FEEDLOTTING in South Australian dairy systems is on the rise as dairyfarmers aim to increase herd size and milk production while conserving energy and cutting walking distances covered by cows.
While total dairy feedlots are rare, there are now more semi-feedlots and feedpads of varying forms in the industry than ever before.
Dairy consultant Sam Acheson, Victor Harbor, says as herd sizes increase to 600 or 700 cows and higher, it becomes increasingly difficult to rotate them between pastures without them walking long distances, which uses energy better spent in milk production.
He says partial feedlotting is working well for a number of dairyfarmers, but the extent of their use depends on the pastures and irrigation available.
While pastures-based dairying is a cost-effective way to produce milk, Mr Acheson says with feedlots cows can be producing 2-4 litres more milk a day because of a manageable feed program.
Blyth dairyfarmer Gary Zweck is working toward running his 220 cows in an open feedlot system. His herd has been in a temporary feedlot since June last year, but in the past he has partially feedlotted and grazed them from July to September.
Mr Zweck's master plan includes building four rubble-based pens covering 280 metre by 40m, with cement feed troughs and water run-off to a settling pond. And in the long-term, he will expand the dairy, adding three extra pens to the lot.
He is aiming to feedlot his cattle in two years, but because his feed costs doubled this season, cutting profits, the plans have been put on hold for a while.
Mr Zweck says many dairyfarmers in the Mid North have been operating on some form of a semi-feedlot system for years, depending on pasture availability.
But as Mr Zwek contemplates expanding his dairy, he says he needs to start planning how far he will go with feedlotting.
There are several advantages to the system in being able to control feed intake and costs, cutting down walking distances for cows to conserve energy and reducing soil compaction and pasture damage in paddocks.
"The feedlots also have less environmental impacts from run-off but they do have a less "clean and green" image," he said.
"The lot has to be managed and scraped, which is not like walking through a nice green pasture."
Mr Zweck says he is very keen to get into full feedlotting but does not want a big debt at a time when he does not have a lot of confidence in the industry.
He is gradually putting in place the infrastructure needed to feedlot.
In 2000, a 90m by 12m pit was built to hold 3000 tonnes of silage, scooped using a loader bucket. He now uses precision chop silage, delivered using a feed-out wagon.
The feed ration has varied greatly this season because some feed sources became unavailable, but Mr Zweck's wagon mix generally includes oats vetch silage, vetch hay, wheaten hay, oranges, and brewer's grain.
Other feeds to have been included in the ration are grape marc, potatoes, carrots and cottonseed.
In the bail the cows get 2 kilograms of triticale, 2kg of lupins and 500 grams of Laucke Dairy10 pellets.
Mr Zweck says milk prices have given him no encouragement to expand, and it is the first time he has fed a maintenance ration instead of feeding his herd to their full production potential.
Before using his feed wagon, he tried pit silage fed in a hay ring, but there was 10-15pc waste.
The wagon reduces waste, has kept milk production averages up, and has encouraged him to consider building another silage pit.
Block grazing of the herd this year will include forage barley, while Mr Zweck will continue to grow oats and vetch mixes for his silage and hay.