Making the most of the season in South Australia

THE SOARING temperature was the only sign of summer at the Tweddle farm in late December.

The milking herd of 255 registered Holsteins was grazing ample green perennial rye-grass and clover and Angela Tweddle said they had only turned their centre pivots on a few weeks earlier.

This “awesome spring” had reduced costs at their Glencoe dairy farm, near Mt Gambier in South Australia, but it had also allowed them to replenish fodder stocks.

“We haven’t used the pivots much until the last couple of weeks,” Angela said.

“We are usually irrigating from November through until March.”

Angela and Ben Tweddle, with daughter Shae, 10, and son Connor, 9, operate Benlargo Holsteins, milking up to 300 off 202 ha, including 97 ha under centre pivot irrigation.

The family cut 1000 round bales of silage from 73 ha of dryland this year. This was followed by a cut of 200 large square bales of Lucerne hay off 28 ha and 140 large squares of pasture hay from 24 ha.

“We don’t usually get a second cut off the dryland,” Angela said.

The ample fodder stocks will allow them to sell-off some lucerne hay later in the season.

The turn-around in the season comes less than 12 months after they purchased hay for the first time in six years, due to the late autumn break.

The Tweddles have also reduced bail feeding due to high grain costs. The herd is fed to production, but the average consumption has dropped 2 kg/cow/day to 5 kg/cow/day.

“The cows are holding the same production even though they are receiving less grain, they are still producing the same as this time last year,” Angela said.

“It’s because of the season, the grass is better quality because it hasn’t been that hot yet.”

Average production is 8700 litres/cow/lactation (600 kgMS/cow) and the average herd weight is 600-650 kg/cow.

Eight hectares, normally leased-out for contract cropping, has also been retained by the family this year for pasture production because of the high price of bought-in feed.

Stricter herd culling has ensured only the most productive cows receive grain but with “ample replacements” to replenish 25 per cent of the herd each year, this hasn’t been a worry.

The family has also moved milk processors, starting to supply South Australia’s Beston Global Food Company from the middle of July.

The Australian Securities Exchange-listed Beston Foods has plants at Murray Bridge and Jervois.

“We now have the exact same price for every month of the year, literally a flat milk price,” Angela said.

“It is a contract price for two years, $6 (a kilogram of milk solids) every month.”

The herd calves from February to May and then again from the middle of August until November. This flat production was attractive for the milk processor, but in turn, Ben and Angela have a lot more confidence in their business “knowing where they are” when it comes to farm gate milk price.

“There was a $150 000 difference between them and Warrnambool Cheese and Butter and no sign-on bonus,” Angela said.

“We shopped-around, but we like the fact the milk is processed in South Australia and made into cheese, employing local people.”

The family have farmed at Glencoe for seven years and purchased the property from Angela’s parents two years ago — just when Murray Goulburn cut its farm gate milk price.

The Tweddles swapped to WCB from Murray Goulburn, a company they had supplied for a decade- in July that year — a move that “saved us” according to Angela.

Previously Angela and Ben had sharefarmed and leased dairy farms.

The decision to return to Glencoe was prompted by water security and cheaper land prices than areas in Victoria with similar annual rainfall.

The average annual rainfall is about 711 mm.

The Tweddles make sure they maintain a positive outlook for the industry and their business.

Shae looks set to continue the family tradition of dairying, with the 10-year-old recently starting her own Jersey stud thanks to the purchase of an October-born calf.

Angela said they “only spend money if we have got money to spend” and have taken steps to diversify.

They have a small herd of F1 heifers, which will be joined and sold at the local special F1 sale next year.

With no plans to milk more cows, the family’s next goal is to purchase a dryland block to replace the two 20 ha blocks they lease to run their heifers.

Maintaining a lifestyle is important to the family, an annual holiday is locked-in each year. This is funded by Ben’s off-farm work.

Except for an employee who does 30 hours a week, Ben and Angela do all the farm work and they say this has helped keep a lid on costs.