Public perception of barns misguided
Public perception of large-scale dairy farming in barns being solely about pocketing bigger profi ts is misguided, Mid Canterbury farmer Jeff Gould says.
“Sometimes people don’t understand it’s environmentally better, it’s better for the animals so it’s actually a better system, but it’s got to be done well. I think that’s the key.”
There is much more to dairy farming than can be measured in financial terms alone, he says.
“You’re farming for the enjoyment and the pleasure in what your actually doing and producing and maybe that’s where the public get it wrong.”
Jeff and his wife Kelly are equity partners with Wyvern and Beth Jones in an 1130 cow, 300 hectare business, Aberystwyth Dairies, located near Geraldine in Mid Canterbury. The property was originally a 210ha cropping farm owned by the Jones’.
Its conversion was completed ten years ago following the addition of 90ha in the second season. About 90% of the farm is irrigated, predominantly by pivots.
Aberystwyth Dairies commitment to create the most effi cient and environmentally responsible dairy farming business possible was highlighted following the exceptionally wet spring of 2012.
Not wanting to have to deal with cows struggling on horribly pugged pastures again, the partners’ forked out a total of $2.2 million; $1.8m for a cubicle barn which can house 600 cows, a $200,000 calving barn, $200,000 for machinery and $300,000 for concrete areas to store bought-in feed.
Annually the cows consume about 1.3 million kilograms of silages, 600 tonnes of wheat, 200 tonnes of soy and 700 tonnes of vegetable waste, maize grown on 26ha plus 40ha of barley and pea silage grown on-farm.
As well as mitigating the weather as a major factor in the farm system, the ability to better manage peak milking was another incentive in having the barn and associated infrastructure built.
With the difficulty of compressing spring calving into two months, it was effectively being spread out to three to four months “which meant we were going to have to milk the winter anyway”, so split calving with the bonus of a winter milk premium was the logical answer.
The barn has also reduced the number of cows grazing off-farm during winter. Aberystwyth Dairies supplies Westland Milk Products.
Last season’s production was 622,000kgMS and the 2016-2017 season 602,000kgMS. The variation in production was not the result of on-farm factors, but a consequence of the lower farm gate payout in the 2016-2017 season.
Jeff says this shows how a barn-based system creates more control over feed inputs, farm working expenses and production, but acknowledges a pastoral-based system can be more forgiving. “Whereas inside, if you get it wrong things go wrong quite quick.”
As in a pastoral system, a good support team, including silage contractors, feed suppliers and farm consultants need to be in place to make the barn system work well Effluent management, hygiene and animal health are crucial.
The North American friesian genetics in the herd, comprising moderate sized cows of about 550 kilograms and which can produce 100% of their body weight in milk solids depending on the season, are well suited to the high input, high production system.
“They’ve got better udders, better legs, good conformation for what we’re doing where they’re housed for three or four months of the year. They’ve been bred overseas to actually live inside.”
While Jeff disagrees with the perception of farming in barns, he believes traditional outdoor winter grazing is an aspect of dairy farming that is not a good look in the eyes of the non-farming public, but is unavoidable in most farm systems.
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