Milk price prompts pasture rethink | My Machinery
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Milk price prompts pasture rethink

When the milk price was slashed last season, Gippsland dairy farmer Bruce Manintveld did not complain. Rather, his response was to return to the basics of dairying and do what he does best: grow as much grass as possible. “I had been through this situation before and we are a fairly low operation, so I knew we would get through it,” he said. The sharefarmer milks 290 cows at Shady Creek with his wife Fiona and owners Geoff and Marlene Marriott. However, the difference this time around was an extraordinarily high grain price that was hovering at $335/tonne. It was having an impact on farm costs, so the couple tried a different tactic. “We normally feed out 1.3t per cow, but this year we tried to drag that back down to 1t, without it impacting on production,” Mr Manintveld said. The solution was to go harder with urea. “We really pushed to get more silage, because it’s cheaper than grain,” Mr Manintveld said. At the moment, he is applying 100 kilograms of urea for every grazing (30 days). But in a typical year, fertiliser might be applied every second grazing. “Urea is about $650/t, but we could justify that cost, because we wanted to maximise grass growth,” he said. The result? In November, the Manintvelds harvested 160t of dry matter overall. “That’s as much as we’ve ever cut in one go,” he said. Last season, pasture consumption was impressive at 10t/ha, and the couple are hoping for a similar result this time around. And while South Gippsland in particular suffered from a wet winter and stagnant pasture growth, Mr Manintveld said seasonal conditions had been more favourable. “It’s only in the past week the country has dried off,” he said. “We’ve been really lucky.” Supplementary feeding began a fortnight ago. Production up to this point has remained stable, only dropping off in the recent extreme heat. “We have managed to get similar results with less grain up until now,” he said. The herd averages 4700 litres per cow annually, 3.8 per cent protein, 5pc fat and 430kg of milk solids/cow. And while some producers have been pushed to the brink with this season’s farmgate price, Mr Manintveld said his farm was still maintaining a healthy margin. “We have got a margin and we’ll survive,” he said. “It’s probably gone from 25 cents/L down to 15c/L, but we are still making money.” A bid to grow grass has paid off, but the other advantage is the Manintvelds do not employ outside labour. He does however employ farm consultant Jeff Urie. “It is helpful to see exactly where your money is going, where you can improve and how you compare to other farms,” he said. The record-keeping and financial side of the business is an element that Mr Manintveld enjoys himself. “I’ll often sit down and look at the figures when I can, it’s important to understand that side of things,” he said. But while a margin was retained this year, Mr Manintveld is concerned this will become harder in the future. “Margins will decrease over time,” he said. “So it’s important to keep costs down and do what you can on-farm.” Since the couple entered a sharefarming agreement with the Marriotts seven years ago, the emphasis has always been on efficiency. They operate on a 50:50 arrangement, sharing 50pc of the feed costs, while shelling out 100pc of the herd and shed costs. The Manintvelds own all the cows, and have built up the herd from 250 to 290 head during their time at Shady Creek. “We’ve also taken up leased land for the young stock,” he said. The spring-calving herd undergoes 12 weeks of joining in October. “We have an artificial insemination program that runs for five weeks,” he said. Pregnancy testing is carried out six weeks from that date. “We will sometimes carry empty cows over, but it depends on their age, milking production and cell count,” he said. Fertility is also a strong point in the herd, with 10-12pc empty each year. Mr Maninteveld added his Jersey milkers were generally more fertile than Holsteins. Spring is the best time to grow grass, so the Manintvelds have aimed to exploit the seasonal conditions as much as they can. “It’s the cheapest time of year to make milk for us,” he said. “So we are not so much looking at when you can get a premium price – just trying to grow a lot of grass and lift production.”

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