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  • Title: Blank canvas to business of the year - The rise of Clear Springs Dairy

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  • Date: Friday, 18 October 2019

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Award-winning farmers Tim & Fiona Salter have converted a sheep & beef farm into a successful dairy over three years.Unlike the name of the Tasmanian town where it is situated, there is nothing meandering about the rise of Clear Springs Dairy. With only three seasons under their belt, farm managers Tim and Fiona Salter have already taken out one of the Tasmanian dairy industry’s top awards, the 2019 ANZ Dairy Business of the Year for strong financial performance and a high standard of management skills.

A consortium purchased the land in December 2015. Originally the 360ha effective farm was a beef, sheep and cropping farm, but a dairy conversion was undertaken and milking commenced in August 2016.

Tim and Fiona Salter were brought on as managers to get the property up and running, bringing with them a wealth of dairying knowledge from various farming positions in the past, including owning their own herd.

They are supported by a tight-knit local team consisting of assistant manager Michael, apprentices Laura, Daniel and Lee, and casual labourer Sam.

Improvements and growth

In the first season the Salters peaked at 800 milking cows that were purchased from a variety of crossbred herds across Victoria and Tasmania.

“The quality of cows available was a bit of an issue – not too many farmers want to sell their best animals. But we made sure we were starting with a good base, and the right breeding will give us our biggest opportunity for improvement,” says Tim.

With their enthusiastic attitude and business acumen, Tim and Fiona managed to achieve excellent results from their pastures and animals producing an average of 432kg milk solids (MS) per cow in their first season from a juvenile herd as Tim explains.

“Production in our first season was 345,600kg MS feeding 800kg concentrate per cow. We also ran 160 young stock on the farm in the first season.”

Fiona adds, “Our aim is to move to a more black-coloured crossbred herd with attention on breed mix as well as Australian Balance Performance Index and New Zealand Breeding Worth.”

The Salter knew from the experience of other farmers that LIC cows were the right ones for their system.“We want a line of tidy cows that sit around the 480kg mark and can produce their weight or better in milk solids year upon year. We don’t want to ask too much but they also need to hold their condition and weight in tougher times and be easily managed when dry,” concludes Tim.

The Salter’s mentor and neighbour, Brian Lawrence, is an LIC advocate. He has been farming LIC bred cattle for years and knows the importance good animals have on overall farm performance.

“Brian suggested right off the bat that a New Zealand-style animal would work really well in this environment. And when you look at other successful Tasmanian farmers, many of them have a similar type. So we knew from other people’s experiences that LIC cows are the right ones for our system. 

They work through a low pay-out and look after themselves on pasture and are also high performing when there is a good pay-out and feed is in abundance,” says Tim.

Tim and Fiona have now grown their milking herd by 380 cows to 1180 while at the same time improving their production average.

“In the second season our production lifted to 454,000kg MS, while still feeding 800kg of concentrate.

“This last season we milked 1180, achieving 452kg MS per cow, which is more than our budgeted production.”

For the 2019-20 season the Salters are keeping up the momentum with budgeted production set at 600,000kgMS.

“We are calving just over 1300 this year and with the milk price being higher, we are looking to increase feed to 1.5t and production to 500kgMS per cow.”

The operation runs its calves at a run-off near Hagley, some 20 minutes east of the home farm.

“The young animals get well-looked after out there and return home in great condition, so they have the perfect start to their production lives,” Tim says.

The rushing river

The Meander River provides the farm with irrigation, nutrients and well-earned recreation.The Meander river winds around the northern and western edges of the 360ha Clear Springs property between the Meander and Deloraine townships in Tasmania. It, along with the bordering forest reserve, is a major part of the farm’s ecosystem.

There’s a variety of native wildlife in the area, along with perfect fishing, walking and relaxing spots for the keen outdoorsman. Two camping spots on the farm give the staff a well-earned getaway spot right on their doorstep.

But don’t let the peaceful-looking waters fool you. When the area floods, it really floods -bringing down all sorts of materials from the mountain region in the south. However, with the bad comes the good. When the floodwaters recede all the healthy nutrients needed to keep the soils fertile are left on the land.

The Meander also ensures access to irrigation.

“260ha of the farm is now under pivot irrigation with two full circle units. The winter and summer temperature swings can be extreme. As can the dry season. The water available to us is a godsend. It has allowed us to increase numbers as quickly as we have while making only a small dent on the pasture performance,” Fiona explains.

The next steps

Improvement and growth go hand-in-hand for Tim and Fiona Salter at Clear Springs Dairy. Superior management skills have rapidly transformed the former sheep and beef property into a sustainable dairy business. It is no surprise that the husband and wife team nabbed the prestigious Tasmanian Dairy Business of the Year award after just three years at the helm.

But this isn’t the end of the story for Tim and Fiona. They reckon with the right breeding and further refinement of their team’s knowledge and skills, they can get even better.

“We are now working on improving per cow production by improving the genetics in the herd. Eventually we want slightly fewer numbers of highly efficient pasture-converting cows, which we are confident we can achieve with LIC genetics,” says Fiona.

“The herd is relatively new, so we know there’s lots of opportunities for improvement. But that’s all part of the challenge and fun of farming.”

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

After three years of rapid growth Salters are now focussing improving the quality of the herd