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  • Title: Dornauf Family Farms - Over 50 years of improvement and counting

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  • Date: Thursday, 5 September 2019

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The enterprise now consists of 2100 cows averaging 600kg milk solids per seasonImprovement is the name of the game at the Dornauf Family Farms, now managed by third generation farmer Nick Dornauf and his wife Bek. 55 years ago his grandparents started out with 71 cows that were producing an average of 100kg of milk butterfat per season.

The enterprise now consists of 2100 cows – over four farms located in Moltema and Quamby Brook, Tasmania – averaging 600kg milk solids (110% milk solids to liveweight conversion solids) per season. And all this from herds with less than 10% empty rates!

We have always liked to challenge ourselves, and find ways to do things a little smarter and better. We have built and continue to build the ability to grow high levels of high-quality pasture, and breed cows that can efficiently convert that pasture into profit,” says Nick.

“My grandparents heard the calling of the Tasmanian land 55 years ago. Leaving office jobs in Launceston, they bought this very piece of dirt over 50 years ago.

“My grandfather recognised very early on that the traditional Australian dairy cow with a large frame was not well suited to the high rainfall in Tasmania so he opted to invest in New Zealand genetics from the early 1970s when he was introduced to LIC by AI technician, Pat Brown.”

To this day, more than 40 years later, Pat still inseminates the Dornaufs’ cows.

“When Pat started here he brought his favouritism for the LIC style cow with him. And you could say the rest is history… that does not do justice to the positive influence Pat and LIC have played in the success of our herds. Pat has inseminated LIC semen nearly every season since that first one. Pat has had a season or two off but LIC hasn’t.

“We are very proud of the animals and systems that we have been able to create in no small part due to LIC and their genetics.”

LIC regard Dornauf Farms as the longest users of LIC semen in Australia – over 40 years. 

Investing in innovation

In more recent years the Dornaufs have invested in growth, doubling the size of their operation by purchasing more properties in the surrounding area. 

Southeast of Moltema, Nick and Bek live in Quamby Brook, where the family has purchased and developed a 230ha dairy farm and a 210ha run-off block to support the greater farming operations. 

In more recent years the Dornaufs have invested in growth, doubling the size of their operationIn 2017, the family purchased 100ha adjacent to the original dairy farm. It is on this land that their brand new, high-tech milking parlour stands to help with efficiency on the farm. 

The fully automated robotic milking parlour from DeLaval, the AMR (Automatic Milking Rotary), is the first of its kind in Australia. The internal herringbone rotary platform is 24 units, is serviced via five robotic arms and operates 24 hours per day with voluntary cow traffic, milking 600 cows.

“We have had every type of dairy parlour imaginable: a walk-through, a step-up, herringbones, a Rotaflo rotary, a robotic parlour and probably a bucket at some point! We have also just commissioned an additional dairy – a 54 bail rotary – to keep up with our growth and future demand.” 

Cows for the conditions

Situated within a valley around a number of conservation and forest reserves, with an elevation of over 200 metres, the local area tends to be hot and dry in summer and very cool in winter. However, maximum average temperatures are lower than on the mainland in Victoria and South Australia.

Over the last decade, the Dornaufs have carefully selected bulls from the LIC catalogue to breed cows that specifically suit their environment and farming system.

Nick has followed on from his father Chris’ desire for high performance from fertile cows that produce an average of 600kg of milk solids per season. They feed their animals around 2.2 tonnes of dry matter per cow per year and reap the rewards by maintaining good cow condition regardless of what is going on outside. 

“We have been using Paul Douglas from Genetysis and his program ‘Genescreen’ to selectively mate our cows to increase the rate of genetic gain in our herds and to address our four main breeding objectives: high daughter fertility, great capacity, low somatic cell count and strong udders.

The Dornauf's empty rate is  as low as 5-7%, resulting in surplus quality stock they can sell to the local market“We artificially inseminate (AI) for eight weeks and usually get between 78-82 percent of cows in calf to AI with semen from premium sires. We finish with short gestation length (SGL) semen for a week, and then put natural-mating bulls out for four weeks.

“Our empty rate is usually as low as five to seven percent. This has allowed us to have discretionary culling up our sleeves to remove marginal animals, plus the added benefit of surplus milking cows to sell to the local market.”

The four herds are framier Holstein-Friesians with great udders allowing for milk solids production boundaries to be pushed. This is the result of tough culling and their long-lasting relationship with LIC that ensures the right bulls are selected for the right cows.

In August 2017, the Dornauf’s four herds combined were ranked 2nd for BPI across Tasmania and in the top 50 within Australia.  Presently, their 2,100 cows are averaging 600kg of milk solids with an average cell count of 120,000.    

“We have had some favourite LIC bulls over the years like Hothouse (MOURNE GROVE HOTHOUSE S2F), who we have used extensively since 2014. We used Mint Edition (FAIRMONT MINT EDITION) – a former number one bull in NZ – prior to that, and are now using some of his sons.

We also liked Frostman (PUKETIRO FROSTMAN S1F). We had his daughters in their first lactation doing over 10,000 litres in 305 days and holding to their first service.  Many of these cows are now in their sixth or seventh lactation and have developed into wonderfully resilient and capacious cows.”

Continuous improvement

The Dornauf’s herd and overall farming business are going strong, but this doesn’t mean they stand still. For 55 years, they have been focusing on continuous improvement, and it is fair to say that this strategy is paying off.

“We make improvements year after year, just like LIC. We see this in the animals we have breed using their bulls. As an organisation they seem to compliment what we are doing.”

This article was originally published in the spring edition of LIC Australia's Green to Gold.

For 55 years, the Dornaufs have been focusing on continuous improvement, and it is fair to say that this strategy is paying off.