Every farmer is familiar with the milk drop that comes along with prolonged periods of hot weather, and every farmer is keen to keep that drop to a minimum.
Rather than investing in infrastructure, Ross and Melissa Nicoll are utilising the assets they already have on their Numurkah dairy farm, which includes a couple of heavily shaded tree plantations running north to south.
These areas help keep the cows as comfortable as possible when the mercury rises and are one of the best assets the farm has. according to Mr Nicoll.
On hot days, cups are on the cows about 5 am and the cows are back in the paddock by 7.30 am.
When the cows have access to pasture during summer, which is dependent on temporary water prices, they are moved to the shady paddocks in mid to late morning or before the heat kicks in.
Hay rings are placed into the water troughs to prevent cows from cooling off in the troughs and spoiling the clean drinking water for the rest of the herd.
Hay feeders are used to minimise wastage and are placed close to shade and watering points. Cows can access the hay at their leisure.
During summer the milking herd is supplemented with sub, lucerne and cereal hay.
Silage, and its higher moisture content, is used during intense periods of heat.
``It is noticeably cooler in the shaded paddocks,’’ Mr Nicoll said.
``These areas are our best option for keeping our cows cool … failing to properly manage animals during these periods will negatively impact our cash flow.
``Keeping cows cool combined with feeding high quality supplements will assist us to maintain production during the hottest periods and allow us to take advantage of higher milk prices when autumn comes around.’’
While the business milks early on hot mornings, afternoon milkings stay around the same time, usually about 3 pm.
“We take the radiant heat out of the concrete yard in the afternoon by pumping water through the flood wash prior to milking.
``Sprinklers are used to cool cows as required.
``The cows have access to drinking water at the dairy after each milking and most of the cows usually come out of the shed and head straight for a drink.
``We have placed an additional trough at the dairy specifically for that purpose, and it has served us well.’’
Mr Nicoll believes in extending the knowledge his workers have by encouraging them to get involved in industry workshops.
``Having a small team of great workers really helps our business,’’ he said.
``Our employees are active participants in relevant industry workshops and their involvement is reflected with increased responsibility of day-to-day decision-making.’’
In an ideal world Mr Nicoll would have cows grazing additional summer crops and pasture, but unfortunately expensive water costs this season have severely limited this option.
The farm currently has 10ha of millet under a centre pivot irrigator.
A further 30ha of perennial under pivot is being nursed through the summer, waiting for a hopeful early start in autumn.
The majority of irrigation water has been saved for autumn.
Mr Nicoll has also found establishing relationships with hay suppliers to be beneficial.
It ensures he has a regular supply of good quality hay every season and takes the worry out of sourcing hay.
``We have been using local reputable hay suppliers for a number of years, and these connections play an important role in our business in providing addition supplement.’’