A willingness to listen to experts and peers, combined with an appetite for change, is the secret behind Sam Martin’s success.

The farmer from Wall Flat, who was named the 2022 SADA Young Dairy Farmer of the Year, has 500 cows producing 4.5 million litres of milk each year. This has grown from 350 head of cattle producing 3 million litres of milk only a few years ago.

This increase was necessitated by a change from a pasture-based feeding system to a total mixed ration (TMR) feedlot system.

“Our feed utilisation improved, and we found we could grow much more feed than we needed. So, we knew we either had to grow less feed or buy more cows. We decided to get bigger,” Sam said.

“We had a lot of help from nutritionists and agronomists and several other experts, as well as going around to different dairies to see what they were doing well. Everyone’s been very open and honest about what’s worked well for them and what hasn’t worked. That was incredibly helpful.”

The change to the TMR regime isn’t just resulting in more milk overall, but also delivering more milk per cow, better milk solids per cow, improved cell counts and boosted conception rates for cows.

“Overall, the cows seem happier, they are producing better and there’s better fertility. I’m not sure about longevity yet, because it hasn’t been that long, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that also improves,” Sam said.

Currently, Martin Dairies’ 24 a side swing over herringbone system is keeping up with milk production, but Sam said they will need to build a new diary if they expand the herd any further.

Another focus area of Martin Dairies is communication and staff training. Sam and his wife Nadia have launched a website for the business (www.martindairies.com) to enable casual staff to find them easily, and the dairy also has a social media presence.

Sam and Nadia have also started creating training videos for staff, with the first focused on the dairy wash down, which is hosted on the Martin Dairies website in a password protected ‘Employee Education’ section.

“I spend a lot of time with the staff when they first start. It’s been hard to find people who are skilled, so the majority of people who come here haven’t milked before. I focus on getting them to the milking and cleaning standard that I expect,” Sam said.

“The video helps with this staff training. It goes for about 30 minutes and it’s a very detailed, step by step guide to the wash. They can watch as many times as they want and whenever they want if they need a refresher.

“I’ve found it’s important to be very clear and repetitive about what we want and why it needs to happen.

“For example, instead of just telling staff they need to use the right chemicals for cleaning the dairy every day, I explain that water alone doesn’t clean the fat off the inside of the milk level floats. And then the floats can get stuck because a layer of fat will build up. And then we can’t achieve the hygiene or quality results we want. If you explain the ‘why’ and connect it to the standards you expect, it’s more effective.”

Maintaining high standards and seeking advice are important to Sam and Nadia. They use Agri Dairies and Dairy Tech for advice and support, and rely on the expertise of semen salespeople, nutritionists, agronomists and consultants.

“I’m very lucky to be part of the dairy industry,” Sam said. “There’s a lot of support around for farmers and plenty of information available. You just have to go out and get it – and be open to change.”

Young Dairy Farmer of the Year Sam Martin and John Elferink from SADA.