The Furze family, Tallangatta
Follow Paul and Jess Furze’s Focus Farm journey here.
Image by Robert White - Saputo
The Murray Dairy Focus Farm for 2019-21 was launched on 5 August 2019 in Tallangatta, a chance for the Focus Farmers, their support group and farm business consultant, Phil Shannon, to get to know each other.
Paul and Jess Furze’s story involves three kids, working in a law firm and getting a law degree, running a family dairy farm, purchasing the non-dairy portion of a family farm, driving a log truck while running a dairy farm, leasing a farm, upgrading the farm and vendor financing a herd, all to get a toehold in the industry.
Still establishing their business and strategy, the Furzes' are beginning their Focus Farm journey by concentrating on cost-effective ways to lift feedbase and milk production.
On the 2 September 2019, the Focus Farm support group spent a day on farm. Seeing the farm and the herd, and hearing from Paul, Jess, Phil and the Furze’s agronomist, Darren McCormack, provided the support group with a clearer picture of the Furze’s business goals and an opportunity to discuss opportunities to improve performance within their scope of funding and resources.
With cash flow tight and milk production down on expectations, there was plenty of discussion. Standing in the paddock on a warm spring day, the group was confident that by making immediate changes to grazing management, the Furze’s would see an increase in production as a result of increased pasture growth and fresh cows coming in to the milking herd.
The group discussed the importance of monitoring and adjusting grazing with the change in herd size and climate - shortening the round, adjusting allocations and checking the herd response. Following that, the Furze’s could consider opportunities to adjust the concentrate to improve the margin over feed costs.
Skipping ahead, discussion on silage making followed, with further discussion on labour, lost opportunities seen by late sowing in some of the paddocks and under-utilisation on lower priority areas of the farm.
Looking ahead, the group discussed the upsides of tightening the calving pattern, location of the maize crop, and associated irrigation, best use of the out-block and it goes on….plenty of discussions for the next two years of the Focus Farm project.
The third meeting of the Furze focus farm coincided with the full swing of silage season. With decisions to be made a shorter, sharper and smaller meeting was planned for and the decision to forge ahead with the meeting proved to be a good one.
At the previous meeting there was a strong feeling from the group that getting the spring grazing right would spark an immediate production response and get milk production back toward pre-season budgeted expectations; so those in attendance were pleased to see Paul and Jess had done just that and results had followed. Paul is happy with both the bulk and quality of the silage he is making. The hope is to use the silage for the autumn-calvers all things going well. Once the spring is done, an assessment on the quality and quantity of feed produced will be known and the likely feed gap can be calculated.
Jess and Paul also did some big yards getting the irrigation system up and running, which should now pay dividends allowing for watering of fast growing spring pastures. Based on the forecast yield and costs, the irrigated spring pasture will be costing around $200/tonne, which the support group agreed was well and truly worth the effort, especially with a favourable milk price and large amount of uncertainty on bought-in fodder prices.
With so much still up in the air, the immediate feed plan is to:
- optimise irrigation to maximise feed produced
- set up for a dryland summer cropping program, assessing irrigation availability at the end of the month to see if an irrigated summer crop is a viable option
- keep an eye on the feed market to secure quality feed at a price the Furze's can make a margin on
- stay on top of grazing management using the Rotation Right Tool, as used in the Feeding Pastures for Profit program
All feed planning decisions are being weighed against cash flow, milk price, feed availability and feed prices. Whilst decisions have to be made carefully to ensure the Furze's don’t run into cashflow pressure, they still need to make the most of any opportunities to secure feed, hold production and to capitalise on the high milk price. It really is a juggling act with a lot of unknowns to play out....watch this space.
The group spent some time discussing management of spring and autumn calvers, in particular the 20% of carry over cows in the herd. With cashflow tight, selling some of these as choppers was discussed. The group also suggested replacing cows with a low margin-over-feed-costs with higher-margin cows given the availability of cheap and efficient replacements. This all stacked up from a budget point of view based on the milk price and current feed situation. The group raised considerations for the introduction of new cows including herd dynamics, the expected internal replacement rate and impact on cashflow, The calving dates of current and new cows was also raised as a major consideration, in particular in relation to the timing and size of the spring calving. Being such a big topic, the discussion was held over for a later meeting.