,” he said.