An early start today for our first of three farm visits – Gordon and Johanna’s farm in Matamata. The farm was a solo unit operation of 230 cows utilising technology to reduce labour. The herd management program and automated system was equivalent to half a labour unit and is an alternative to paying a wage. Gordon had recently started on a 16 hour 3 milkings to 2 days rotation to slow down over the drier months.
The focus on this farm was to keep it simple. Gordon reiterated the importance of setting and meeting goals constantly, using the data collected through the technology to keep sight on production levels, joining rates, and where improvements can be made.
Next we saw a farm on the other end of the spectrum, Paul Mackenzie’s high input, high stocking rate farm. This was an 85 hectare farm with a herd size of 425 at peak (stocking rate of 5.2 cows/hectare). The farm was highly thought out and designed to reduce time, effort and waste. There was a 50 bale rotary and two herd homes with 400 cow capacity.
Every aspect was designed to make life easier for himself and his workers (only two workers for half the year and one for the remainder). The key messages from Paul were to take risks, there will always be more than one option and another way to make it work, to have an exit strategy, and to work hard when you’re young as it will pay off when you’re older.
The third farm visit for the day was to Stu Husband’s lease farm with 390 cows on 105 hectares. The farm was set up with feedpads and a 1984 floating rotary (which gave the group motion sickness when we tested it out due to the unexpected rotating floor). Stu is a regional councillor on Waikato regional council and discussed issues for the future of dairy in NZ with the move to high regulation of the industry, particularly with environmental restrictions.
There was an outbreak of Bovine TB amongst the herd a year or so ago which had wiped out 200 of the herd. Stu gave a candid opinion to many issues including staff shortages with reference to his own staffing troubles. The visit gave insight into another option to farm ownership, as well as some excellent dinner tips for the evening.
The day demonstrated the importance of having a farm system to suit your own requirements and capacity, to focus on that and to do it well.