The C4Milk project is a joint initiative between Dairy Australia and the Queensland Government delivering research, development and extension to Queensland and northern New South Wales dairy farmers.
The northern dairy industry covers an area from Coffs Harbour in NSW through to the Atherton Tablelands in north Queensland and includes subtropical and tropical climates. C4Milk’s core delivery areas are forage, nutrition and business management, where industry supports producer’s requirements in other areas of extension.
The current project aims to assist dairy farms to increase their margin over feed costs (MOFC) through developing and implementing forage and nutrition management strategies using high-forage diets within their feeding systems (Figure 1).
One of the advantages of dairying in northern Australia is the ability to grow large amounts of forage annually from over 25 different types of feed. However, while many farmers capitalise on high forage growth rates and production, improving agronomic management of forage quality and balancing forages in the diet becomes essential to maintain high levels of milk production.
Figure 1. QDAF 5-year research and development strategy from 2017 to 2022
Over the last six years, the C4Milk project has developed high-forage systems using component and systems research and development and is now entering a phase of system refinement. There are currently a range of research and developmental trials being conducted as part of the C4Milk project which are fine-tuning forage management strategies that increase pasture intake and milk response. This is done through improving forage quality and utilisation, complimentary to the mixed ration, therefore enhancing production and financial outcomes.
To meet the diverse requirements of the northern dairy industry, C4Milk’s research, development and extension strategy is based around four key messages to assist farmers develop and implement efficient feeding systems that increase MOFC on-farm:
- Utilising high-quality and alternative forages
- Improving milk production from increased pasture intake
- Differential feeding to improve farm efficiencies
- Improving the feedbase response by managing external factors
Research and development
In line with C4Milk’s key messages, research and development trials aim to improve feedbase production, quality and utilisation across a range of dairy systems critical to profitability.
Four core animal research trials are being undertaken to help define grazing methods that increase pasture intake and growth rates, as well as manipulation of partial mixed ration (PMR) feeding systems to drive pasture intake. They include:
- Effect of pre and post-grazing pasture height on intake rate of lucerne when consuming different levels of PMR.
- Develop a quality versus quantity matrix for lucerne and forage sorghum to aid in the determination of optimum grazing or harvesting height and stage of maturity.
- Define the milk and dry matter intake response to forage (silage) quality within a PMR system.
- Customise PMR mixes for high-forage diets to increase tropical pasture and dry matter intake.
Dry matter - Kikuyu
Most of the research takes place at the Gatton Research Dairy, operated in partnership between the University of Queensland and the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries. The trials are run on a large scale, contributing to the commercial dairy operation at the university, and provide local and interstate farmers and industry members the chance to see the results and outcomes firsthand.
Gatton Research Dairy
Developmental trials are also conducted at the Gatton Research Dairy, along with larger demonstrations on commercial farms across the regions. This helps to provide results specific to a geographic area and supports innovative farmers engaged in C4Milk’s project aims.
Current developmental trials include:
- Forage combinations for silage (cereal and protein-based crops) to minimise concentrate use.
- Investigation of a novel forage (duckweed) to produce a high-quality, low-cost protein supplement.
- Development of a mobile drafting gate suitable for use on feed pads and paddocks to assist in differentially feeding and managing herds without splitting into groups.
- PUP grazing management strategies to enhance pasture intake and annual production.
Extension and benchmarking
C4Milk prides itself on delivering tailored extension material across a range of delivery methods to all regions of the northern dairy industry and gaining strong uptake and engagement. The research, development and extension team work together to assist producers understand, implement and manage innovative practices to achieve greater margins over feed costs and become resilient to climatic and economic variability.
The Gatton Research Dairy is used as the research, development and extension hub where a national training program has been designed. This program delivers workshops and field days to local and interstate industry members which provide up-to-date information on the research undertaken by C4Milk.
Within the regions, C4Milk discussion groups have been a long-standing and successful part of the extension delivery, engaging over 60 farm businesses on a bi-monthly basis. These groups facilitate planning and decision making capacity whilst improving farmer knowledge and skills in adopting C4Milk practices. Further, an annual roadshow is rolled out across eight regions which deliver face-to-face workshops combining video footage and results from C4Milk trials and demo sites. This connects regional farmers with the latest news and research delivered by the C4Milk team at Gatton.
Demonstration field days, case study farms and focus farms also provide close working relationships with farmers on demonstrating and delivering C4Milk’s key messages. Both written material and e-extension are also core components of the extension delivery. These methods are invaluable to farmers and consultants as visual images create an enormous amount of instant understanding about a topic.
Many of the industry’s producers also participate in the Queensland Dairy Accounting Scheme (QDAS), which is an annual benchmarking program that captures individual and industry production and profitability details. This is a program that has been running for over 40 years and continues to provide valuable benchmarking data and insights into the challenges and opportunities within the northern dairy industry.
The C4Milk project continues to work with Dairy Australia and the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries to deliver industry-relevant research, development and extension projects to meet the changing needs dairy farmers in northern Australia.
The C4Milk project also collaborates with the University of Queensland, Meat & Livestock Australia and many other national and international groups on further developing forage and nutrition strategies and feeding systems that are low risk and resilient to climatic and economic variability.