Firm advocate for once-a-day
The Caroline Valley is a picturesque neck of the woods in Northern Southland – and home to 800 cows on James and Sandra Andrew’s 248-hectare farm.
The valley has its own micro-climate which, because of the way weather is funnelled up the valley by surrounding topography, brings more rain and snow than other parts of summer-dry Northern Southland, says James Andrew.
Despite this, 145ha of the farm is under irrigation to compensate for the dry months, with a 45-day water-storage pond sourced indirectly from the nearby Oreti River in winter.
The herd is milked through a relatively uncommon 20-a-side, twin-pit herringbone shed, which allows 40 cows to be milked at once.
“Because the pits are short, as opposed to long herringbone sheds, the cows come and go quickly,” says James.
“The shed is similar in speed to a rotary and considerably lower in cost to build.”
It was built about eight or nine years ago, and there have been minimal repairs: “It’s a personal choice. I think it’s great wee shed.”
The Andrews employ three full-time staff. The farm operation is centred around once-a-day milking, with the herd split equally between morning and afternoon milking.
“We normally milk the older cows in the morning and the younger cows in the afternoon; that’s pretty good use of labour as well,” says James.
“I have always firmly believed, after the early once-a-day Taranaki trials, that there’s no financial advantage in milking twice a day.
I believe there’s a lot less stress involved in once-a-day for people, for the cows, for the environment, and the whole operation.”
Lower feed inputs and cows in better condition during winter are also a huge advantages, as well empty rates that are two to three per cent lower, he says.
The jersey herd is being transitioned to crossbred because he believes they are better suited for once-a-day milking and for Southland.
Last season’s total production was 273,000 kilograms opf milksolids, which averages out to 341kg per cow against farm working expenses budgeted at $3kg for the season.
James expects similar production for this season because of a summer of lower temperatures and less sunshine despite 20ha more grass. The farm is supported by a 78ha run-off in Eastern Southland.
The introduction of 20ha of fodder beet into the farm’s system for the first time last season has been a big boost, he says.
The fodder crops are followed by fibrous oat crops to mop up nitrogen and potassium and provide winter balage.
“It has enabled us to winter all our cows on our platform, but it does require transitioning. There are a lot of animal health issues if you don’t get it right.”
Two seasons ago the Andrew farm was hit by a clover root weevil infestation, which affected many farms in the lower South Island.
Biological control with a wasp was very effective but, disappointingly, the Andrews’ no-nitrogen policy had to be broken.
The past three years have been particularly tough, but by applying tight financial reins, they Andrews have been able to steer their business through and are now excited about the challenges.
“Our business is a lot stronger than it was three years ago, but the uncertainty about the world trade will create volatility and we need to be ready for it,” says James.
They look forward to contributing to Southland’s Land and Water Plan as there has been “huge, unchecked” land-use changes.
“We must protect and maintain valleys like Caroline Valley whilst providing food for the growing world populations using methods that are sustainable and profitable for us.”