Family, ayrshires come first
Ayrshire cows and a family business built on strong, family values is at the heart of Te Repo Farms in Central Hawke’s Bay.
The Takapau dairy unit is owned and managed by Dave and Tracey Thompson in partnership with Dave’s mother, Robin, though these days she has retired from active duty.
It was originally a beef-and-sheep farm run by Dave’s parents.
Dave and Tracey took over 21 years ago when Dave’s father indicated his intention to step back from farming. Tracey had a strong dairy background.
She grew up on a dairy farm in Karamea, on the West Coast, and she and Dave had spent the previous four years sharemilking at Te Rehunga, south of Dannevirke.
When Dave suggested the family farm could be converted to dairy, his parents agreed and the family farming partnership was forged.
Dave and Tracey had been introduced to the ayrshire breed early in their sharemilking career.
Dave visited a neighbouring property where friesian and ayrshire heifers were grazing on the side of the hill.
The friesians weren’t so keen to forage, but the ayrshires were in their element. That sold Dave on the breed, and the descendants of those cows are still in the couple’s herd.
From a total area of 480 hectares, 500 predominantly straight ayrshires are milked off a 200ha platform, though the boundary can change in drought conditions.
The herd averages around 180,000 kilograms of milksolids a year through the 38-a-side herringbone shed.
Weather permitting, that is what the Thompsons are hoping for this season. “In recent years we’ve tried a few red friesians, just for something different,” says Tracey.
“This isn’t likely to be something we’ll carry on with, as the ayrshire cow seems to fit in best with our farming practice. She’s a hardy lady, requiring very little TLC.”
She says they have very few calving issues, and true to the ayrshire breed, are excellent at foraging.
Disease from the outside world is minimalised by enforcing a strict, closed herd regime.
Nothing goes off the farm and nothing comes on, without first being tested for BVD and vaccinated.
“Our cows are very much loved animals, with all 520 of them having names,” says Tracey.
“When one dies, I still cry. A lot of the cows in the herd are pets from calf and lamb day, with past workers’ children also taking calves to the shows.”
She says 120 replacement heifers, along with 200 dairy beef, are reared each year.
The Thompsons keep their farming practice simple. Feed is limited to grass and silage, apart from a little barley fed through the dairy shed during spring till the end of mating.
“A lot of pasture on farm is still original as it holds its own through Hawke’s Bay droughts,” says Tracey.
“We don’t irrigate. Some areas have been regrassed, but only if the pasture is damaged or is no longer producing. We can have issues with grass grub in the lighter soils, so those pastures are some that have been re-grassed.”
Horses are another shared passion for Dave and Tracey. For the last six years they have taken Kaimanawa ponies from the bi-annual muster, “tamed” them, and found ‘forever’ homes for them.
Including their own, the Thompsons have more than 30 horses on their property. Family values thread throughout their operation.
While the business must be profitable, it’s not to the detriment of family time. Family comes first, says Tracey.
“Since employing people on the farm, we’ve always tried to give them weekends off to spend with family and never stopped them taking time off during work hours to spend with their kids at school outings.”
They have employed a contract milker for the first time this year.
hey see this enabling them to take more time out to do something they both enjoy – such as riding their horses.