Financial, lifestyle reasons behind winter milking
Northland dairy farmer Peter Giesbers says the decision to move away from traditional spring calving to autumn calving was made for sound pragmatic reasons.
“There were many reasons why it was the right choice for us when we made the move for the 2012-13 season. The premium being paid for winter milk is one of them and, though we are affected by the wet here, it is much better to be calving in the dry in March.”
They grow good grass up north, Peter says, with high protein yield through June, July and August. And to top it off, more money is paid for calves and cull cows.
“It’s also nice to be dry for Christmas and the new year.”
With the positives come some negatives. and Peter has some concern about the ‘empty’ rates.
Calving is set to start from March 1 for the 355 Livestock Improvement Corporation-inseminated full-friesian cows.
The flat farm, 15 kilometres west of Kaikohe, has an 115-hectare (effective) milking platform.
Underfoot the mainly clay soil has around 10 per cent volcanic content.
“We do flood as we have a river on our boundary,” Peter says.
Milk is produced through a no-nonsense, 30-a-side herringbone shed with automatic cup Sue Russell removers. Milking is a single-person operation to harvest.
Peter says last season was particularly challenging because of the weather.
“It was very, very wet through to OctoberNovember, then turned dry in January-February. The wet definitely affected not only our milk production, but also getting crops in the ground.”
The farm operates to a system five, feeding out maize produced on 25ha, along with 300
350 tonnes of palm kernel and some kiwifruit.
Occasionally conola soya and DDG are added, but only when required during calving.
Peter’s father, Anthony, and one other worker deal with the farmwork; Peter is also involved with two other farming properties.
“This farm produces a good comfortable level of milksolids that we can budget on though there is always room for improvement,” he says.
He isn’t a fan of once-a-day milking and acknowledges that, even with additional feed, cow condition can be a factor at times.
“We did try once-a-day on another farm and found that the cows didn’t peak as high.”
Two Herd Homes on the property are invaluable Peter says – together, they can accommodate 300 cows.
A concrete area between the milking shed and the covered barns is used often for standing off cows awaiting calving.
They bought the home-farm was in 2004; four years later, just after the ‘crash’, a farm five kilometres down the road with new owners wanted a 50:50 sharemilker.
Peter seized this opportunity and in 2011, became a 50:50 sharemilker on the home-farm.
He added a third sharemilkinf contract in 2014. “My brother-in-law and I work together on the third farm.
He is contract-milking and takes care of all the staffing; on the other sharemilking farm I have a contract-milker to free me from worrying about staff.”
Peter is married to Lana, who teaches at the local primary school. They have two girls, aged five and two.
With such a busy life across the various farms, its important to have off-the-farm activities, he says: “We’ve got in to mountain-biking and have enjoyed going to the new bike park in Waitangi.”
At a recent Fonterra ward dinner Peter says his dad was asked about the autumn calving.
“I think more and more people can see the benefits that flow from switching to autumn calving in terms of financial returns and lifestyle.”