C4 Milk Project
C4 Milk aims to increase operating profit margin through the development of management strategies that increase milk production from forage and reduce overall feed related costs through
- Increased on-farm trialling and adoption of forage and nutrition management strategies, technologies and systems through development activities;
- Development of forage and nutrition management strategies that increase the quality of tropical forages and diets to increase milk from forage;
- Increased engagement of subtropical dairy farmers and service providers through the use of e-Extension technologies in conjunction with existing extension activities to demonstrate and deliver forage and nutrition management strategies;
Improving the operating profit of northern dairy farms through the development of a tropical forage system that decreases feed related costs is a key priority of the northern dairy industry. The reliance on high cost purchased concentrates has increased in the subtropical region over the past 10 years, and with volatile grain and protein meal costs, operating profit margin has decreased by ~8.8 c/L (QDAS, 2013). There is the potential to develop ‘high milk from forage’ production systems in northern Australia that maintain or improve milk yield while increasing the proportion of forage used in dairy cow diets, thereby reducing feed related costs.
The C4Milk project delivers an integrated approach to development, research and extension across the Subtropical dairy region to assist dairy farmers to reduce feed related costs through increased production of milk from forage. Research and development activities at University of Queensland Gatton Campus and within sub-regions will test and regionalise forage and nutrition based management strategies to increase the uptake and adoption of profitable feedbase management options.
Extension activities are based on existing discussion groups and demonstration activities supported by innovative approaches, such as e-Extension, to address the dispersed nature of the subtropical dairy industry. Extension of knowledge and skills around subtropical forage and nutrition management will lead to a greater confidence of dairy farmers to adopt feedbase management practices that decrease feed related costs and increase profitability.
Rural Water Use Efficiency Project
The Rural Water Use Efficiency (RWUE) project has been funded by the Queensland Government since 1999, with industry bodies responsible for managing their respective projects. The Dairy and Fodder Water for Profit project is managed by the Queensland Dairy Farmers’ Organisation and supported by DAF. The project team has sought to improve irrigation systems and management practices of both Dairy and Fodder farmers throughout the State.
Irrigation practices have changed significantly over the duration of the project, the catalyst for this has been the Financial Assistance program that has enabled producers to purchase improved irrigation hardware and benefit from the team’s irrigation evaluations that have provided data on the actual performance of systems.
At the time when the project commenced the majority of irrigation systems comprised of high pressure travelling guns and there was generally little understanding of the benefits of improved irrigation systems. As new hardware was installed the Team and producers realised the potential of low to medium pressure systems in terms of lower pumping costs, improved distribution application and increased productivity.
Producers have reduced pumping costs by more than 60% with the installation of new low pressure equipment, and many have installed more than one irrigator having realised the benefits.
The RWUE team has provided crucial technical support to schedule and seasonally budget water to assist irrigators realise the full potential from their improved systems.
Only with competent management of the irrigation infrastructure and feedbase – whole farm system will the largest gains be achieved. With an improved irrigation system, correct fertiliser applications, grazing management and scheduling producers are able to maximise gains across the business.
Pop Sorghum Project
The Pop Sorghum study is a co-funded project by DAF and Dairy Australia. The pop-sorghum project is aiming to increase the starch availability of sorghum grain through dry popping.
The primary objectives of the experiments are:
- To determine the starch and protein degradability of popped sorghum grain compared with conventional grain processing methods
- To determine the response in milk production and composition of lactating dairy cows through feeding popped sorghum grain and the associated financial benefits.
Sorghum grain is a cheaper and more readily available grain source for Queensland dairy farms. Approximately 60% of dairy farmers throughout Queensland use sorghum grain as their major starch source for milk production. However, many dairy farmers struggle to achieve higher production levels due to the poor digestive characteristics associated with feeding sorghum grain.
While sorghum grain is very high in starch (ranging between 62-66%), the outer coating of the grain prevents all of the starch from being digested and absorbed by the animal. Studies measuring the rate of absorption in the rumen of cows fed sorghum grain showed that only ~10% of the grain is degraded/hour. Therefore, the grain would need to remain in the rumen for a minimum of 10 hours for the starch to be completely utilised. In practice, delaying rumen throughput to every 10 hours would severely limit feed intake thus decrease milk output considerably.
To speed up rumen degradation rate, farmers can process sorghum by rolling and hammer-milling. However, some starch will remain unavailable due to the starch protein matrix that exists in sorghum grain.
As an alternative, it may be possible to increase the starch availability and degradability of sorghum by popping the grain using heat, similar to popping maize grain as pop-corn. The process of popping the grain increases starch availability through gelatinisation of the starch molecule and increased surface area for microbial attachment and degradation. Added benefits to popping the sorghum grain is increased dry matter content associated ease of handling at feedout, longer shelf-life and the potential to process on-farm.
The anticipated benefits for industry of this project would be an improvement in FCE through increasing the starch availability of sorghum in the rumen of dairy cows. This would result in a reduction in feed related costs as grain intake supplied to the cow is more effectively utilised enabling farmers to reduce the amount of sorghum grain being fed in order to achieve similar milk production levels. Or, similarly, by feeding the same amount of grain, an increase in utilisation will contribute to an increase in milk production and subsequently reduce feed related cost per litre of milk.
The objectives of the QDAS project are:
1. To supply Dairy Australia with Queensland dairy farm data to be used in DairyBase by 15 November each year of the project.
2. To provide dairy industry stakeholders with reports on the current financial performance of dairy farms in Queensland as well monitoring performance over time by 15 December each year of the project.
3. To improve the understanding of financial performance and management of farmers who take part in QDAS data collection and extension activities.
Supermarket milk wars have driven down farm gate milk prices and drought conditions have driven purchased feed prices to extreme levels. As a result Queensland milk production and farm numbers are falling dramatically. Achieving a sustainable Queensland milk industry requires all stakeholders having accurate information on incomes and costs of regional production systems across Queensland.
This project collects and supplies data from Queensland dairy farms to the DairyBase farm financial database, using the Queensland Dairy Accounting Scheme according to nationally agreed KPIs and timelines.
Each year 50 Queensland dairy farms will undertake a financial survey. All farmers who supply data will receive a feedback report on their farm performance over time and comparatively with other farms in their regional production system. All data, in an anonymous form, will be supplied to Dairy Australia to be added to DairyBase. A report will be published showing the cash and profit performance of regional production systems. Seven report back meetings will be held for farmers supplying data to discuss results, trends and implications in a group environment. There will be ongoing work with Dairy Australia and other state agencies to map KPIs to those in DairyBase.