Diversification plays a big part in the operation of Wes and Rita Hurrell, Torrens Vale, via Yankalilla.
In recent years they have expanded their dairy business to include export orders, beef, and even energy generation.
They milk about 425 cows, mostly Holsteins with some Jerseys, using a 20-a-side rapid exit herringbone dairy. A third generation dairyfarmer, Mr Hurrell said they switched from a mixed dairy herd to the registered Rockwella Holstein herd in 1984.
He initially just wanted to breed better stock but found it also opened new markets. In recent years they have exported heifers to Japan and they sell about 80 bulls locally each year. Rockwella is among the top 50 herds in Australia, based on the Balanced Performance Index, and Mr Hurrell says they have a five-year plan to “crack into the top 10”, with genomics assisting.
“We’re testing all young stock as calves, which gives us a profile of each individual animal,” he said.
The heifers are graded, with the top group joined to the best bulls, the middle group paired for trait selection with “value for money” bulls, and the bottom group either culled from the herd or used in their Wagyu-cross program.
This year the Hurrells paired with Dairy Beef Alliance, breeding Holstein heifers to Wagyu bulls, with the first calves on the ground.
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Mr Hurrell said they will take the calves through to 10 months old, before they head to a feedlot, with the frame of the Holstein-cross an advantage. They have also been building a specific beef herd, made up of about 50 Angus and Hereford females.
Mr Hurrell said this was part of a plan to reduce their reliance on the milk cheque. They also work to increase milk production, having introduced a total mixed ration system in 2009, complete with an undercover, fully-concreted and rubber-lined feed pad.
Mr Hurrell said the mix was devised by animal nutritionist Tom Thorn, with a mix of fodder and silage grown across their three farms, and in high quality lucerne, medic or vetch.
“It’s like baking a cake, you’ve got to get the recipe right or it doesn’t work,” he said.
He said the use of supplementary feeding enabled them to maintain a fairly high stocking rate – four to 4.5 cows a hectare – while the consistency of the ration aided good production.
He said they averaged about 10,500 litres and 715 kilograms of milk solids for each cow in a lactation.
Mr Hurrell said they tried to maintain a pasture-based system for about four months each year, but this year would be likely to continue supplementary feeding year-round. They have some irrigation but Mr Hurrell said rising power costs had deterred a reliance on this.