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Agriculture

Auto rearing raises scale

Tom O'Leary Oct 10
Auto rearing raises scale
The dairy shed on ower Farms property.

One person for less than half an hour a day is all it takes to rear up to 800 calves a year with the latest in calf-rearing systems. Once full trained to the system, one person needs to spend just 15 minutes or so in the morning and another 10 minutes in the evening feeding the calves.

These daily visits are the sole input from staff. The Bell-Booth automated system takes over for the rest of the process and time. The system handles most tasks automatically – mixing and heating milk to the right temperature, and allowing calves to self-feed when they are hungry.

The system reads the calves’ NAIT ID tags and feeds them according to their individual needs.

Father and son Ken and Richard Westlake, who own and run Mayflower Farms at Mangaturoto, reckon the system will pay for itself in three years, which makes it a sound investment.

They rear all the calves from their dairy farm and buy some in.

They used to sell calves at three months of age, but can now take them through to 12-13 months, which gives their business important diversification and makes them less reliant on the dairy pay-out.

They sell around 450-500 beef stock and plan to up this to 600 next year. They intend to continue to develop this side of the business.

Mayflower Farms continues to milk an average of 600 cows, 365 days a year to supply a local milk-marketing company. Another big change for the business has been a significant reduction in water usage, a result of more accurate monitoring.

Auto rearing raises scale

The calves settle into the routine of eating and drinking as they need to – according to their individual programmed diets.

 

The change was driven by years of working with the local council to achieve compliance and, despite throwing a significant amount of money at the issue, still failing to meet targets.

“It was an ongoing battle,” says Richard. “We were doing everything humanly possible and every year we thought we had cracked it.

“It was getting better, and for eight to nine months of the year when it was dry, we were compliant. But when it rained, there was too much water going into our effluent ponds and that treated effluent was then discharging into the stream.”

They undertook a water-use and effluentreduction trial in association with the Northland Regional Council ,and installed water meters on everything that used water. They were shocked at what they discovered.

“We had no idea that our backing gates used 4000 litres of water per milking,” says Richard, who thinks there are potentially many farmers out there facing similar issues.They have reduced the farm’s water use by an amazing 58 per cent (22,000 litres) a day – equivalent to annual savings of more than eight million litres.

In addition they have cut effluent volumes going to the farm treatment/storage ponds by 51% and have improved water quality by significantly reducing the discharge of treated effluent into water.

They have also bought a slurry wagon to dispose much of the farm’s effluent directly on to land via a ‘soil injection’ system.

Richard says the advantages of soil injection include better use of nutrients, reduced odour, improved pasture palatability, and much more targeted placement of waste. This has resulted in significant savings in fertiliser bills.

Other improvements include changing from water to electric-driven yard backing-gates and using recycled effluent from a fourth treatment pond to clean the dairy yard.

As much clean stormwater as possible is directed away from treatment ponds.

Mayflower Farms has a 369-hectare home farm (with a 200ha milking platform) and a 120ha block for young stock, supported by a 155ha run-off at Marohemo.

It’s steep-sided rolling country, which means stock management and feeding at the right times is key. Mayflower Farms produced 1250 kilograms of milksolids per hectare last season, which Richard describes as “basically Waikato production in Northland”.

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