Fresh approach to dairying

31 Dec, 2012 01:00 AM
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WITH the number of dairy farms in WA considered critically low, it is refreshing to find young farmers still enthusiastic and focused on the future.

Neville and Carolyn Lindberg raise their toddler son Connor and have another baby due in January 2013, on top of running their 'Waikikamukau' (pronounced - Why kick a moo-cow) dairy farm with Neville's parents Henry and Annette, in Denbarker.

Their farm totals about 1020 hectares and according to Neville the region is supposed to receive an average 850mm annual rainfall.

"This year to December, 711mm had fallen with November the wettest of the year," he said.

The dairy side of the operation used 850ha of the total land, 650ha of this is cleared and the remaining 169ha is a run-off property where Neville's parents Henry and Annette live and where the dairy steer cattle operation exists.

Neville said in February 2013 they would have been farming on the current property for 15 years.

"We do not irrigate, our property is all dryland farming," he said.

"Mostly annual pastures are grown but there is a fair amount of Kikuyu.

"Historically there were a lot of perennial pastures on the property, but we have grazed these out over the last 14 years.

"The annuals consist of ryegrass and clover."

Surplus pasture is cut for silage in the spring and they purchase grain year-round for feed.

Neville said in the past they had introduced some crossbred cattle into their 330-head dairy herd.

"Currently it is mainly Friesians, with some crossbreds that we are breeding back to Friesian," he said.

"We run a 20-a-side, rapid exit, Herringbone dairy with milking taking place twice daily, between 6am and 9am and again between 3.30pm and 6.30pm," he said.

The Lindbergs are suppliers to Lion, formerly known as National Foods.

"Annually our milk production generates milk sales of between 2.2 to 2.43 million litres," Neville said.

He said they were currently using a mating program for their Artificial Insemination (AI), which is done by Landmark Breeding Services in Bunbury.

"We have a fully self-replacing cow and heifer herd and our AI program started on November 14.

"We are aiming to split the herd on December 31 and run mop-up bulls for about four weeks until the end of January.

"We should then get about two weeks off before autumn calving starts in mid-February to mid-May."

Neville said the breeding program was constant with either mating or calving alternating throughout the year.

"Over the last few years we have been buying bulls from Holstein studs, Carenda, Treeton and Ponderosa," he said.

"In the last two years we have managed to turn about 20 per cent of the heifers off to the China export market.

"In 2013 we will endeavour to change our mating program with the advent of using beef bulls to mop up, but one of the obvious challenges is that currently 50pc of our replacements come from our natural bull team.

"In order to prevent this loss of potential replacements we are going to ustilise genomic sires to maitain our submission rate.

"That is ensuring all females get at least one mating to a Friesian bull before potentially running with a beef bull.

"In the past we have tried to use Dexter semen and although we did get 100pc heifer calves the overall conception rate was only nine per cent."

They sell their Friesian steers as 2.5 to three-year-olds directly to Harvey Beef.

Not everyone has been as successful or remained as positive about their dairy operations in the region, but Neville hoped this would change.

In the past, towns in their region were home to a large number of dairy farms but the number has greatly diminished in recent years.

According to the Lindbergs, the South Coast region, which includes Albany, Denmark, Narrikup, Wapole, Mt Barker and Denbarker, is now home to only 12 dairy farms.

Both Neville and Carolyn said with the advent of Rob La Grange joining Western Dairy, there had been noticeable changes with the communication between the remaining farmers.

Neville said he was always looking at new methods of improving their operation, accessing the latest information and speaking to fellow farmers.

"We have had more farmer focus groups in the last 12 months than we have had over the last five years," he said.

"The topics covered like managing dry seasons and getting together with the other farmers has been great."

Carolyn was also part of a group Mr La Grange had assisted in organising called the Mt Barker-Albany-Denmark Dairy Ladies Group.

"The group only started this year," she said.

"We had our first meeting in June and unfortunately had to postpone one more recently and have rescheduled it for March 2013.

"The aim is to have guest speakers on a range of industry and non-industry issues.

"We also are going to open it up to the west coast dairy group as well, to get more people together."

Eventually the plan is to look at opening it up to all primary producer wives or partners.

Carolyn said because of the diminished number and their location, the South Coast group had often missed out on industry events.

"We want to also help educate the population of WA that the dairy industry isn't that bad to be associated with," she said.

"It's great because we are all mixed ages and get to meet and share ideas with these other women."

If the enthusiasm the Lindbergs have for their industry is anything to go by then there is still plenty of hope left for the dairy industry in WA.

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