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Switch to autumn calving system a learning curve

Switch to autumn calving system
The herd gets the thumbs up from Joshua Wright.

Switching to autumn calving has been a learning curve for Matthew Wright, who contract milks a 545 cow unit at Waverley for Kevin and Diane Goble.

Matthew says autumn calving suits the farm better – they can capitalise on the winter milk premium and it takes stress off the system during the dry summer months.

Also any cows that are empty can be carried over, bulls put over them again and if they get in calf they head to the Goble’s home farm in New Plymouth. Otherwise they are milked through then culled.

An autumn calving system has required more precision though at mating, which now takes place in winter.

The cows have required specifi c inputs to maintain condition, something Matthew has been monitoring with a blood test kit he uses himself on-farm to ascertain ketosis levels.

He completes this on a random selection of 12 cows, saying, because results across the herd were consistent, this method has worked well.

At most this has seen him feed 2.5-3kgs of molasses per cow on a feed pad mixed with feed, to bolster energy levels and ensure cows do not go into a ketotic state, to set things up for a successful mating.

He also identifi es cows on heat more stringently with PG shots administered on cows that have previously cycled to synchronise mating.

CIDRs are used as necessary. As the farm carries no heifers he has identifi ed this as an area for improvement when autumn calving as there can be gains in production but loses regarding in-calf rates.

The good empty cows from the Goble’s farm are sent to Matthew, are mated and eventually become his replacements for the following season.

This season he has put some Friesian bulls over the herd for genetic gain and to have their own heifers coming through in two years time.

He hopes this will also help to address the higher empty rates that can resu lt on an autumn calving system. Buy-in from the whole team has been important in transitioning to autumn calving due to the higher monitoring requirements.

Matthew has set up a text system during pre mating, so staff can text him with anything they note if he happens to have a day off.

He says it’s easier than having to note things in a notepad when out on the job and so encourages staff to report anything important.

Matthew operates a tight team and encourages regular AgITO study so levels of expertise can be increased. He says this ensures staff are achieving their goals and ensuring job satisfaction.

As a result he has had a stable team for the past fi ve years. He also walks the walk: Matthew is completing level five of an AgITO business diploma.

Despite having the qualifi cation already in his home country of South Africa, he says it is important to always keep
learning.

“If things have gone well one season we don’t just automatically do the same thing the next season. We are always trying something new to get better results,” he says.

Last season the herd produced 271,500 kilograms of milk solids and the target this season is 275,000-280,000 kilograms depending on what the
summer brings.

Owning a farm is still the number one goal for Matthew and wife Sally, who works off-farm as an occupational therapist, and they are currently considering the next step – possibly an operations manager role on a large station or an equity partnership – and are keen to hear about any opportunities that might exist.

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