Back In it for the long term - A resilient farm system

Date: 15 May 2015

On May 5, David, Raewyn, Jeremy & Lucy Bennett hosted a field day at their Richmond Downs dairy farm. Topics that they covered included profitability, staff management, cow feeding and environmental sustainability. If you missed the field day, this article contains a wealth of information given out on the day about their highly profitable and sustainable farm system.

KEYS TO SUCCESS

Great people
This is a family farm which employs a sizeable team of high quality employees. This allows production and profit goals to be met whilst at the same time giving the Bennetts freedom to pursue off-farm interests including church, fishing, rugby and off-roading.

Careful financial and physical monitoring
This allows the Bennetts to benchmark their performance against previous seasons as well as other farms. Excellent analysis methods allow them to weigh-up the pros and cons of capital investments. Top quality records enable them to make changes to their system to fit the season (e.g. weather and payout conditions).

Focus on cow feeding
The aim is to ensure cows are fully fed throughout their lactation. Monitoring of individual cow performance allows more costly rations to be fed to those cows which will generate the best milk return.

Good infrastructure and systems
Good infrastructure and systems allow the Bennetts to enjoy what they do.

Emphasis on profitability and environmental sustainability
A highly profitable system has allowed the Bennetts to grow their business. Significant investment in infrastructure will ensure the farm remains environmentally sustainable in the long term.

FARM HISTORY

1985 David and Raewyn purchased their first farm, 37 ha, at Springdale.
1991 Sold the Springdale farm and purchased 44 ha at Ngarua.
1992 Sold Ngarua farm and purchased 90 ha, which is part of the current farm, at Richmond Downs.
2001 Purchased 140 ha neighbouring farm.
2006 Purchased 57 ha run-off - 50% share with Jeremy.
2007 Purchased 54 ha neighbouring farm.
2008 Jeremy sold his share of the run-off to David and Raewyn's company and purchased a 15% share in the farming business.
2009 Purchased a 157 ha farm as a support block.
2013 Started milking 226 cows on the support block now OCD 006
2014 Purchased 61 ha dairy farm adjoining OCD 006. 20 Nov, 2014 Jeremy and Lucy increased their shareholding of the business to 40%.

FARM DETAILS 2014 - 2015


• Home farm is 258 ha (eff.) milking 1,200 cows.
• Second farm is 136 ha (eff.) and milking 300 cows.
• There are a total of 497 mixed age young-stock grazed on the milking platform.
• Since 2013-14 the two farms have been run together and production and feed numbers reflect both farms.
• There is also a 57 ha run-off which contains a small area of lease land.
220 R2 Autumn calvers were grazed on run-off from June until February.
• In the 2014-15 season the farm grew a total of 143 ha of Pioneer® brand maize silage and 32 ha of Pioneer® brand lucerne.
• Currently the farm is running a split calving system with 70% autumn calving, 20% spring calving and 10% carryover cows.
• Supplying Open Country Dairy for the past two seasons.

PROFIT


• Aim to maximise production and profit and invest in infrastructure in the higher payout years and endeavour to control costs in the lower payout years which may result in a slight decrease in per cow production.
• In the 2014-2015 season profit has been impacted by the low payout; higher than ideal price of feed contracted in the prior higher payout season and considerable development costs associated with the purchase of the new farm in 2014 such as water, hedge removal, fencing, contouring etc.
• Raewyn and Jeremy prepare careful budgets prior to committing to big spends.
• Detailed records are kept long-term so they can be referred to when necessary.
• Monthly reports from the accountant are studied carefully to ensure everything is on track.

PHYSICAL AND FINANCIAL INFORMATION

*Prior to 09/10 the effective area of the farm did not include the cropping area. In the 13/14 season the run-off was included in the farm area as the Bennetts started milking on it.
**Pasture harvested in last two season was low due to droughts and more maize being grown on the better, flatter paddocks.

FEED


• Jeremy has monitored residuals and pre-grazing covers every three to four days in past seasons and currently is doing a weekly farm walk.
• Feed costs are controlled by growing their own feeds, for example maize silage was 15-16 c/kgDM this season. Jeremy closely watches feed price trends to try and ensure the best purchase decisions are made.
• Supplementary feed input in the 2014-2015 season is 4.6 tDM/cow comprising of approximately:
   - 1.46 tDM/cow maize silage
   - 1 tDM/cow PKE
   - 1 tDM/cow potatoes or tapioca
   - 600 kgDM/cow protein supplements (canola, soymeal and DDG)
   - 200 kgDM/cow lucerne or lucerne silage
   - 200 kgDM/cow home-grown pasture silage
   - 200 kgDM/cow straw
• Cows fed to full potential for first 50 days. After this production is reviewed weekly and cows are fed according to their production levels.
• Cows walk on average 6-7 km each day which is a significant energy cost.

STAFF


• Jeremy manages the farming business, assisted by Lucy who does calves and administration.
• David does the artificial insemination and helps with milking penicillin cows, calving and odd jobs. Raewyn looks after the accounts and has been very involved with calf rearing in prior seasons.
• The home farm has a Farm Dairy Manager, responsible for mastitis, SCC, plant hygiene etc, plus three other milkers working nine days on and three days off, on three different shifts.
• There are also two tractor drivers and general farm hands, that look after maintenance, effluent, fencing, shifting young stock, these staff alternate with every second weekend off.
• The second farm has a Farm Manager and a Farm Assistant who alternate every second weekend off.
• Looking for staff who are honest and trustworthy. They must have a good work ethic and be willing to learn. Need high energy levels as this is a busy farm .

ENVIRONMENT


• Five 300-cow Herd Homes® commissioned over the past two seasons.
• First Herd Home® built on OCD 006 which had no feedpad or effluent system. Made more sense to build a Herd Home® than to build a feed pad and a large effluent system to cope with the water it collected.
• It worked so well four more Herd Homes® built on the home farm. 10 million litres of rainfall off the feed-pads no longer going through the effluent system!
• Saved $50K per year which was being used to resurface bark pad.
• Can feed more cows with less wastage and big improvement in cow comfort and welfare.
• Concentrated effluent from under the Herd Homes® easier to transport longer distances and in the future could be sold off-farm if necessary

ENVIRONMENTAL INFORMATION

***Thanks to Sarah Sexton, Ravensdown for the Overseer analysis.

• Higher input farm systems are inherently hard to model in Overseer.
• Overseer predicted N losses are always high in paddocks which have come out of long-term pasture. You lose N whether you renovate pasture through a crop or direct drill grass-to-grass.
• Long-term Waikato maize blocks which are winter grazed are showing an N loss of 15-20 kg/ha/year. In the Bennetts scenario the new maize blocks, out of long-term pasture, are showing a loss of 70 kgN/ha/year. This may be an overestimation.