PREMIUM

Raising the roof at Leitchville

Pat Quinn speaks to visitors in front of the compost barn on his property near Leitchville. The field day was part of Dairy Australia's Raising the Roof conference at Echuca on May 10 and 11.

Hundreds of curious farmers descended on the Quinn family’s dairy farm at Leitchville last week, asking lots of questions about their multi-million-dollar expansion.

And patriarch Pat Quinn didn’t beat about the bush when asked what he did wrong when building his dairy compost barn.

“Don’t try to build it over the cow-pad with the cows underneath,” he told a Dairy Australia field day audience of farmers from around the country.

Mr Quinn told the visitors they had moved to convert the feedpad to a compost barn in 2018. While the operation is now successful, he warned of the extra cost and time in roofing over an established feedpad.

Holstein cows at the Quinn family’s total mixed ration TMR farm near Leitchville.

The Quinn family, and two others in the same district, opened up their properties to the scrutiny of farmers wanting to step up to a more intensive operation in a two-day event dubbed ‘Raising the Roof’ in Echuca on May 10 and 11.

The business — operated by Mr Quinn, his wife Michelle, sons Kaleb and Greg and daughter Erika — has moved from a partial mixed ration to total mixed ration (TMR) system over the past 20 years.

In the 1970s, the Quinns were milking about 170 cows in a nine-a-side herringbone shed on 180ha.

Today they have a herd of 700 milked in a 60-stand rotary dairy on about 2000ha, which produces most of the feed.

Some of the Quinn family (from left) Greg, Michelle, Pat and Kaleb in the calf pens.

The cows spend their lactation in the barn with their ration mixed in a mixer wagon and fed on to the concrete feedpad.

The farm grows 65ha of maize silage, 470ha of wheat, 430ha of barley, 65ha of oats and 560ha of vetch.

Mr Quinn said the farm’s location in an area with modest land prices had allowed the family to expand its operation to generate its own feed, and access to reliable water was a key to supporting the development.

Referring to the Foodbowl Modernisation Project, which upgraded the irrigation infrastructure across the Goulburn Murray Irrigation District, Mr Quinn said his farm now had access to best-practice irrigation delivery.

“We have transformed from a leaking, slow, unreliable system — now we get water delivered on demand, efficiently. Getting water when you need it is important,” he said.

“You used to have to give four days’ notice to get it.

“We have two 40Ml/day pump stations supplying us.”

The family is currently discussing whether to build another compost barn.

Visitors hear about the ins and outs of building a dairy compost barn and moving to a more intensive operation.
About 200 people attended the Dairy Australia conference in Echuca.
Laurie Flanagan and Paul McGrath were in the crowd at the Raising the Roof conference.

WHAT THEY SAID

Some of the questions asked at the Raising the Roof field day included:

Has milk production improved under the new intensive system?

Pat Quinn said milk volume and components had both improved significantly. The forecast for 2021-22 is 9500 litres/cow.

How do the cows like it?

Mr Quinn said cow comfort had considerably improved, with shelter from the weather and a better diet.

“But it’s like making a cake, sometimes you have to tinker with the ingredients.”

How do they get the compost base?

Mr Quinn said they mixed the compost themselves on-site.

What about herd health?

The in-calf rate has improved, and there is less mastitis.