DAIRYING in warmer climates can bring its own challenges, which is something SA’s northernmost dairyfarmers Ros and Gary Zweck know well.
To help the cows cope with the environment at Blyth, the Zwecks have planted more trees for shelter and installed sprinklers in the dairy and yard to provide relief.
Their next plan is to build a large “comfort” shed for shelter.
“They will have the ability to loaf under a roof on soft bedding,” Mr Zweck said.
Part of what has enabled them to invest in this infrastructure was their decision to be part of a small collective of farmers from the Clare and Barossa valleys that supplies milk to Woolworths’ brand Farmers’ Own.
Mrs Zweck said the reliable income from the brand had allowed them to sustainably plan ahead.
Mr Zweck said they had already invested in technology such as an autodraft race, cameras in the calving pens and cow management tags to help track heat in the lead up to AI and general cow health.
They have also placed more focus on genomics.
“A lot of these are really no-brainers that we know will improve the herd results,” he said. “But having the surety in knowing what we’re going to be paid, it makes it easier to invest.”
With genomics they are able to get reports back on their cows, allowing them to cull the bottom 5 per cent of the heifer herd, which they sell to the Chinese export market.
“Hopefully the bottom 5pc in five years time will be (better than) the average cow in Australia,” he said.
With the introduction of a heat tolerance breeding index, they have found many of their 2014-drop heifers already rate highly.
The Zwecks milk 200 Holstein cows on a 10-a-side doubled up Herringbone and rely mostly on home-grown feed.
“We have a 350 millimetre rainfall and if we get 280mm between April and October, we can have a reasonable season,” Mr Zweck said.
They grow wheat, barley and silage hay and reserve feed to cover drought years.
They also buy in a mineral mix pellet, lupins, brewers grain and orange pulp from the Riverland for a “virtual” total mixed ration.
They create four mixes in total – two for the milking herd, one for dry stock and a heifer ration.
As well as increased security and planning, another benefit of being part of Farmers’ Own is sharing the dairy story with consumers.
Mrs Zweck’s photograph is on the label of the reduced fat milk in SA and NT – which sometimes generates conversations, she says.
“We have the confidence to tell consumers it is our milk in the bottle, which is part of its story and is the way consumer trends are going,” Mr Zweck said.
Conferences help to inspire innovations
SHARING ideas, through being part of dairy discussion groups or attending conferences, is key to how the Zwecks keep abreast with changes in the industry.
Last month Mrs Zweck received a bursary from the Australian Legendairy Women’s Network to attend the Australian Dairy Conference in Melbourne, and she says the information learned will help them decide what new technologies to embrace.
“The conference was all about the tsunami of change, especially how new technology is being adapted to our industry,” she said.
“You have to keep up as much as you can because the industry is changing at such a rapid rate.
“You’ve got to see what’s out there; otherwise you’re just sticking your head in the sand.”
Mr Zweck was also inspired by keynote speaker Jim Spain discussing ways to minimise heat stress at the 2016 DairySA Innovation Day in Mount Gambier
He said the data cemented his idea to build shelter for cows. They have renovated a hay shed as a space for cows due to calve and have plans to build a new, larger space for the remainder of the herd.
There have been plenty of changes in the industry since Mr Zweck’s parents, Don and Elva, registered Holstein stud Donava in 1970.
When Mrs Zweck first came to the farm 34 years ago, there were 70 farmers in the Barossa Mid North Dairy Cooperative, with 14 operational today.
“Sometimes (the dairy industry) is a challenge but if you surround yourself with a good team and keep up with change we think it’s still viable,” she said.