Obsalim training: motivated farmers + small on-farm change = big returns

Dr Bruno Giboudeau has just completed his Victorian workshops (the last one was at our farm) and he headed back to France yesterday, having brought the Obsalim techniques and learning to over 50 keen participants over the past fortnight. Though most of the workshoppers were dairy farmers, we also had a vet, animal nutritionist and organic milk supply manager attend.

Since Obsalim is regional (and farm) specific, the format of the workshops involved using local farms as case studies for the training. Bruno and Lucy Quin – who worked with us to organise and manage the logistics of the workshops and assisted Bruno with the training – visited the case study farms prior, took photos and carried out some Obsalim investigations, providing the host farmers with a report before the workshop proper. During the workshop session, participants were able to learn from the case study farm directly.

Lucy has arrived at Holy Goat after a big career change and is particularly interested in the links between animal health and the quality and nutrition of produce and how Obsalim can make those connections.

“We had really engaged and interested farmers at every workshop; there were lots of questions, a really positive energy and everyone was really happy to learn and observe and interpret.”

Ron and Bev Smith, long-time farmers at Fish Creek said they benefited from Bruno’s training and learnt new things, even as dairy farmers for 50 years. “Retired” to 12 acres and two cows, (though they have a newsletter connecting 400 dairy farmers and are off to King Island next week to advise and support other farmers …).

Bev says the workshop had a good energy and they had a great time as host farmers.

“We started farming in the 1970s and then organic dairying from the 1980s, when we had 95 head on 250 acres and it was all pasture based,” says Bev. “We did introduce a keyline irrigation system for the summer months and we had a big variety of pasture species.”

“We attended last year’s workshop with Bruno at Holy Goat which was great – I saw it as another tool that we can use – but I found this year’s workshop of much more direct benefit, since the focus was on cows and in our part of the world.”

“Most participants were farmers within an hour of our farm, two were organic and one was in-conversion. I think Obsalim needs to get into the conventional stream though; that’s where the biggest benefits will be. The uptake of Obsalim will be a bit like the early days of organics; but it will happen in time.”

Ron agrees. “I really loved the workshop. I think it’s cutting edge stuff for Australian farmers. When they realise and understand it, I think our whole industry will benefit hugely.”

It’s about being animal-focussed, not farm/farmer focussed. Ron gives the example of another participant who attended the workshop who told him afterwards ‘I look at animals over the fence much differently now’.

“I’ve been milking cows for over 50 years and I’m still learning. I’ve always observed the cows and known their names, their natures and their inclinations. When our cows were on heat I could tell the animal from 150 meters away. The eyes, ears, nose, demeanour, they way they act, are all telling. You can see if something is amiss. These things we have observed all the time, but Obsalim really puts it all together for us in a meaningful way.”

“We’ve been growing many of the species that Bruno suggested – cocksfoot, timothy rye, red clover – which was affirming too,” adds Ron.

One of the key aspects of Obsalim is being able to make a direct link between the appearance and health of the animal and the quality and composition of the milk, through milk testing.

“Farmers can see straight away how efficiently their animals are converting their feed and the quality of that conversion, “ says Bruno.

Lucy agrees. “Dairy farmers get results, maybe weekly, from the processors about their herd’s milk solids and protein, in percentages, but not about the quality of that protein, which is really important in cheesemaking and for the digestion of drinking milk.”

Casein is the important protein for cheese quality and yield.

“The milk test shows the coagulation of casein, globulin and albumen. The casein correlates to cheese yield and quality. We want more casein than the other proteins for cheesemaking,” says Lucy.

Grazing management – what, when and for how long – influences the milk proteins.

“With changes to the herd ration and to the cycles of feeding, we can see greater energy efficiency and feed conversion – in Obsalim we talk about the Global Energy – so there will be more casein than globulin with better efficiency. The timing of feeding and cudding and the type of pasture have a big influence,” says Bruno.

Bruno stresses that Obsalim is not asking farmers to implement wholesale, large-scale changes to their farming operations.

“The main thing is for farmers to have confidence in their observations and the confidence to make changes. We advise making small scale changes and observing. It is not about making large changes to the farm management or buying in concentrates. It is about committing to the system and using what you already have – your seasons, soils, pastures – in a more efficient way.”

“In France, 70% of farm house cheese makers use Obsalim. Of those half would use it on a daily basis and the other half would know about it and use it less regularly. But they are all able to manage their pastures in a more economic way. We see an increase in the cheese quality and a decrease in vet expenses on these farms.” says Bruno.

Now the workshops are over, Bruno and Lucy aim to keep farmers connected and motivated to continue to use Obsalim on a regular basis, as well as to develop further training opportunities.

“I would like to come back and run a more complete course that goes to a deeper level, as well as the more basic sessions,” says Bruno. “It is a new approach for Australia. After the course people will go back to their usual routine, so it is important that the Obsalim becomes part of that routine; that the observing becomes second nature.”

“We are looking to build the momentum and consolidate participants use of Obsalim,” says Lucy. “After the workshops we now have a nucleus of engaged and interested farmers. We want to find the best way to keep the conversations going and to keep them practising the techniques. It could be an Obsalim helpline for farmers, or on-line support and updates.”

And Bev and Ron are off to King Island next week, where they’ll meet other dairyfarmers and talk about the Obsalim workshop held on their place. Who knows, perhaps King Island will be the next stop next year for Bruno?

Dr Bruno Gibidou revisits Australia to run a weries of Obsalim workshops around Victoria

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