Growing for success

THE HOLLOWAY family farm at Mepunga has been built around growth, not only with an expanding parcel of land but with well-fed cows and booming production.

“You’ve got to keep growing, the day you stop growing your business is the day you might as well sell it,” Bruce Holloway says, and the amount of investment over the past decade shows he practises what he preaches.

The Holloways think family farms are the future, but not small family farms like in the old days.

Bruce and his wife Roslyn farm with son Sam. Their daughter Tamara also helps out, along with Sam’s girlfriend Amanda.

Bruce’s father Bill bought the farm in the early 1970s, but it took a serious eye injury more than 10 years ago for Bruce to change things up.

“I was cutting trees with a chainsaw and cut my eye down the middle. It was stitched up but it took 12 months to get back to normal,” Bruce said.

“After that happened it made me reflect that if something happened to one of us, what would happen to the farm?”

An old herringbone dairy was replaced with a new 50-unit rotary; an effluent pond and two new centre pivots were added to supplement an existing pivot; and an underpass was built.

The upgrade coincided with Sam’s decision to stay on the farm and become the sixth generation of the Holloway family to pursue farming.

The milking herd has since increased from about 300 to 420–480. “We’ve gone from 2 million litres production to 4.5 million litres this year,” Bruce said.

They milk off 365ha, including about 100 ha under irrigation.

“What we do is no different to most people, except we’ve got irrigation,” Bruce said.

The upgrades, most recently including new grain silos and mixer, have been good investments.

“Before we got the new dairy, we were milking about 300 but were spending about eight hours

a day in the dairy,” Roslyn said.

They now farm more than three cows to the hectare on the home farm, though the irrigation contributes to that high stocking rate.

The Holloways are dedicated to their cows, not only because they like working with them but because they’re the profit makers.

“We love our cows but we look at them as a business,” Roslyn said. “If they’re not producing then they’re culled.”

They calve twice a year, starting in January and August, raising about 200 new stock each year.

When Bill bought the farm, it was a mixed herd but Bruce and Roslyn converted to Friesians.

“I came from a Guernsey and Jersey background but once I started rearing Friesian cows I said, ‘As long as I’m rearing the calves, there won’t be a breed other than Holstein-Friesians,’ ” Roslyn said.

“The calves are easy to rear and it’s easier to get a good herd of Holsteins. They have great temperaments, are easy to rear and they’re designed to eat plenty and make plenty of milk.”

The farm has been using AI for decades and source sexed semen from a range of bulls. The herd is registered as the TamSam Holstein stud.

Like all farms there have been challenging seasons, but caring for the cows and ensuring they are well fed remains a priority in even the toughest years.

They now produce more than 10 000 litres a cow and attribute the success to feeding, culling lower producers and breeding good cows.

“Once the cow is under 20 litres at any stage of its lactation, if they’re in-calf we’ll keep her, if not she’ll go out,” Bruce said.

Sam said herd health, mastitis rates and cell count had improved substantially over the years, stemming from the facilities’ upgrade and commitment to quality feeding.

“It’s our job but also our hobby; we’re interested in what we do and want the best feed and cows to make a profit,” he said.

“You’ve got to have good genetics, but at the end of the day you’ve got to feed them well and do everything at the right time to maintain momentum,” Bruce added.

“If cows lose momentum, it takes a long time to get them back to where they were. It’s hard if you’re not making a profit, but you can’t afford to cut back on feed.”

With irrigation and plenty of grass from regular rainfall, the farm is mostly self-sufficient. At the moment they are feeding about 1 kg of canola supplement and 6.5 kg of wheat and corn.

A new crusher system was installed last year, allowing the Holloways to buy grain direct off farm to cut out the middle man.

It’s already a huge success with cost savings and improved production.

“The cows have increased production because the grain is fresher and better because we buy it straight off a farm and then crush it and process it here,” Sam said.

“We spent about $100 000 but it opens up more options, and we can fine tune it depending on what’s available.”

As grain prices escalate, they expect to repay the home-grown investment in 15 months. “That’s just the cost savings, not taking into account the extra production,” Bruce said. “We’re getting 400 000 more litres of milk compared to last year because of the better grain and we’ve upped the lead feed a bit to give them about four kilos.”

“It’s all about nutrition and getting the gut right for calving. Our cows are peaking in 25 to 30 days, and if you’re not feeding them right it might take up to 50 or 60 days.”

The proactive attitude to feeding starts from the beginning. “Feeding them well in their first two years is the secret,” Sam said. “A lot of the heifers do 10 000 litres in their first lactation; that’s because we’re feeding them better.”

“Every year when the heifers come in, I say they’re getting bigger and better,” Roslyn added.

They don’t breed tall cattle, instead opting for cows with plenty of body for good production.

“It’s all about the grass,” Bruce said.

“We’re lucky in the south-west with pretty reliable and consistent rain and that’s our biggest asset. You don’t have too much staff and machinery costs with the cows harvesting the grass.”

All silage is cut from out paddocks, the home farm is just for milking.

The ACM suppliers say herd health and fertility has improved in response to better traits of new bulls.

“Years ago, we’d get cows up to 40 or 50 or even 60 litres but as soon as you got them there, they’d break down,” Bruce said. “Now there are cows cracking 60 litres and we don’t have them breaking down with mastitis or bad feet or anything.

“We always maintain good tracks and good clean facilities; all the one-percenters add up.”