Future Ready Dairy Systems

Dairy Australia


Focus on feeding

Objective of the Event

This event was held to give farmers a chance to learn about how the Singletons manage their successful dairy operation; what led them to make the change to the drylot system, their focus on feeding strategies and how they maintain cow comfort.


Key Messages

  • Dairy farmers in the Murray Dairy region are taking steps to manage climate variability within their farming systems.
  • Climate variability is about managing extremes; hot & dry, wet & cold, storm events etc. Successfully coping with extremes builds capacity to manage any longer term trends.

Reflections on the Event

Rob and Gai Singleton milk 750 cows at Blighty using a drylot where the herd receive a total mixed ration through the summer months, before returning to pasture in March.

The move away from grazing summer pasture happened in 2008 when they started to measure the amount of pasture being grazed through the hot summer months and found that the cows weren’t consuming much. Compounding this was the fact that pasture became very expensive reaching a peak of $403 per tonne of dry matter when water allocations were at zero.

The hybrid feeding system adopted by the Singletons also allowed then to focus on cow comfort. Rob believes that when cows are comfortable they eat more feed and produce more milk. Sprinklers are used in the dairy and 4m2 of shade per cow is provided in the drylot to reduce heat stress. Laneways to the drylot have been concreted and the drylots are groomed daily to provide clean and dry loafing for cows as well as reduce fly populations. At the same time, the drylot systems also supports better feeding efficiency through reduced wastage.

Recent heavy rains were a challenge – Rob and Gai did remove the cows from the drylot for a couple of days but generally find that the system can cope if rainfall doesn’t exceed 50 mm – the well drained surface dries quickly during the hotter months.

The Singletons focus on feeding strategies has supported their continued success through the difficult years:

  • Lead feeding is seen as critical to achieving production goals and reducing costs at calving; 21 days prior to calving cows are fed a lead feed ration to prepare them for the lactation.
  • Once calved, fresh cows are transitioned onto an energy-dense ration that will maximise their opportunity to reach peak milk production.
  • Silage is cut with a focus on quality rather than quantity.
  • A feed inventory is kept to avoid “pressure purchasing” where quality may be compromised.
  • They insist on feed test for purchased hay, silage and grain.
  • New feeds or new silage stacks are shandied into the ration over a period of weeks to avoid upsets.
  • The change from the paddock to the pad is a significant one and needs to be managed well. “The idea is to move them into the drylot before you notice a significant drop in production” due to deteriorating pasture quality. This transition, if well executed will most often result in an increase in milk production.
  • The move from the drylot back to pasture in the autumn needs to be done slowly to avoid a drop in milk production.
  • By grouping cows, they are able to feed according to stage of lactation. This allows them to better manage body condition and peak milk. It also has benefits when it comes to joining and reproductive performance.

The day also saw Martin Auldist from DPI Victoria discuss the results of their PMR research being carried out at Ellinbank.

Quotes & Feedback from Attendees

“One of the best field days I have ever attended”.

Other Event Information

In spite of the March floods, 33 people attended to take part in what was a very informative day.