DRY times forced Monteith dairyfarmers Glenn and Geraldine Dohnt to reconsider their farming practices.
About a decade ago, the operation, also run with Glenn’s father Ray, was mainly pasture-based, using reclaimed black alluvial River Murray flats and irrigation.
During the 2008-09 drought, water allocations dropped to less than 10 per cent, and the area degenerated. Glenn said this was a big adjustment for the family.
“We had to decide if we were going to get out of milking cows or buy a feed pad and mix,” he said.
“When the drought happened, it really made us think outside the box.”
The farm did have the advantage of 2850 hectares of dryland cropping.
The Dohnts made the switch to a total mixed ration operation, using hay, lupins, wheat, barley, lentils and canola grown on-farm.
Any high-value crops not used by the dairy are also sold as a cash crop.
In recent years, the Dohnts have been able to make use of their irrigated flats again.
“In the past couple of years we relasered and reformed the main bulk of the good irrigation flats, starting to bring them back into production,” Glenn said.
“We just started putting cows back down there.”
With the switch from pastures to a TMR, they have also been able to switch to a year-round calving system.
They run about 700 Holstein cows and 250 replacement heifers, using artificial insemination and sexed semen.
The main herd wears activity collars to determine AI timings.
It is not just in their practices that there have been changes.
About two years ago the Dohnts invested in a major dairy upgrade, going from a 22 double-up herringbone to a 60-bale GEA rotary dairy.
“We decided the way of the future was probably going to have a fair bit of automation,” Glenn said.
The shed is primarily constructed to be operated by a single person, with a five-way draft gate, scales, a milk maid and conductivity sensors to test for mastitis.
Glenn said the new dairy was constructed with the foresight that it could potentially milk double the numbers if they decide to expand in the future, while it is also much quicker than the previous set-up.
The holding yard holds 800 cows, with sprinklers to minimise heat stress during the summer.
“Through the years the farm has evolved, and it’s still evolving,” Glenn said.
“We want an easy system, with low risk, so we can take opportunities when they arise.”