Back to the future for breeder
Sometimes you have to cross the fence and taste the grass before finding your way back home again. Such is life for Norsewood dairy farmer and Ayrshire New Zealand director Graeme Emslie.
After growing up on the family’s 80-hectare farm at Norsewood, he spent 20-something years after leaving school attaining a computing degree, working for a bank and ascending to senior lending analyst, then swapping suit for swandri and farming around the North Island before returning to the family farm brother Iain was leasing.
Iain had bought a 28-hectare block adjoining the family farm and a 128-ha dairy unit across the road where he replaced a herringbone shed with a hi-tech 60-bail rotary.
Returning home, Graeme and wife Tania went into partnership with Iain and his wife, Joanne, taking on the family lease, 300 cows and the adjoining 28ha block, milking through a 26-a-side shed on the home farm.
“We farmed the home block independently from Iain’s farm for the first three years,” says Graeme.
“When the lower-order sharemilker on Iain’s farm left, we restructured the partnership milking all 800 cows through the rotary and creating savings in wages and overheads.”
When calving starts, the first 20 cows are put through the herringbone; the rotary is then fired up and normal operations resume for the season.
Graeme is now in his tenth season back home, managing the day-to-day operation of the 228ha farm with the support of three farm workers.
A very hands-on employer, he still puts the cups on. Brother Iain looks after the young stock, support blocks, cropping and harvesting operations. “We’ve reduced our herd to 770, peak-milking 750,” says Graeme.
“The first year we milked 810 cows and did 315,000 kilograms of milksolids. Last season was a mongrel of a spring and calving, and we did 275,000kgMS. We were quite a bit down, but then our costs were down too.”
With the dairy downturn, stock were reduced and, rather than buying in all their maize silage, they grew a large portion themselves.
They would normally have bought in 500 tonnes of maize, but that was cut to 200 tonnes last year, with another 180 tonnes grown on the farm.
The herd is predominantly pedigree jersey – a legacy from Graeme’s father.
“In the make-up now, about 500 cows are Iain’s and 280 are partnership cows,180 of them my pedigree ayrshires,” he says.
“When I bought my first cows, Iain had the jersey stud and another brother, Andrew, had friesians. I thought I’d be a bit different and go for ayrshires. I always liked the look of ayrshires, so I tried them, liked them, and it grew from there.”
He is now on the Ayrshire New Zealand executive, with responsibility for finance, and on the Semayr bull selection panel.
Selected bulls are owned by the Ayrshire NZ but marketed through Livestock Improvement Corporation.
He strongly rejects any myth surrounding the ayrshire’s poor temperament.
“People say they have bad temperament, which isn’t true. If you refer to the statistics in the back of the LIC catalogue, the ayrshire breed scores the best for temperament and capacity.
“While the breed is slower maturing, milk production improves dramatically as three to four years old. Ayrshires’ longevity is very high too. I had one cow that calved through to 17 and others at 16 and 15. There are quite a few round the 13 mark.”
Graeme is concerned that because ayrshires make up less than 1% of the national herd, putting them in the margin-of-error category, the reliability of breeding value (BV) information, which includes fertility, may not be robust.
Ultimately, this may impact on the survival of the breed.
He says farmers looking at sire catalogues make selections based upon higher-breeding-worth bulls and overlook ayrshires.
Graeme has milked both main breeds and is adamant that the ayrshires compete well when milked alongside either jerseys or friesians.
He feels the ayrshire does not fit into the system fairly because of the low reliability of data on the breed– a result of its low numbers in the national herd.