How Brian and Michele found the right mix

JANEFIELD shines as a beacon of dairy excellence in the emerald green Meander Valley.

Owned and operated by Brian and Michele Lawrence, the 555ha farm and dairy that sits under the shadow of Quamby Bluff has become a model for a sustainability and was recently awarded the ANZ Dairy Business of the Year.

Janefield came into the hands of Brian and Michele as part of a family succession, and by 2006 the conversion from a grazing property into a fully fledged dairy had begun.

“We first milked cows here in in 2007, milking around 460 cattle and we’ve progressively developed and grown the dairy from there,” Mr Lawrence said.
“We grew quite quickly, we went up by about 100 cattle a year the first three or four years, sitting at around 900 cattle for a few years – we’re now milking 1100 cattle.

“We’ve been building via staged conversion, we’ve been reinvesting as we’ve grown.
Buildings, fertility, irrigation and pasture improvement came as we could afford them, rather than one large, singular investment,” said Michele.

Brian comes from a farming background, his family venturing into dairy operations when low wool prices in the ’80s and ’90s turned the focus of family farm in Osmaston, while Michele started as a teacher in Launceston, before making her way back on to the farm.

Currently, the dairy employs five full-time and two casual staff, producing around 6.5 million litres of milk last year, averaging around 500kg of milk solids per cow, or a kilo of solids per kilo of cow, on a lenient milking schedule.

“We have cups on at 3.35am and 1pm on Monday’s, Wednesdays and Fridays we have cups on at 3.45am and 1pm, we have a single milking on Tuesdays and Thursdays 8am, 10am on Saturdays and 7am on Sundays,” Brian said.
“What amounts to 10 milkings in a week with the 21 hours the longest time between milkings. We’re happy to trade off for a better lifestyle for us, our staff and our cattle, we can be finished earlier, and the loss in volume is minimal.”

Predominantly sending their milk to Fonterra, Brian and Michele were quick to relay their appreciation to their support network in ANZ and to Fonterra’s Farm Source program, which has provided them support in fields stretching outside their expertise.

“We’ve had a lot of new staff come in and they’ve come in and run training programs, which we’ve certainly made use of. We have some knowledge, but they’re experts in feed base and feed hygiene.”

The dairy is a 50-bale semi-automated rotary milking system, with the dairy site itself sitting centrally in the property, with 40-plus separated paddocks fanning out from central hubs, making the rotation of pastures a manageable feat.

“At the moment, our pastures are on a 30-day rotation, and that varies from 18 to 90 days depending on the time of year according to growth rate.”

The Janefield herd is built from a Kiwi cross base, a mix of Holstein-Friesian and Jersey cattle that Brian says perfectly suits their rotation, milking and calving schedules.

“We were fortunate enough to start with half the herd from the family farm coming from a Jersey base, and over time we’ve transitioned our herd.
“We like the New Zealand genetics because they’re proven under a pasture-based grazing system.”
“We’re seasonal, the New Zealand dairy is seasonal, we wanted a relatively easy-care cow that gets in calf, can go out and graze and come into the dairy and produce milk with little to no issues.
“We do use grain but we’re not high input, we’re happy to concentrate our feed base from our pastures.”

Brian, Michele and the Janefield team stick stoically to their seasonal milking schedules, with seasonal conditions of the Meander region playing a big part in their rotations.

“We start milking the heifers around two weeks before the cows, usually coming around August 6 and August 20, and we milk until around late June,” Brian said. “The property and the region are quite winter wet. It’s not easy milking through the winter in this area with the high rainfall, it’s susceptible to water logging, so we’re drying off in the second half of June, and not milking at all through July.”

Janefield was recently the ANZ Dairy Business of the Year and, having won the award in 2016, collected the award at the first time of asking.

“Superficially, not a lot has changed on the dairy for us in the past five years, we’re still milking cows, but our family dynamic has changed in that time,” Brian said.

Currently, Brian and Michele’s two sons are studying engineering and ag science at university, their intentions of one day bringing their skills and knowledge-base back to the family dairy is something that brings their parents a huge amount of pride.
“They realised that they could achieve their interests on the farm,” said Michele.
“They didn’t want to live in towns or cities, they liked the people who live in the country, the sense of community you get out here.
“They seem very happy with that decision, and of course, so are we,” said Brian.

Having taken home the 2022 ANZ Dairy Business Award, Janefield hosted an open day recently and will later assist in judging next year’s nominees.