Positive outlook for dairying future
Farming efficiently with ease’ is the mantra that dairying couple Simon and Mo Topham live by on the 180ha family farm they lease at Hedgehope in Southland.
While this season has been challenging as a result of February’s floods, they are hugely optimistic about their own farm’s future and of the contribution that dairy farming is making to New Zealand.
The couple own a chocolate brown and black herd of 550 Jersey-cross bred cows and, along with the family farm, they lease a nearby 90ha runoff.
Both Simon and Mo studied agriculture at Lincoln University, completing respectively a BComAg degree and BAgSci degree with First Class Honours. Mo has considerable environmental and dairy systems experience, having previously worked for Dairy NZ and as a consultant with LIC FarmWise. She now has her own environmental consultancy company, AgriAce Consulting Ltd, and is a Certified Nutrient Management Advisor (CNMA).
“I do the hands on work on the farm, but we do all the strategic management together and run the operation as a team,” says Simon.
Ever since he started sharemilking in 2009, Simon has had a big focus on herd improvement and he and Mo have together made big strides in that sphere as a result of reviewing their herd plan and looking closely at how to achieve gains in a cost-effective way. They have aimed for greater consistency in the herd and have also moved away from Friesian genetics, towards Jerseys.
“We’re trying to do a lot of variable milking schedules and the Jerseys seem to handle that better. We use once-a-day at the start of the season and then a lot of 3 in 2 milking at the end of the season and the Jerseys just keep pumping; they’re amazing animals. Our goal is to get to a kilogram of milk solids per cow per milking, on average, as well as having healthier and more resilient animals.”
Both Simon and Mo are keen to promote the message that New Zealand dairying is a high performer, both from an economic and environmental perspective.
“Over the past five to 10 years, it’s really ramped up on the environmental side in dairying,” says Simon, who is part of the Southern Dairy Development Trust that fosters sustainable and profitable dairy farming in the region.
“We’re moving forward with optimism with better farming systems now in place. We’re one of the best in the world; we’re at the top and fighting to keep that position through a process of continual improvement. We should be celebrating that success and the fact that the consumption of dairy products around the world is sky rocketing.
“From our perspective, you don’t have to change your core operation to get improvement. It’s more about looking at how you can advantageously disrupt the edges to either produce more, or to produce it more efficiently.”
Their farm is part of an efficiency trial, involving DairyNZ milking consultant Josh Wheeler, a Milksmart expert from QCONZ.
“He was able to take half an hour to 45 minutes off each milking time by tweaking milking setups and techniques with our team. So suddenly that’s freed up two people for two hours a day. It’s an exciting example of how small changes can add up to a big gain.”
The couple are herd testing four times a year, using Protrack and closely tracking body condition scores, with all tools used geared towards making better decisions for the herd.