Coup for ‘jersey mad’ family
There’s nothing like a bit of healthy competition, especially when it comes to breeding the perfect jersey. The family of Murray Skedgwell and Linsey Bennett, from Tuatapere, have generations of experience to draw on.
Currently every family member has their own stud to keep the competitive spirit in the family alive. Murray started Mount Lake Jerseys 50 years ago when he was just 12 years old.
The stud drew its genetic base from that of his uncles who own Beledene Jerseys. Murray got the bug after helping show jerseys and hasn’t looked back.
Linsey, who likewise comes from a jersey-mad family, started Elmsbrook Jerseys 40 y ears ago in Tuatapere. Her parents and grandparents started the Elmsbrook and Beach Valley Stud 70 years ago.
Their daughters have also started their own studs: Alannah, 15, has Elms Lake Stud and Julie, 14, Mount Brook Stud.
“Even though we all work together on the studs, that little bit of rivalry is still there. We’re all striving to produce better cows, and if one of ours wins at a show. we all jibe one another that we beat theirs,” says Murray with a laugh.
And the family has plenty to celebrate. This year they became the first competitor to win both the Royal Agricultural Society South Island dairy heifer and South Island dairy calf awards.
The family was praised for the uniformity and condition of their jersey calves and heifers. Murray describes the success as a coup.
“It makes us very proud of what we have been able to achieve together. It’s gives us a buzz and indicates we are on the right track as there is a lot of hard work that goes into breeding a good cow.”
Murray says raising the best calves and heifers in the country is a real family affair. Linsey and her mum, Olive, rear all the calves with increasing help from Julie.
Murray takes the lead on the milking side of the operation with help from Alannah. A lot of the cows calve in covered yards to help protect the calves from harsh weather.
Calves are fed as much warm colostrum milk as they can drink in the first seven to 10 days. When they are moved to the paddock, they have calf huts available in case of bad weather.
They Skedgwells prefer not to wean the calves until they reached 100 kilograms, rather than the recommended weaning weight of 80kg, because they find they do much better at a heavier weight.
It takes about 10 weeks for them to reach 100kg. In terms of breeding, they all make decisions together across all studs, says Murray.
They breed some of their own bulls from their top cows as well as buying in bulls and semen from other studs. They aim for a good producing animal with good conformation.
Their top cows are producing around 6500 litres of milk and 500 kilograms of milksolids per season.
The family runs a 160-hectare self-contained farm, milking 330 pedigree jerseys.
Murray says they love jerseys as they consider them a good all-round cow – lighter (which is good for wet conditions) with a high fat-to-protein ratio.
He admits there are quite a few ribbons and trophies in the household, and says it is heartening to see their daughters carrying on the family tradition.