Hay, look at this lucerne

By Stephen Cooke

Rochester dairy farmer Tom Acocks reckons his cows need to start giving him more milk now they’re eating award-winning hay.

In his first year entering the Feed Central National Hay Quality competition, Mr Acocks’ lucerne crop won the state and national Best Visual Analysis Award.

The success took Mr Acocks by surprise. Normally he’s buying feed, not selling, but on the back of an exceptionally good season he entered the selling market for the first time.

‘‘It’s not a bad effort for a dairy cocky from northern Victoria.

‘‘I’m going to tell all the cows they’re going to have to give me another five litres because they’re eating award-winning hay.’’

Mr Acocks is the fourth generation to farm in northern Victoria. The family has been on the current Riversdale Dairy since the mid-1980s.

They now produce about eight million litres of milk a year from 850 to 900 mostly Holstein cows.

Mr Acocks also runs a cropping business that grows fodder for the dairy.

‘‘The principle exercise is growing feed for cows and keeping our young stock at home so we don’t have to agist many cattle,’’ he said.

‘‘Most years we’re buying feed but it just so happened this season I had a lot of excess feed and we sold a bit.

‘‘We had a pretty good spring. Our main source of feed is dryland vetch which is quality protein feed and this year it yielded quite well, which we used as chopped silage.

‘‘Our preference would be to feed that over lucerne hay as it’s easier to process and mix into feed and easier to store.’’

The cropping part of the farm enterprise is a mixed system.

Mr Acocks grows 450ha of vetch a year and 450ha of wheat, and has irrigated lucerne and maize, usually for silage.

He grazes some cows on pasture but most are fed on a total mixed ration, 75 to 80 per cent from home-grown feed.

Although in the selling market last season, the previous year the farm bought in feed, mainly grain, canola meal or cotton that they can’t grow.

More than 400ha of the 1250ha farm is on irrigation and they milk year-round.

The successful lucerne crop was grown on 140ha under centre-pivot irrigation. Some was made into silage and the rest into hay that was sold.

‘‘The key message is whether you’re growing it to sell or to feed your own cows, you’ve got to make sure you’ve got a good product. I’d be happy feeding it to my cows.’’

His successful crop won on its visual appearance but it also had good feed analysis, recording about 20 crude protein, high 30s to low 40s NDF, and 10-11 ME.

Despite the award success, Mr Acocks admitted the lucerne was not being fed to his cows at the moment.

‘‘We’re not actually feeding it to them yet in the ration,’’ he said.

‘‘We’re sitting on a bit of surplus fodder at the moment and waiting and watching to see what the season does.

‘‘We’re an inch of rain away from a really good season and then two weeks from it turning ordinary.’’

Mr Acocks was one of three Victorian farmers to earn national recognition in the 2018 Feed Central National Hay Quality competition.

Josh Lanyon of Boort, Col Radcliffe of Kerang and Mulwala’s Lochie Donald also won national titles in the competition, which recognises and encourages growers to aim for high quality hay.