Geoff Manning, Shade River Holsteins and kelpie pup Wiggles.
The Mannings milk around 300 cows year-round in the Mardella locality, with all of the farm’s milk going to nearby Mundella Foods, Mundijong since 2005.
With Master Breeder status for their Shade River Holsteins, Geoff says he’s always been interested in stud breeding since showing in his younger days. When asked what he looks for in a cow, he says he wants ‘everything’.
“But we’re quite strong on overall type, with positive deviation for milk, plus positive fat and protein to meet our specific processor requirements that stipulate minimum butterfat, protein and lactose, plus coliform and cell count.
“We’ve recently focused hard on reducing cell count and the herd is now much younger as a result.”
Geoff said the long-term milk price for WA dairy farmers hadn’t been good since deregulation, so the family had changed their management and the way they had run their farms to adjust, including switching processor and delivering their own milk to Mundella Foods.
“Our two farms, 4km apart, both consist of several small blocks on separate titles, which has always been the way in this area. We used to milk 6 months a year on each farm – one in summer, the other in winter. But shifting from one to the other every 6 months was a big job.
“About 8 years ago we tried basing the milking herd on our 100ha of dryland country, building a new 20-a-side herringbone dairy. It worked well as our year-round dairy, and since then we’ve run all of our heifers and dries on the other.”
Every year the Mannings spray out some of the milking property, and direct-drill all of it with abundant annual ryegrass and clover.
Being near the metropolitan area, a major part of the milking cows’ feed supply is supplementary biproducts including brewers’ grain, bread, rolled oats, potatoes, pumpkins, carrots and other vegetables and fruit salad which are put through the mixer wagon, balanced with hay and silage.Geoff said they pay for some of the biproducts, for some they are paid to cart it away.
The well-bred Shade River milking herd averages 30 litres per cow per day on a mixed diet of biproducts, hay, silage, triticale and lupins.
“The only time it changes is summer to winter and back again, or when the supplies are taken by someone else.
“We make a lot of silage – about 1000 rolls a year. We also make 500 bales of hay and buy-in around 500-600 big square bales of barley hay to put some roughage in the diet.
“In the dairy we feed triticale and lupins.”
The herd rarely averages less than 30 litres per cow year-round.
The Mannings having been using a lot of sexed semen, with the Chinese market for heifers ‘going gangbusters’ according to Geoff.
“Every month there are new orders, with our 7 to 10-month old (200kg) heifers making $1850 a head.
“We have always used frozen sexed-semen to capitalise on this heifer market, but this year tried fresh sexedsemen, looking to improve conception rates. This last round we achieved 42% conception, which is a good rate.
“The semen has to be used fresh within the same day, with the bulls milked every day, the semen transported and used within 24 hours.
“Because our supplier is in Victoria, the small numbers of planes travelling to WA due to COVID made it difficult to coordinate with our synchronisation program, but we managed to do it.
“We do 3 sexed-semen programs a year, on 50 to 60 heifers and cows at a time, and selecting a different bull each time.”
Geoff said that while there are not many companies that will send fresh sexed-semen to WA, he still goes through the catalogues looking at BPI etc to select bulls.
“I used to worry about calving-ease in my selections, but we don’t get many problems these days.
He said that for a long time, at every monthly herd test their top cows (about 10 to 15 of them) produce 50 to 60 litres per day. Geoff said every farmer does things differently and that it’s good to ‘look over the fence’ and see what others are doing.
“So about four years ago we took part in Dairy Australia/ Western Dairy’s business analysis Taking Stock to see how we were going. It’s unusual to be bringing in so much feed, so the consultant considered it was likely we could be growing more grass and producing cheaper milk.
“But he said no matter which way he analysed and tweaked the figures, he advised us it was best that we ‘just keep doing what we do ’on our small acreage, including our number of workers.”
Geoff pays tribute to their farm team of manager Russell Stone; two fulltime milkers Bronte Holmes and Abigail Lindsey; fulltime feed mixer and milker Colin Geffree; part-time truck driver Jim Lloyd; plus a couple of part-time workers Sarina Maring and Belinda Austen.
“We have a very good team in place. The girls in the dairy have been here a while and work together well. Often I walk into the dairy and wonder why it’s so quiet and find them out in the yard patting the cows, not rushing or pushing them. It’s fantastic. The cows like it too.”
Geoff said that since 2005 they had always carted their own milk to Mundella Foods, using their own tanker and prime mover, for an extra 2 cents a litre and a better basic price.
“But we stopped carting in the last 12 months with the milk now picked up by a contractor, which has freed up another person and prime mover for the farm.”
Written by Anne Chamberlain
Publishing source: FARMWEST News October 2020, Volume 13, No. 4