High achiever on, off farm
Farm manager Matt Birchfield is firmly at the helm steering his crew through a number of changes on Landcorp’s Bassett Road Dairy unit near Cape Foulwind, just south of Westport.
No stranger to change, he has a long dairy farming history around West Coast’s Grey Valley with some interesting roles outside the industry, including coalmining at Pike River and TB testing. Matt is a high achiever.
Just before landing his role with Landcorp in 2016, he won the West Coast/Top of the South Island Dairy Industry Farm Manager of the Year award.
He is currently ploughing through Primary ITO courses and will soon sit his level-four papers before moving to level five. He is also only a few flying hours and two exams away from completing his helicopter licence, which he reckons will be useful for spraying operations on the farm.
“When I did my capital budget I did mention to the boss that we needed a helicopter to do the spraying – I’m not sure she was too keen.”
The 460-hesctare (effective) Bassett Road Dairy unit forms part of Landcorp’s Buller complex that includes five other dairy units.
It is currently milking 1030 cows through a 60-bail rotary shed, with production is sitting at 385 kilograms of milksolids per cow.
The objective is to raise that to 400kg/cow next year by going to an in-shed feeding system.
“Landcorp has made the decision not to feed PKE from July 1,” says Matt.
“We’re going to an inshed system using pellets, delivering what the cow needs at various stages of lactation.
“We want to peak as quickly as we can, try to stop that drop-off, slowly ease down, and hold them at 1.8kg milksolids for about six weeks longer than we normally would.”
Bassett Road will also be including winter milking in its farm system for the first time this year.
About 450 empty cows from three other Buller complex farms will be winter-milked by Matt and his staff, though Matt says it’s likely 50 of those will be culled in the first week.
He will also select 250 of the best performers for three weeks of artificial insemination, followed by another three weeks with a bull put over them.
The plan is to shift to autumn calving next season. But there are other benefits too.
Matt says that by milking through before culling, he can get more money for the cows when there is low volume but higher demand at the works.
Moving to winter milking will also offset the cost of planting 7ha of fodder beet as a step toward self-sufficiency.
“The plan is to have 20ha of beet this coming season sao that we can keep the milking cows home for the winter instead of sending them off to the support farm for grazing,” he says.
“That will mean a big saving in grazing costs, making this place more profitable.”
Matt is very proud of his three staff, which includes his partner, Kim Butcher.
Without them, the challenge of first year winter milking would be very difficult.