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Dairyman likes to cover his breed bases

Dairyman likes to cover his breed bases
Ross Soffe suns a mixed herd.

Stratford-based dairy farmer Ross Soffe says the shorthorn breed has progressed in New Zealand to the point where some shorthorns are top-producing cows – even when compared with other typically high-producing breeds.

“We’ve made huge advances in the past 15 years,” he says.

“Particularly in terms of production and the number of cows on the ground in New Zealand, which we think is currently about 5000.

“Our traits other than production are up there with any other breed. If you want a good, honest, hard-working cow with easy calving, good feet and good general health traits, this is the breed.”

The shorthorn is thought to be the oldest cattle in New Zealand; it was brought here by Samuel Marsden in 1814 as a dual-purpose cow supplying good milk and meat.

It was the country’s most popular breed until the 1920s when jerseys took over.

Ross, who is president of the New Zealand Shorthorn Association, farms a herd of 360 cows.

He describes them as a bit of a mixed bag – mostly friesian and crossbreds, some jerseys and even the odd ayrshire and guernsey, and 100 milking shorthorns.

He favours diversity in his herd: “You never know where the next genetic discovery might come from.”

He and wife Joanne are putting a lot of thought into succession planning.

They sold their 60-hectare farm at Waitara as larger farms alongside them paid a good price to buy them out.

The farm was also not of viable size to pass on, he says.

Dairyman likes to cover his breed bases

10-year-old Cara – the Soffes’ star cow for type and production.

The Soffes at the shed on the farm: from left, Caleb, Ross, Ashleigh (holding Kyan), Paton (front) and James.

Daughter Ashleigh and her husband, James, have just bought a farm across the road from Ross and Joanne’s Stratford unit, and the Soffe’s son, Caleb, started there as manager on June 1.

The farm will milk a herd of 360. Meanwhile Ashleigh and James will continue to milk 200 cows on a lease farm south of Inglewood.

The plan is that when their lease runs out in two years’ time, they will move back and run their new farm at Stratford, with Caleb taking over as manager of the home farm.

The goal is for Ross and Joanne to take a step back from the day-to-day role.

Ross says they are trying to consolidate the
business this season.

They are milking fewer cows on the home farm and are aiming to improve percow production.

He considers a lower stocking rate will suit the area better and also help lower farm workingexpenses.

They have suffered from wet springs and hope that wintering fewer cows on farm will help relieve feed pressure in spring.

They are also moving to a more-friesian cow rather than a crossbred because of the fresian’s slightly larger size and its capacity to produce more per cow.

They are also aiming to breed slightly larger shorthorn cows.

They have had good success with Australian genetics and New Zealand-bred bulls, but plan to move back totally to New Zealand genetics.

“We think New Zealand is producing better daughters after work done in the last 25 years on breed development,” says Ross.

He started breeding shorthorns for interest and to place his own mark on the herd rather than carry on in the footsteps of his parents.

He considers around 25 per cent of the herd shorthorn is about right for his operation, but says this is still a work in progress.

The shorthorns are currently achieving 10-15 fewer kilograms of milksolids than the other breeds in his herd.

The herd the average is 350-360 kilograms of milksolids per cow.

The best the farm has done is 380kg per cow.

The empty rate has risen to 18 per cent over the last two years with a mean calving date of three weeks.

Ross has no idea why this has occurred, but intends focusing on growing out the heifers better.

That’s pretty much it for the season – doing the basics better … EDing, calving spread and empty rates.

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