Dairy farmer Gordon Lockett with his wife Marg and son Ben at their farm in Neerim North, Gippsland.
Dairy farmer Gordon Lockett with his wife Marg and son Ben at their farm in Neerim North, Gippsland. Yuri Kouzmin

Dairy farmers find success in diversity

A MILKING herd of more than 400 cows keeps Gordon Lockett busy but he also finds time to run a small, free-range piggery.

Mr Lockett, wife Marg and sons Ben, 21, Ashley, 20, Justin, 17, and employee Ben Olsen farm almost 485ha and another 160ha leased at Neerim North, supplying Parmalat dairy company under the business name of Stanvale.

They run about 400 cows, mostly holstein, on the main farm and milk twice a day. Another 80 head are on the block down the road and are milked once a day.

Mr Lockett's brother Lindsay runs another 170 head at Neerim South which are included under the Stanvale umbrella.

The family also runs about 30 free-range sows, turning off about 500 pigs a year at about 50-60kg. They are sold to other farmers or to an abattoir in Bendigo.

"They are free-range so there are little pigs everywhere, but they go into a shed at night,” Mr Lockett said.

The operation also runs a mixed flock of 25 to 30 ewes, growing lambs for their freezer and for friends.

Mr Lockett said the farm had slowly expanded from the original soldier settlement block his grandfather had established.

"It's grown over time, it's not like a sudden jump in our workload,” he said.

Mr Lockett started work on the farm just before his 15th birthday and said the biggest labour saver introduced since then is the 50-stand rotary milking system that was built in 2003.

"Just before that was built we were milking 350 with a herringbone dairy and it was taking 3½ hours in the morning and three in the afternoon,” Mr Lockett said.

He said the rainfall this year was about 150mm down on average but "the cows are milking the best that they have done in a few years” with cows averaging about 30 litres a day.

The family has access to irrigation water from a tributary of the Latrobe River and Mr Lockett said they used it a bit for summer crops or "to make an autumn break”.

"When we had a smaller amount of cows we could irrigate enough to feed them, but now we do a lot of silage on the outblocks,” he said.

"We made 4500 bales of silage last year and by the end of the season we ended up with only 150 left.”

About 90 per cent of the seasonally calving herd are artificially inseminated. They get two chances then they are out with the bull.

Ben said the family had begun using Orchard Genetics herd assessments.

Spring and autumn calvers are assessed and matched with bulls before AI to improve genetics and breed out any problems with about 25 per cent of the herd renewed each year.