YOUNG dairy share farmers Lucas and Kylie Licciardello are aiming high - they want to have the highest production-based indexed herd in the nation.
Lucas, 29, and Kylie, 28, from Kardella in South Gippsland, recently took home the coveted Genetics Australia Share Dairy Farmer of the Year award.
- AT A GLANCE
- Who: Lucas and Kylie Licciardello
- What: dairy
- Why: aiming high
- Where: Kardella
- Report: SIMONE SMITH
Lucas and Kylie agree theirs is an "optimistic" goal, but one they are pursuing with a passion.
Their formula is to flush high production-based indexed or ASI cows, focus on profitable genetics and breed sufficient replacements using Genescreen.
"We registered our own cows in 2006, and we thought we'd go left field by focusing more on production," Lucas said. "Our goals are to breed cows with width, good udders and good all-round functional type.
"We have started selecting bulls on ASI and we are trying to select bulls with an ASI above 100."
Lucas and Kylie have two daughters, Bella, 4, and Amelia, 2, and last year milked 290 cows at Michael Malone's dairy farm, east of Korumburra.
The herd produced 1.7 million litres, with an average 4.34 per cent butterfat and 3.29 per cent protein.
About 10 per cent of the herd is purebred and other cattle are moving through the Holstein breed appendix system.
Lucas said they had a lot of appendix-two cattle and calves that were one to two generations away from purebred status.
"We will probably start moving into more embryo flushing in the next two to three years to speed things up," he said.
"Hopefully, we will be able to get bulls in to the (artificial insemination) system."
Last season they used 60 per cent progeny-test semen and 40 per cent proven semen.
When it comes to farming, the Licciardellos are the first to admit they do things differently.
A good example is their embryo-transfer work.
The couple saw ET as the fastest way to grow their herd and its genetic merit.
"ET work has set us apart," Lucas said.
One example of their flushing work has been with Holstein "Etazon Corrie IMP ET," affectionately named "Grandma".
Kylie and Lucas bought her as an older cow after she was imported into Australia in the mid 1990s as an embryo.
Two years ago they flushed her, producing two Oman heifers, one Planet heifer and two bulls.
Recently they added another two prized heifers to their growing stud - Eclipse Planet Annesette and Eclipse Roumare Jackie.
These Holsteins bring with them the bloodlines of well-known Holsteins such as the Antzy cow family.
The Licciardellos are striving to establish a breeding reputation, and have done well so far with with Longmeadows Mateman.
In the drought year of 2006, on a starvation diet, she produced 11,000 litres of milk or 800kg of milk solids.
She has since been flushed to renowned Holstein bull Goldwyn.
It's hard to believe that just 10 years ago Lucas was a full-time farm hand and Kylie was a disability carer.
The couple's aspirations were given a boost when Lucas was appointed manager of a 500-cow herd owned by Michael, Bob and Jan Kershaw at Archies Creek.
"They gave me a chance and we learnt a hell of a lot," Lucas said.
"It motivated us to go share farming," Kylie added.
The Licciardellos have concentrated their efforts on increasing the value of their main asset - their herd.
"One year we might have a $1 million asset, the next year it might be $500,000, but it's a renewable asset," Lucas said.
The Licciardellos have a written share-farming agreement with the Malones that is reviewed regularly with both parties as well as a consultant.
With an improvement in milk prices, they are starting to see "a light at the end of the tunnel."
When milk prices plummeted two years ago, the couple increased cow numbers to 300 head, worked without staff and relied on the support of family members.
The couple also focused on production per hectare rather than per cow. Milking three cows per hectare last season, they believed they pushed the limits of the 134ha milking area.
"It was hard on the cows and hard on us," Lucas said.
"We just worked and if there was any money we spent it in the right places."
Looking ahead, the Licciardellos face one of their best seasons and are excited about their first full-time staff member joining the business.