Andrew Gray

Highly Commended – In Honour of Frank Mansell

Category: Agriculture

Specialisation: Stock Management

 

I fell in love with the humble cow at an early age and, without realising it, began a journey across Australia pursuing my passion for the dairy industry.

For much of this time I have been involved in the extensive and traditional management of dairy cows in open pastures. This was until my part-time employer, faced with exponential water prices, decided to integrate radical change utilising an innovative dairy management approach.

Instead of bringing the cows to the pasture, he would bring the pasture to the cows. Commonly referred to as total mixed rations or TMR, cattle are housed in loafing paddocks or barns and fed feed that is tailored to their exact nutritional requirements for optimum cow performance. This is similar to a beef feedlot and has the ability to reduce feed spoilage and waste by up to 30%. However, as I was studying a double Bachelors degree in Agriculture and Business interstate at the University of New England, with this newfound fascination I continued to learn more about intensive dairy stock management.

While my initial observations were centred around the increased efficiency of cattle, it soon became apparent TMR management in-fact has a huge potential to foster technology advancements with innovations in animal welfare and the sustainability of dairy operations. I believe with further study, this could potentially be an avenue to help achieve the sustainability commitment areas set out by the Australian Dairy Sustainability Framework. These are:

 

  1. Enhancing economic viability and livelihoods
  2. Improving well-being of people
  3. Providing best care for all our animals
  4. Reducing environmental impact

 

With this in mind, I sought out work placement at Moxey Farms, one of Australia’s largest and arguably most progressive TMR dairy farms in Australia. Milking 6,500 cows, Moxey Farms demonstrated the attention to detail required and the value of cow comfort in their quest for high production. However, during my stay it was brought to my attention that Australia is only relatively new to TMR feeding and we have much to learn from other countries where the method is more established. This was apparent as they flew their dairy consultants over from North America. This then planted the seed that has grown my ambition to learn firsthand from the most advanced and progressive TMR dairy farms in the world.

It is for this reason, my primary destination would be Fair Oaks Farms in Indiana, United States of America. Fair Oaks Farms was founded by Dr Mike McCloskey and comprises of 11 dairy units milking 37,000 cows. Fair Oaks’ commitment to sustainability and innovation is seen in their ability to capture harmful methane gas from cow manure and turn it into electricity to power cow barns and even their fleet of 42 milk tankers. They also have integrated methods to recycle sand bedding and recycle water on the farm. Agricultural education is also important to Fair Oaks where ‘Fair Oaks Dairy Adventure’ annually welcomes over 600,000 visitors of all ages to learn about the dairy industry. I believe by better understanding management protocols to manage a dairy operation on this incredibly large scale will contribute to my own personal development as a young dairy enthusiast. I also hope to help producers such as my boss who are integrating this method, and other members in the various Young Dairy Farmer Networks in SA and NSW, become better and more conscious dairy operators.

While visiting the United States of America, I also see great value in visiting smaller family run dairy farms such as Sunny Acres and Palmyra Ayrshire Stud. This would be an excellent opportunity to visit the more traditional dairy farms where cows are housed inside during the cold winters. I am especially interested in visiting Palmyra Farms as I have used numerous artificial insemination straws from their bulls on my own cows and I would love to visit their herd to learn about dairy genetics as they are one of the leading bull producers in the Ayrshire breed.

“We highly commend Andrew for his clear path to increased productivity and profitability to the industry, integration into industry bodies already proving leadership potential – an innovator for the industry.” – BBM Industry Panel

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