BIG is not always better, according to South East dairyfarmers Craig and Cate Cleggett.
The Glencoe couple firmly believes they can run a profitable operation milking about 200 cows without the extra complication of employing permanent labour that a larger farm would require.
And their approach has been successful.
The couple has been finalists in the Dairy Business of the Year for the past three years, taking the top award in the SE of SA section.
The competition figures reveal the consistency of their performance.
Their return on capital for the three competition years was 9 per cent (2007-08), 3.5pc (2006-07) and 6.1pc (2005-06).
Cow numbers have hovered around the 200 mark off the 85.8-hectare milking platform.
The total farm area is 125ha and they also own a 35ha run-off block.
The farm has 54ha of irrigation from bores, including 50.6ha under a centre pivot.
Although the watertable has dropped in recent years because of drier conditions, the water supply is reliable.
With the help of Mr Cleggett's father, the couple bought the Glencoe farm in 1994.
They initially started milking 80 cows in the four-a-side herringbone dairy, which they extended to six-a-side in the first four months.
They put in a new milk vat and centre pivot in 1995, built a new 32-unit rotary dairy in 1998, added an extra span to the centre pivot in 1999 and bought the run-off block in 2000.
Since deregulation, they have gradually improved the dairy to make it a one-man operation.
They have installed inline milk meters, automatic cup removers and individual feeding.
They have also put in an automatic calf-feeding system.
An improved effluent management system was installed two years ago and has become the basis for an additional small business.
The Cleggetts have a clear vision of how they want to farm and the type of operation they want.
"If I can't make money milking 200 cows, then I don't see how anyone can make money milking more cows," Mr Cleggett said.
At times, they have milked more cows - up to 230 in 2007. But Mr Cleggett said the extra numbers put too much pressure on the farm and made it more difficult to cope when something went wrong, such a poor season.
The couple said opportunities for expanding the farm were limited.
If they built herd numbers, they would need to employ a full-time employee. But they would still need relief milkers at other times, making the whole operation more complicated.
They have chosen instead to use technology to make the farm easier to operate using their own labour and relief milkers when required.
Mr Cleggett said, in the longer term, they might consider robotic milking as an option to allow them to stay in the industry.
Coming from a family that are among Australia's top Guernsey breeders, it is not surprising that Mr Cleggett has a strong interest in cow genetics. The Cleggetts run a 75pc Holstein/25pc Guernsey herd.
The big-framed cows produce about 8000 litres per cow per lactation.
All cows are artificially inseminated with any empties then mated with herd bulls.
Beef semen is used over heifers for calving ease with all calves sold.
Last year, they bought a Keenan mixer wagon to give them more feed options, particularly in the winter when pasture growth slowed. This has allowed them to take cows off pastures and feed them on a sandy rise at night, allowing them to better manage their grazing rotation during the colder months.
They have also fed more straw to the cows through the wagon to improve animal health. This has also boosted the protein percentage in the milk.
The introduction of automatic, individualised feeding in the dairy in 2004 has also improved their feeding regime.
Before that cows were fed up to eight kilograms of grain per day but the farm didn't necessarily always make money, Mr Cleggett said.
Cows were now feed according to lactation curve, which had reduced the amount of grain fed.
Three years ago they switched to using robotics and removed other feed additives from the feed mixes.
They said the change had seen their vet bills drop by $50/cow across the year with improved cow health and fertility.
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