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Teamwork key to thriving dairy business

Teamwork key to thriving dairy business
Claxby Farm, a 1400 hectare property in Eyrewell, near Rangiora milks 3100 cows across three units and a shared dairy support unit. Milking Shed (top), drenching, tractor and office work at Claxby.

When Marmaduke Dixon voyaged from Lincolnshire, England, and laid stake to North Canterbury land in 1852, he may only have dreamed that his decedents would still be caring for the same earth five generations on.

One hundred and sixty six years later, Marmaduke’s legacy lives on both in the land and spirit with his name being given to succeeding generations – a family tradition that speaks of a proud history in North Canterbury.

Sam ‘Marmaduke’ Spencer-Bower is the latest generation to have custodianship of the land and it could be said that Sam is just as pioneering as his great-great grandfather was.

Largely sitting along the banks of the Waimakariri River in Eyrewell some 20 kilometres from Rangiora, the land that Sam’s forebears originally farmed sheep on has now been converted to dairy.

The property, which covers some 1400ha has been divided into three dairy units and a shared dairy support farm. A total of 3100 cross-bred cows are milked across the three units.

Spring calving in early August, it’s typically a twice a day operation that transitions to 16 hour milking when the peak tapers off, preserving cow condition and saving on power costs.

The first conversion took place six years ago with the rest of the land being used as dairy support.

Three years later the next conversion was done with the last a year after that, when a neighbouring property was added to the business.

The staggered approach made the conversion process easier and Sam says many of the big lessons were learned in the first conversion.

Getting things done on a short time line with a conversion is always a challenge – laneways, farm buildings, the shed and plant, fencing, pastures and stock water – and once the cows start to calve the rubber really does hit the road.

“Our family didn’t know a lot about dairy farming when we first started the journey – but that’s one of the good things about the dairy industry – there’s a lot of help out there and people are pretty willing to share ideas.

So that was the main thing – just trying to make heads and tails out of what we’re doing here.” So knowledge and getting things done were challenges faced head on, but so too was the challenge of human resource.

With a large team being required to run the four farms Sam had to get up to speed with how to get the best out of people, performance reviews, health and safety and getting the culture right. It’s a side of the business that Sam is passionate about.

“I just find it quite interesting with different personalities – how they work and operate and how some people have different attitudes and seeing some people progress. It’s good when you can get the right people who want to progress.”

Sam rejects the notion that is it difficult to find
good people though accepts that being close to Rangiora and Christchurch has been advantageous in that regard.

“While there are a few who don’t quite make the grade, there are many good ones who go through the system and you can help them learn and develop and grow. That works for the business and it works for them and that is quite enjoyable when it comes off like that.”

Explaining the farm’s culture Sam says it’s about doing things well and properly to achieve the best results while also enjoying working on the farm.

“We want people to have some dedication to their work but have some fun while doing it. Working like a team is the biggest thing.” Sam and his wife Jo have two young daughters – Chloe 5 and Ruby 2.

Who knows, it is entirely possible that there will be a sixth generation descending from Marmaduke to farm the North Canterbury pastures.

This article was brought to you in association with the following businesses…

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