You would typically see cows out in paddocks grazing pastures on traditional dairy farms — but not on Dehne Vinnicombe’s property.
- Dehne Vinnicombe has built a free-stall barn on his property in central Victoria
- This system is commonly seen in the United States
- The property also has a closed- loop system, that cleans wastewater and recycles manure as beds for the cows
The Central Victorian farmer has built a free-stall barn, a permanent structure where more than 700 cows are housed and fed, a system often seen in the United States.
The Calivil farmer has also introduced a closed-loop system that cleans wastewater and even recycles manure as beds for the cows.
“I went to America and had a look at some systems over there. In California, this is what they’re all based on,” Mr Vinnicombe said.
“The cows are in sections: fresh cows, pregnant cows, and then we flush the lanes three or four times a day.
“The manure then travels to a shed where it goes through a screen separator, and it’s got a screw press at the bottom of it.
“We heat that to about 70 degrees (Celsius) after three days, and then it hits all the pathogens … and then we use that for bedding for the cows.”
The cows are kept in groups and have access to move around, are given access to sunlight and moved into the paddock during some part of their lactation.
“We think it’s more humane for the animal not being in 48-degree heat or in the mud,” he said.
More water efficient
Mr Vinnicombe said this new system had helped him become more water efficient.
He injects 50,000 litres of freshwater into the system every day that continually circulates.
“There are 900,000 litres, and it keeps circulating, goes over the screen separator and with that it takes out all the solids and then recycles and flushes the water all over again,” he said.
“We can’t do what great-grandpa did because they needed 200 per cent of water.
“We are trying to get to four tonnes of dry matter per megalitre of water, and that is where we need to be if we want to compete with cotton and other commodities with water prices.”
Feed costs reduced
He said it also helped reduce feed costs.
“We’ve bought farms and more farms, and the problem is you keep buying all these farms to bring the fodder back, but then if you’re not putting all the fodder out properly, you’re losing 25 per cent of in the old traditional feedlots.
“This system gives us more options because it gives us a whole farm where there’s no cows grazing, so if we need to put in 50 hectares of corn, we can do it, and it’s not on our milking platform.”
But it is not a cheap investment.
Mr Vinnicombe said he had spent $4.5 million on the system and expected to spend more, with plans to expand the business to house more than 2,500 cows.
“You’ve got to have a huge amount of money behind you to do this. But our milk supply is up 55 per cent on last year, with just a few more cows and the same amount of feed because we’re not losing that feed.”
Challenges to deal with
He said starting up a new system was not without its challenges.
“We’ve had troubles with a little bit of mastitis, just the wet winters. We’ve had a few fans go out,” he said.
“So, it’s just about manipulating things and trying to find that happy medium.
He said it was a difficult winter this year for dairy farmers, with wet tracks and wet, and lame feet, and sore udders.
“In this system, they go through a foot bath twice a week, they travel 50 metres, then are sitting down, and they’re all chewing their cuds.”
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