May 2010

Our May farm visit was to familiar environs for those members with cattle – dense, green pasture in undulating paddocks. The particular point of interest, however, was the cattle shed. This farm is a dairy which minimises grazing and maximises cattle comfort (and hence their productivity) through the provision of a ‘live-in’ free stall shed. The massive structure is 200m by 20m, covering what was at one stage a feedlot pad. Now, the shed shelters, feeds and protects the dairy herd from weather extremes.

John and Cobie Giliam of Nilma North kindly hosted our group, explaining the aims, economics and practicalities of their enterprise. John and Cobie are 3rd generation dairy folk with progressive, achievement oriented eyes. They see the future of dairying continuing to flex under climate change and market fluctuations. The free stall approach they have developed has been in operation for over 12 months now, with the herd gradually adjusting to shedding and reduced, if any, open grazing. John explained the greater efficiencies in pasture management of cutting and carrying pasture to the cattle rather than have them trample and degrade the high production paddocks.

This is important to the aim of self-sufficiency with fodder.

The herd of 320 cows has 280 presently in milk, with the shed housing close to 240. Not only is the management of the herd intensive, but so is the work in monitoring cost inputs and outputs. Members were impressed with the statistics John keeps as a way of measuring the true efficiency of this approach to dairying. We understand that such free stall barns had their Victorian origins in the west of the state. Barn-housed dairy cows are common in the northern hemisphere where colder weather has a significant impact on milk production.

Once again, members felt proud that such a modern and results focussed farming enterprise is in our own area. Thanks were extended to the Giliams for having us with our myriad of questions, curiosity and passion for all things rural.

Women of all ages are welcome to join Women on Farms. The key criterion is an interest in farming and farming women – you do not have to be a farmer to participate. Our next farm visit will be on Tuesday 1 June to see a welsh black cattle stud at Tynong North. Phone the Secretary for more details – Jean Irvine on 56221236, or, for information about the 2010 calendar of activities look at the website www.womenonfarms.org

For enquiries about this article, contact: Mary Hughes, Ph. 03 5628 4195.