Building the next generation
Every farmer knows the value of the next generation.
They are the future of the business and underpin profitability for years to come.
So, it’s no surprise that one Swan Hill dairy farmer has invested in his youth to ensure they fulfil their potential.
Third-generation dairy farmer Matt Glowrey is now rearing 1200 calves under the shelter of a new Entegra Ridgeback shed.
For him, protecting the business’ youngest animals from hot northern Victorian summer days and keeping them dry during winter makes financial sense.
“Having healthy calves in our dairy business is integral to the end-point which is making milk,” Matt said.
“If we can grow a stronger, healthier calf fast — at the start of her life — and maintain that growth throughout its life, it will be a bigger, healthier cow when she has her first calf.
“So ultimately from that fact alone, we will be having a better cow in the herd so more dollars in our pocket.”
The 150-metre long and 32-metre wide Ridgeback houses a mixture of heifer and bull calves, with Matt noticing a difference in the first sheltered calves almost immediately.
“We put 200 calves in there just prior to Christmas, in the summertime,” he said.
“Ultimately nothing changed with the management of those calves, everything was the same, their pen size, they had the same pellets and water — nothing had changed, whatsoever.
“The only difference was they had the shade structure and airflow and those calves changed within a week. It was amazing.
“They were probably the best calves, and we’ve been rearing good calves, but with these calves, it was amazing the difference the removal of that heat made for them.”
Research supports heifer growth
In 2013, Dairy Australia estimated it cost $1300 to $1500 to rear a dairy heifer to the point of calving at two years old.
DA said a heifer should be 85 per cent of her mature weight when she calves for the first time for optimum health — including fertility — and increased production.
If a heifer doesn’t reach this weight by two years old, and instead calves six months later at 30 months old, her rearing costs increase $266 to a total between $1566 and $1766.
DA said this meant the average cost of rearing a heifer was reduced if the average age of first calving was reduced.
For Matt, heifer productivity comes down to early and sustained growth.
He wants all his young stock to perform, and to achieve this, it’s meant improving the tail-end calves.
“We did a hell of a lot of drafting during the drought, offering the bottom-end of the calf mob to China for export,” Matt said,
“We would have drafted thousands of animals and you’d go through a mob and get to the bottom and think ‘why are you here? I’ve just spent a year-and-a-half to two years getting you to this point and you are not what I want’.
“Obviously the genetics are already there, and the story isn’t over when they leave the shed, we have to maintain their growth until they calve, but it’s about getting everything right at the start too, when they come in.”
Management made easier
The Glowreys have always reared “good” calves according to Matt — even if they were housed in an old dairy, a disused piggery, hayshed and outdoor pens — as the farm business grew.
But now, Matt believes the Ridgeback will provide the final piece of their calf-rearing puzzle to grow even groups of healthy calves, ultimately improving the tail-end.
Feeding quality colostrum to calves in their first few days of life has always been a priority for the Glowrey dairy business.
But now, with the Ridgeback, this is much easier to manage.
“We have two full-time people in the shed all year round,” Matt said.
“Then we have 0.5 of a labour unit working around the edges, maintaining, and testing the quality of the colostrum that comes into feed all the calves to ensure they have the best possible immunity.
“That person is also responsible for identifying any veterinarian work or health issues that come up.”
An autumn downpour of 70mm proved the value of the Ridgeback.
“Normally if the calves were outdoors, we’d have to deal with bedding and wet feed and all that sort of thing,” Matt said.
“The shed just maintains that health of the calves and we are rearing better calves, that are putting more weight on earlier. It’s also easier to manage because it is all under one roof.
“You can easily justify it (the shed) by seeing how well the calves are growing.”
Growing family business
Glowrey Dairies is a 1600-cow, year-round milking operation run across nearly 2023 hectares near Swan Hill.
Matt works on-farm with son Dallas and daughter Josie, who is also studying agriculture at La Trobe University.
In 2013 the family set to double the size of their business and they have achieved this, along with their plan to boost self-sufficiency.
They grow corn, pasture, vetch and cereals for hay and silage, making the most of the recent years with low irrigation water prices and increased land availability.
Grain continues to be bought-in, as well as some corn silage and vetch hay, but Matt said prioritising feed self-sufficiency was important for business sustainability.
“It takes the bumps out of our budget because when there is a pinch in feed prices, such as during drought or high water prices, the cost of fodder at least doubles and it leaves quite a big shortfall in our budget,” he said.
“So, if we can at least even that out it’s a huge win as fodder is one of our biggest expenses.”