Young farmers’ vision for a sustainable and resilient future

In Lang Lang East, Victoria, Tom and Kim Kent are carrying on the rich legacy running the family farm. Originally purchased by Tom’s grandparents in 1949, Tom’s parents took over in the 80s.

Tom has always lived on the farm, only leaving briefly to complete his diesel mechanic apprenticeship. Tom and Kim are now in full partnership with Tom’s parents, who remain actively engaged in the venture. Kim juggles farm work around her off-farm role as a primary school teacher. Together, the family are committed to revitalising the operation.

When asked to define himself, Tom chose the words: passionate, innovative, open-minded and family-focused. With a commitment to continuing the family farming tradition, they are currently engaged in succession planning, especially as they anticipate the arrival of their first child, due in April.

Young farmers’ vision for a sustainable and resilient future
Tom and Kim Kent have a vision for a sustainable and resilient future for their farm, family and the environment

Creating a sustainable farm system

Tom’s long-term vision is to create resilience through low payout years and weather-affected periods, including a drive towards more sustainable farming.

The current herd size is 375 cows in the peak, with a breed makeup of Holstein Friesian, some crossbreds and a handful of Jerseys.

Last year’s milk production came in at 480kg MS/cow. The farm is currently poised for a promising increase to 510kg MS/cow this year, despite the challenges of a particularly wet spring, coupled with the incorporation of a new dairy facility.

The farm spans 140 ha of effective milking area, with a 140 ha runoff. 100 ha of the runoff runs all the rising 1 year olds (R1) and rising 2 year old (R2) young stock, averaging 100 replacements per year, with the remaining 40 ha used for silage and dry cows.

The stocking rate, once established at 3 cows/ha, has undergone a strategic adjustment this year, now settling at 2.7 cows/ha. This recalibration stems from the expansion of the land portfolio, coupled with a deliberate reduction in the number of beef animals.

Grain feed has been reduced from 1.8 tonne/cow, down to 1.6 tonne/cow this season. While with a good season, and additional land, silage conserved has increased from an average of 1 t DM/cow to 2.1 t DM/cow.

Tom expands, “We have a predominantly rye grass-based farm with the addition of some annual mixed species cropping. This helps to push enough growth through winter/summer/autumn.”

“We have undertaken extensive soil testing and nutrient rebalancing over the past 3 to 

4 years, with the view to creating a system less reliant on synthetic fertiliser, whilst remaining productive.”

Fertiliser usage has moved from conventional in 2019, to a gradual reduction in urea and phosphorus and the introduction of biological foliar sprays in 2021. Lime and potassium sulphate, along with additional trace minerals based on soil test results, were spread across the entire farm. Although the transition phase resulted in 

a temporary slowdown in growth, the farm successfully navigated this period and exhibited a notable increase in clover content on the shoulders of spring. As a result, this has led to more consistent production throughout the exceptional season they have just experienced.

Tom's favourite cow, sired by LIC bull 111037 beamer, is producing well over her bodyweight in milk solids
Tom's favourite cow, sired by LIC bull 111037 Beamer, is producing well over her bodyweight in milk solids

Reproduction strategy

Tom’s reproduction strategy involves 9 weeks of artificial insemination followed by 3 weeks with natural service bulls.

Focusing on quality genetics, the aim is to produce heifers from their superior cows; the top 50% of cows receive sexed semen, beef semen is spread across the bottom 20%, and the remaining 30% plus returns are given conventional semen.

The most recent joining was the fourth using sexed semen on the milking herd, and resulted in a 48% conception rate (CR) to all sexed semen on milking cows and 51% CR with conventional semen on milking cows.

When pressed to define his criteria for identifying the ‘top’ cows in his herd, Tom clarifies, “I’m not solely relying on indexes, but take into account: production, size, overall health, days in milk, fertility and historic performance.”

Half of his superior heifers also receive sexed semen via a FTAI program, while the remaining portion are naturally mated with bulls. To determine the very ‘best’ heifers, he looks at the dam info, physical appearance, breed/type, width, capacity and functionality.

The milking herd completes three weeks of joining before the non-cycling cows are identified and addressed. Non-cyclers predominantly come from the later-calving cows, which were an issue due to historical extended joining periods. Currently, the non-cyclers constitute 7% of the herd for the present season, a notable improvement from 12% over recent years and well below the industry target of <10% left unmated after the first three weeks of joining.

To help identify cows in heat, Tom finds LIC Scratch Patches a very effective heat detection aid. “They are very easy to apply and simple to read, all taking the stress out of joining.”

Carefully considering his bull selection, Tom keeps an eye on indexes but is more interested in capacity and functionality. Other key considerations include udders,

as well as feet and legs, as his cows must walk a considerable distance to the dairy.

An article in Green to Gold 2023, by FarmWise consultant Darren Sutton, suggested bringing the calving date forward and reducing stocking rate as a solution to changing seasonal climates, as well as increasing grazed feed as a proportion of the diet. Tom has taken this advice on board and hopes this will be reflected in providing more seasonal resilience.

The herd has moved from a split-calving to seasonal-calving farm system in 2020.

After a period of research investigating more sustainable farming practices, and collaborating with his consultant Peter Norwood, Tom began implementing biological farming in 2020. This change has resulted in noticeable benefits in both production and reproduction on farm.

The calving dates on farm have also pulled forward noticeably. In 2018, the last 45 cows in the herd calved in October, whereas in 2024, there were only 22 cows due to calve in the first 5 days of September and none in October. Tom says this has generally been attributed to lower dietary, non-protein nitrogen (NPN), as demonstrated by tissue testing of pasture. But improvements in non-cycler cow management and better dry cow feeding practices are also contributing factors.

Tom with his currently installed, more efficient 40-bail rotary
Tom in his more efficient 40-bail rotary, installed in 2022

Building resilience for family, farm and environment

The Kent’s herd holds a distinguished position as part of the Ginfo national reference herd, actively leveraging genetic information.

Their commitment to this decision is rooted in a broader perspective, emphasising industry improvement rather than personal gain. While their primary motivation lies in contributing to the advancement of the sector, the Kent family has experienced an additional advantage. They can use insights from the required bi-monthly herd test results to selectively sell surplus animals.

After years of operating a 22-swing-over milking system with cup removers, a pivotal decision was taken to upgrade to a second-hand 40-bail rotary. The project kicked off in February of 2022, marked by the dismantling of the rotary and its subsequent relocation to the farm. Tom personally completed most of the intricate steelwork involved in the construction process, which was no small undertaking. The expanded and more efficient milking infrastructure marks a significant milestone in the evolution of the farm’s operational setup. More changes are under consideration by the team.

“We milk twice-a-day year-round, at this stage, but are considering once-a-day milking for the colostrum period.”

Tom concludes, “Our overarching goal and vision for the farm is to establish and continue sustainable and regenerative farming practices, whilst enhancing resilience in relation to our family, environment and business.”

by Michelle Lamerton
International Marketing Coordinator
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