Bridie escapes office…and goes farming
Bridie Virbickas has enjoyed managing her parents’ Bay of Plenty dairy farm – even though her mother thought Bridie had “lost her head” wanting to take it on.
But Bridie was raised on a dairy farm, loved the lifestyle and working with stock, had a degree in agricultural science from Massey University, and had worked for Ballance Agri-Nutrients as a sales cadet and then leader of the farm-sustainability team.
When the opportunity arose to manage the Matuku farm – one of three owned by her parents, Bernard and Linda Virbickas, who live three kilometres away on the home farm, it was a dream come true for her “I was used to being outside and found myself more and more in an office. I felt like a caged animal.”
In the sole-charge position Bridie is responsible for all day-to-day, farm-management decisions – her background of visiting and giving advice across a raft of farm types has proved very useful.
Her parents have sold their Edgecumbe farm and bought the neighbouring property to Matuku.
Come the 2018-19 season Bridie will be contractmilking 600 cows across the two farms.
The 60-hectare Makatu farm carries 240 jersey cows.
She finds the 22-a-side herringbone shed “very adequate” and in mid-May, 150 cows were still being milked.
But, she says, the cyclones that devastated parts of the region in late summer posed challenges.
“We didn’t get the best production last season. The cyclones put paid to that with the season ending sooner than planned.”
Fortunately, while there was a lot of surface water, it was clean rain-water and didn’t affect pasture adversely.
The challenges came from a major “down cow” issue – 16 cows down with milk fever in the middle of Cyclone Debbie.
The farm is low in calcium and, while there was plenty of grass, its water content didn’t provide the necessary dry-matter content the cows need to perform at peak.
She also found time and commitment to enter the Bay of Plenty Dairy Industry Farm Manager of the Year award, and was runner-up.
She says she found the experience really beneficial.
And she sees plenty of further professional development in store.
“With my background, I could understand what the cows needed. I phoned our local vet to get advise on what minerals to provide and he said I was doing everything right given the conditions.”
While herd numbers were down from 270 cows the previous year, production was cranking up 8 per cent a month until the cyclones hit.
“To see fewer cows per hectare performing better was key for me,” says Bridie.
“I try to use feed to the best of my ability. The condition of my cows and how well they were milking proves I must be doing something right.”
She has been looking into adding feeds such as DDG Distillers Grain into the mix, supplemented with maize silage and palm kernel.
“The cows love it. Per kilo of dry matter, it looks to be more efficient.”