Dairy farming in a volanic valley and exporting to China: Heather reports from Australia

Just two months ago Co. Down dairy farmer Heather Martin found out she would take part in the trip of a lifetime touring Australia’s top dairy herds.

The 23-year-old was named this year’s Holstein UK and Holstein Australia exchange winner.

This week she reports from Stoney Rises, a volcanic valley in south-west Victoria where she stays with a family rearing cattle for type and tracks down Australia’s highest classified cow.

Heather reports

I spent the last few days at the home of Ian, Karen and Claire Mckie from the Points Holsteins. The family is a regular competitor on the show scene at both International Dairy Week but also the Victorian Winter Fair.

The Mckies have been ‘master breeders’ since 2012 – a special accolade given to the most prolific Australian breeders. Interestingly, the family has exported several heifers to China.

Australia’s Master Breeder Award recognises the long-term achievement of individuals who have bred at least 300 registered animals over a minimum of 20 years. The total number of points must exceed the total number of females bred within the 20-year period.

Holstein Australia, HYB, Heather Martin, Holstein UK

The family milks around 220 cows bred highly towards type with two calving blocks – in spring and autumn.

Currently their butterfat sits at 3.8% and protein is 3.31%. However, the herd’s average butterfat is 4% and average protein is 3.2%. Average yield per cow is 8,500L. Cows are fed 6kg of pellet grain a day.

The family farms 1,000ac, including 350ac of grazing land at home for the milking herd. The land type is extremely rocky as the farm is based on volcanic ground – which is highly fertile.

The soil is tested regularly with very little, if any fertiliser used – often just urea is spread at the start of the spring.

The family also grows around 30ac of lucerne (alfalfa) because of its high protein content, which is made into two cuts of silage stored in the form of bales. Hay is also made to feed alongside the grain during summer.

Holstein Australia, HYB, Heather Martin, Holstein UK

Cows are milked in a 20-point swing-over herringbone parlour and batch fed. Milking takes around an hour and 30 minutes.

Recently, the family changed milk supplier from Murray Goulburn – an Australian-owned co-operative – to Woornabool Cheese.

All heifers are reared with the cross-breds exported to China when the price is good.

They said that, while the strongest demand only lasted for around a year, Chinese buyers were willing to pay much more for dairy stock.

The Points herd is also home to several top show cows such as The Points Redesign Mable Ex91 who came third in the all Australian show as a fifth-calver.

The couple are now breeding pedigree Speckle Park and plan to reduce their dairy numbers to ease the workload as they get older.

Holstein Australia, HYB, Heather Martin, Holstein UK

Speckle Parks are originally from Canada with a docile nature and a similar size to Angus cattle. Ian bought embryos which they have put in some Holstein and Angus heifers due in March.

There are also Angus dairy crossbreds in calf to Speckle Park AI. The calves will hopefully be born naturally. The meat should produce high marbling on wide animals with kill-out expected at around 76%.

The farm had a bush fire 10 years ago where the whole farm except for its buildings was burnt. All fences, water pipes and water troughs had to be replaced.

The cows had to be sent in batches to other farms to be milked until the Mckies bought forage and replaced fences and water pipes.

Holstein Australia, HYB, Heather Martin, Holstein UK

This week I also managed to get to meet a very special lady; Australia’s highest classified cow – Fairvale Morty Lady 51 Ex97; five times excellent.

The 12-year-old is on her seventh lactation and is owned by Lisa and Will McKay of Linsand-V Holsteins and Lindsay and Sandra Thompson of Linsand Holsteins.

She is originally from Tasmania and was named Australia’s International Dairy Week Champion in 2011 and again in 2014.

She was bought from Holstein breeder Leanne Dobson at two and a half years old and, in my opinion, has great openness of rib, capacity and dairy strength.

Holstein Australia, HYB, Heather Martin, Holstein UK

But that wasn’t the only highlight of the week; this week I also visited Gary McNamara’s 1,100-cow herd.

The cows were purebred and bred to genomic sires but none are registered. They were excellent cows in great condition.

Cows average 10,000L a year. He has 300 fresh cows housed in a shed which can hold 500. The house cows are fed a total mixed ration.

Sand cubicles are used with a flush system cleaning passageways. Due to the sand cubicles the housed cows’ teats and udders are washed prior to milking.

Holstein Australia, HYB, Heather Martin, Holstein UK

The cows are milked in an 80-point rotary with ACRS and meters. Milking takes around three and a half hours. SCC is 130.

The cows calve in four blocks through the year – something he started to increase numbers – although Gary says he may bring this back down again to twice a year; in the spring and autumn.

The heat detection system is currently out of action so he is currently tail painting, but hopes to be back to using the collars soon.

Holstein Australia, HYB, Heather Martin, Holstein UK

Also, this week, I knew I spotted something familiar in this red and yellow trailer. I found a Herron silage trailer for sale – which is made in Castlewellan, Northern Ireland. Looks like I’m not the only one from Co. Down here!

Next week I’ll be visiting a farm with eight robotic milkers and a $200,000 (€130,511) double underpass; and a 2,500ac farm with a 100-point rotary parlour.