Brantina Farm, in Western Australia’s Margaret River region, is the home of Rodney and Nicole May, who farm alongside their son, Justin.
The 233ha dairy farm is supplemented by a 200ha leased property, milking up to 240 Holstein-Friesian cows in a self-replacing herd.
The dryland farm is a combination of hill paddocks, where the cows graze in winter, and summer graze on lowland flat paddocks with a creek undulating through them.
Mr May is the pasture specialist, spraying and fertilising pastures, oversowing and making all the farm’s silage and hay.
Justin works alongside him, and shares the milking roster with Mrs May.
They also have a relief milker for two days each week.
“We start feeding out silage from the end of November to May/June,” Mrs May said.
With a reliable pattern and average rainfall of 1000mm, pasture is oversown with ryegrass and clover in April.
At the changeover of August to September, Mr May closes the paddocks to be cut for silage and hay, with harvest season beginning late Spring.
“We’ll normally get a cut of silage, then we’ll follow with hay,” Mrs May said.
“Most years, we make all the silage and hay we’ll need.
“We make round bales – in 2019, we made 1600 silage rounds (700-750kg) and 330 hay rounds (450-500kg).
“We mostly get rain until October, which keeps our grass growing later into the season.
“The creek flats provide good summer grass in those paddocks, for the milking herd.”
Most of the young cattle go to the lease farm.
The family keeps all its young cattle to grow out.
Between 50 and 60 replacements heifers are retained as replacements into the herd and the remainder are selected for the export market, for the 200kg-plus grid at 200-300kg.
Steers are sold between eight and 12 months old.
The herd calves for nine months of the year, from September, with peak calving time between February and May.
“We used to calve down nearly 12 months of the year, but we’ve slowly changed to reduce the period of calving, to suit us and how we farm,” Mrs May said.
The change began transitioning about a decade ago, coinciding when Mrs May wanted to take on the full responsibility for AI.
“I did an AI course, so I could take over from Rodney,” she said.
“A couple of years after Justin finished school, he did the AI course and we shared the job.
“Now I’m totally responsible for it.”
It coincides with their plans to use more sexed semen from next year.
Cows and heifers will receive two rounds of AI with sexed Friesian semen, followed by mop up bulls – the heifers will run with an Angus bull and the cows with a Friesian bull.
“We want more dairy heifers to sell,” Mrs May said.
Milk quality awarded
The farm was recently awarded a silver milk quality award, which joins a series of gold and silver awards received during the past decade.
Mrs May said it was a recognition of their animal welfare and health standards in the dairy, which showed in the vat.
The herd usually produces 2.3 million litres during the year, but this year that target is already being exceeded.
“This year, we’re up 20,000 litres each month because we’re having a really good season,” Mrs May said.
As well as pasture year-round, and silage and hay throughout winter, the cows each receive 4-5kg of a grain mix in the dairy during milking every day.
The mix includes wheat, triticale, barley, canola meal, lupen, lime, mineral premix including trace elements, salt, canola oil and a concentrate supplement.
The cows are milked in a 16-a-side double-up, with 90-degree rapid exit and automatic drafting gates, linked to the Alpro dairy management software.
Using automatic cup removers is augmented by manually applying teat spray.
“I think because we are mostly two people milking in the dairy and we’re the owners and familiar with the cows, we keep an eye on our cows and we know who’s healthy and we can see if a cow has mastitis, and we can do something about it straight away,” Mrs May said.
“We also work clean.
“We all wear gloves, we spray our cows with iodine preparations, and we spray the equipment at every milking with iodine-based solutions.
“So we keep the equipment and the environment very clean, and that shows in the low cell count.”