FOR Adelaide Hills farmer John Mieglich, a background in growing potatoes spurred a strong interest in soil management and pasture improvement.
"We used to milk 70 cows and grow potatoes," John said.
"I learnt a lot about soil nutrition through growing potatoes, especially when we were leasing land because we had to know what was in the soil and how to look after that."
John farms with his brother Graham between Charleston and Springhead, in the Adelaide Hills, milking 150 Holsteins across 100 hectares. The Mieglichs phased-out of potato growing five years ago.
While Graham predominantly concentrates on herd management, John busies himself with finding innovative ways to improve the pastures at Paringaview Park.
One of the key elements to this has been soil testing and liming.
"Before we do the liming we do a full soil test to know what's in the soil, especially with calcium and magnesium, because if we put too much on we are going to run into problems with the cows," John said.
"It is critical to maintain magnesium levels in the soil and if you don't know what your magnesium levels are, you can run into problems, such as milk fever with the cows.
"We produce more than 1.2 million litres of milk a year, which means a lot of calcium is going off the farm, so we have to keep the calcium levels up in the soils."
John uses a range of materials to spread on the farm, depending on soil nutrient requirements.
If magnesium levels are acceptable, Nutrilime � a by-product from the cement industry � is used because it contains no magnesium but if magnesium levels are low, then dolomite becomes a part of the plan. Gypsum is used to build soil calcium level.
Last year, John spread 30 tonnes of lime and 30t of gypsum and this year plans to spread 30t of gypsum and 30t of dolomite to help sustain the four paddocks lacking magnesium.
The Mieglichs run irrigated perennial ryegrass pastures with some prairie grass thrown into the mixture across most of the property.
It is these pasture management and supplementary herd feeding techniques that give the Mieglichs' milk a special touch.
"At the moment, the cows are fed a 9-kilogram ration of barley, triticale, mineral pellets and some mollasses while they are being milked, after which they head out to a feed pad for their fill of meadow hay for about half an hour before heading out to pasture," John said.
"When we move into autumn, the hay will be substituted for silage rolls and in winter, it will be oaten hay."
Milk from the farm consistently achieves about 4.7 per cent butterfat and 3.3pc protein, lending it the quality needed for good cheesemaking and the constitution for top-notch cappuccinos.
This is the reason why John and Graham supply most of their milk to boutique dairy manufacturers in the Adelaide Hills, including Woodside Cheese Wrights and Tweedvale Milk at Lobethal.
John said about two-thirds of the milk goes to Tweedvale, WCW pick up milk when they need it, and the rest makes it way to Lion.
"The high butterfat ratio means it is a good, frothy milk," John said.
*Full report in Stock Journal, February 9 issue, 2012.