For the Whites of Leongatha South, it’s all about the breeding.
Recently named as Master Breeders by Holstein Australia, the family has a bloodline of its own that is rich in dairy history.
Les and his son Russ are descendants of one of the original Krowera settlers, who literally cut a path for today’s dairy industry to follow.
“I was fourth generation on the Krowera hills,” Les said.
“My great-great-great grandfather (Joseph White) selected there in 1882. He came out from England at 46 with a wooden leg and went up into the hills of Krowera with just an axe.”
While old Joseph might think the current generation “soft” for farming on the flats of Leongatha South (and doing it with two legs), he’d no doubt be casting an admiring glance over a farm that is clearly a top class operation.
From the well maintained laneways, to the tidy sheds and spotless rotary dairy, the White farm is a picture of a modern dairy business.
But the real stars of the show are the 340 milkers, whose shining coats suggest a herd in rude health.
The good condition of the cows translates to high performance in the milk shed, where years of hard work on improving genetics pays off each morning and afternoon.
“We’re here to make money and by taking the best quality bulls that come through, we should produce the best quality cattle,” Russ said.
“If you have better quality cattle you should produce more milk. More milk more money.”
The registered Holstein herd produced 10,400 litres last year, including an average of 352kg of fat and 346kg of protein.
They’re numbers to be proud of, as are the figures behind the Master Breeders Award that Les said they could have had five years ago if they had filled in the paperwork.
Points are awarded in the judging system for cow condition, production levels and lifetime production output.
To achieve Master status, the breeder needs to have more points than cows bred, with the White’s breeding 1011 females and earning 1992 points.
While the award is no doubt satisfying, the family doesn’t invest time and money in genetics so they can hang a certificate on the wall.
Les started the breeding program 28 years ago when he was still farming up in Kongwak, with Russ continuing to make genetic improvement a priority for the herd.
“It’s the future,” Russ said.
“You try and better your herd so you try and get a better bull. Nowadays with all the genomics going around, we use genomic bulls – they’re the youngest and best bulls coming through. We just keep climbing the tree.”
Les can only marvel at the changes in genomic technology that has seen his breeding program transformed from educated guesswork to a scientific sure thing.
“It’s just unreal what’s available now compared to what was available years ago,” he said.
“You would just have to pick your bulls, which was pretty much guesswork. And I probably picked the wrong bull a few times. But now with genomics you just get the best bull.”
While using 100 per cent AI means no bulls are needed for the herd, Russ is still keeping young males on the farm for resale.
“They (bulls) are a pain in the ass – but I still breed bulls to sell. We’re trying to breed to get them into the AI centre,” Russ said.
“Heifer-wise, we’ve been putting a lot on the boat, which has been good money in recent years.
“It’s come back a little bit in the last 12 months but we seem to think it might kick again by Christmas.
“It’s a bit of cream on the top really. I look at it as excess cattle. You are selling your bottom line cows to the Chinese and getting good money.”
THE tea tree country of Leongatha South can be a different world to other parts of Gippsland – even to farms a few kilometers away.
The wet winters that many Gippsland farmers rely on for ground moisture can produce sodden paddocks that are unusable for long periods.
Conversely, a drier spring can be good news for local farmers, producing good growing conditions for springtime pastures.
“I like the dry winters, and it’s been good up until now,” Russ said in early November.
“An inch of rain now would be perfect for us. It would top us off up until Christmas.”
Les said it’s the first time they have had silage done by the end of October.
“We’d normally start to think about cutting about now but we did our first cut on 15th September which is unheard of. It’s six weeks early for us.”
Plenty of hard work in the past 14 years has seen the winter problems reduced, with a major hump and hollow project allowing water to drain out of the paddocks.
“Since we’ve been here we’ve gained in production,” Russ said.
“We’ve done a lot of work around the place and it’s just about how we want it now.”