Award winners put value test on every dollar
Close examination of every expense across their dairy operation at all times has seen Sulzberger Farms Ltd, owned by Andrew and Sibylle Sulzberger and Andrew’s parents, Brad and Chris Sulzberger, named New Zealand Dairy Business of the Year.
“Every expense has to justify itself in our system,” says Andrew. “We are always looking at how we can save.
“We try to do partial budgets on any expenditure to see if it’s worth doing, making sure the costs, the responses and the returns are realistic. We also add in a value for our time and vehicle running costs. The important thing is to not try to kid yourself and to be realistic.”
The family farms a 115-hectare effective/129ha total block at Urenui, a little north of Waitara, milking a herd of 315 friesian and friesian-cross cows through a 32-a-side herringbone.
As well as the supreme award, the farm also won three category awards: business resilience for the farm with the lowest cost of production per kilogram of milksolids; best Taranaki farm performance; low-input farm with the best financial performance.
Andrew says the family has always placed a lot of importance on detail and does a lot of number crunching and reassessing things each year.
In the competition the Sulzbergers had the highest return on capital (3.7 per cent), the highest operating profit ($2166/ha) and the highest operating profit margin (35.9%).
They also had the lowest cost of production ($2.50 per kilogram of milksolid), the lowest operating expenses ($3.34/ kg/ms), the lowest core per-cow costs ($432) and the lowest core per-hectare cost ($577).
Andrew says they aim to feed cows fully from the day they calve by using the spring-rotation planner. They top them up with grass silage or palm kernel.
“The aim is to get cows milking well early on, to minimise weight loss and to protect pasture residuals to around 1450-1500kg dry matter per hectare.
Looking ahead of the cows before balance date is reached allows us to flick the switch from a conservative rotation to let them onto a quicker rotation without supplement while making sure residuals are met as well as possible.
“Cows may be put back into paddocks to clean them up during better weather. If residuals can’t be achieved, they are marked on a map to be dealt with later or by pre-topping.
“The rotation length is adjusted to try and line up with leaf-emergence rate to get grazing at the 2.5 to three-leaf stage. Supplements are used to help get on a longer round at start of summer and quickly extend autumn rotations as the season winds down. The aim is for cows to be doing more than 2.2kg milksolids on pasture only.”
Around 85.6 per cent of the cows’ diet is pasture and 6.7% is home-produced feed.
The Sulzbergers had a high pasture harvest at 12.6 tonnes of dry matter per hectare from dryland, a low cost of pasture consumed ($266 per tonne of dry matter) and the lowest cost of forage consumed ($173/tonne/dry matter).
“Basically we are constantly thinking about how we can get the grass into the cows’ mouths as cheaply as possible,” says Andrew.
To keep costs down further, the family does as much of the farmwork as they can, most of the farm-machinery maintenance, spread the urea, and make hay and silage.
But, says Andrew, it is not just about costs. Fertility is important. The family aims to produce as many AB heifer calves as possible, then keep those from the most fertile dams.
They look at early calving and CDR history, and aim to use higherthan-average-fertility AB bulls.
Heifers start calving one week before the herd to try to give them longer to cycle before AB.
Heifers are well grown to help with cycling and production. So what have they learned by entering the competition? Andrew says they will focus on regrassing a larger portion of the farm.
It’s something he’s hesitated to do as newer grass species tend to last only a few years in the dry summers.
He is looking at how management, such as on-off grazing to protect residuals.
of newer paddocks can help reduce this effect, He would also like to increase the area over which effluent is spread from 15ha to 20ha.
The Sulzbergers have soil-tested all paddocks recently – they have identified big savings on many paddocks for phosphate, and have identified some that need capital lime, phosphate and potassium.
Andrew is the fourth generation of Sulzberger to farm the land, which the family acquired in 1926.
His parents are now semi-retired – Brad is the main calf-rearer, and does farm maintenance and the accounts.
Sibylle does the wages, and Maia, 12 and twins Olivia and Sophia, 10, are starting to be helpful with calf rearing and occasional milkings.
The farm employs one full-time staff member and two relief milkers. Last season the operation produced 126,000kg milksolids and is targeting 130,000-135,000kg this season.
The family aims to keep running a system 2-3 farm. They want to to use as much grass as possible, especially by getting cows milking well early so that they can eat more grass through the spring peak-growth period.
“We will keep fine-tuning our system,” says Andrew.
“Anything we do has to be sustainable, both financially and environmentally. We would like future generations who farm this land to get it in as good as, if not better, condition than we received it.”