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Couple grateful for sharemilking opportunity

Couple grateful for sharemilking opportunity
Federated farmers Waikato sharemilking representative Doug Chappell on the 450ha Acacia Farm property he sharemilks near Cambridge.

Achieving the goal of becoming sharemilkers has been a massive step for Pukeatua couple Doug and Tracey Chappell.

Now in their fifth season, the Chappell’s are still “extremely grateful” for the opportunity to be sharemilkers with their 450 cow herd on Acacia Farm, a partnership between two families.

The 170ha property is on the southern side of Sanctuary Mountain, Maungatautari, south of Cambridge.

Doug is a builder by trade, but comes from a farming background, while Tracey works as a nurse as well as helping on the farm. They have two girls, aged eight and 10.

Five years ago they purchased 220 cows which formed their original herd, at an average of about $1700 each, largely funded from the sale of their house in Te Awamutu The timing of their transition to sharemilking coincided with the payout plummeting and was far from ideal, but fortunately their income was able to be supplemented by Tracey’s nursing.

“It was very challenging, but we run a reasonably low cost system. The average production for the farm was around 120,000kgMS and we actually managed to achieve 151,000kgMS in our first year.”

A silver lining of their first year sharemilking was the confidence the increased production created going into their second season.

The present season, their fifth, is the first time their herd has no leased animals. They have maintained a two-pronged focus of debt reduction and buying cows.

“It’s hard to think what we’ve been able to achieve, but we’ve been able to do that on the back of the opportunity we were given. It’s been very tough, physically and emotionally challenging, but also very rewarding as well.”

“We’ve always stayed focused on our end goal, that’s to achieve farm ownership.” Last season’s production was 390kgMS per cow, a total of 163,800kgMS from 420 cows.

“If we could do 170 to 175 [kgMS] I’d be happy, but mother nature is the controller on that.” Their Kiwicross herd is part of a sire proving scheme, with the aim of achieving faster genetic gain.

While a some cows are under-performing, culling these at this stage is not an option as every bit of production is needed while the herd is still being developed, but the calves from the underperformers are not being kept.

Doug is Federated Farmers Waikato sharemilking representative.

“I suppose the main reason I got involved with Federated Farmers is to keep up with what’s going on and to gain as much knowledge as I can and trying to be there to help other people as well.”

As in other regions, his peers in the dairy industry are currently trying to get their heads around proposed regulatory changes; the Waikato Regional Council aims to improve water quality in the Waikato and Waipa River catchments, an area of 1.1 million hectares, through its Healthy Rivers Plan for Change.

Doug is also keen to liaise with with Young Farmers “to get that link again” between the two organisations.

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