In late 2011 they were half way through their third season on the Winton property that has seen some changes in management approach with ownership, and the couple milking 800 cows on 280ha (eff).
The 50:50 sharemilkers were originally running 3cows/ha with 730 cows. However the change in ownership, and addition of the neighbouring runoff to the milking platform is helping the farm achieve the goal of being more self sufficient for supplement and wintering purposes.
Previously wintering the herd had mixed results, and Duncan now appreciates being able to keep 600 cows on over winter, monitoring feed levels and optimising body condition score.
“It was often hard to get the wintered cows back with the condition on we wanted. You really only have 60 days to get any BCS on over winter; it is a short time and we want to make sure we can make the most of that window ourselves.”
Recent production figures suggest they have succeeded there. Improved BCS going into the 2011-12 season has Duncan expecting to achieve 470kgMS/cow this season.
The decision to winter more cows on also partly explains their decision to move to Rumensin Trough Treatment.
“We felt that anything that would help us utilise an extra 10% of feed, without having to grow it, is worth it, and very cost effective.”
The couple’s experience working for well regarded Taieri farmer Phillip Wilson – a long-time Rumensin user – meant they were aware of the benefits that could come from its use. Wilson distributes Rumensin in powdered form with supplement, and the combination of lime flour and Rumensin are key components to help his high producing herd maintain production without loss of energy or body condition.
“We were facing tight feed conditions going into spring a few years ago and opted to go for Rumensin from pre-mating through to Christmas.” The double benefits were improved production over a difficult period, and bloat protection. The following winter they kept their skinny cows at home and gave them a Rumensin capsule.
The result was cows with BCS of 3.0 at drying off had lifted to a BCS of 5.5 and looked better than those that had been wintered off.
That season they decided to use Rumensin from calving through to Christmas, and production averaged 460kgMS/cow for the season. This was their first year on the property, with 300 heifers and 430 mixed age cows.
In the 2010 season, Duncan says their use of Rumensin again all season helped isolate them from the effect of a shocking spring period that hit all Southland hard. They came through that with production of 462kgMS/cow, a 5% combined empty and death rate, and having used a relatively low 300kg/head of supplement.
The couple are now in their fifth season using Rumensin, having averaged 456kgMS/cow over the past four, and 1384kgMS/ha (eff).
Duncan believes the herd appears happier and more focussed on grass consumption. “Overall they appear to have a bigger rumen, and the desire to fill it, so it’s up to us to make sure the grass is there to meet that appetite. We pay 100% of the Rumensin cost, so it has to work, and we would not be using it if it didn’t.”
While the heifers are still wintered off, Duncan would not discount the possibility of using Rumensin pre-calving with them, to help them to a good start.
He emphasises their herd has been put together from a variety of mobs, and their impressive per head production is not attributable to years and years of pedigree breeding.
“We do take care with them, and have a pretty high vet bill but keeping our deaths and empties down has helped us build our cow numbers relatively quickly. The first year we only culled six cows.
“With production well up there our focus now is on our cost structure and keeping that under control.”