Ohakune couple love their guernseys
Manawatu dairy farmers Thomas and Jemima Bebbington have held a strong allegiance to guernsey cows since buying them in a herd five years ago.
And they have taken that interest and enthusiasm into the New Zealand Guernsey Breeders’ Association.
The Ohakune-based sharemilking couple have a herd of 450 cows, 40 of which are guernsey. “We’re 50:50 sharemilkering and at this stage we think we have the perfect herd size,” says Thomas.
“Profitable production is the main driver of our business and, over the years, we have chosen to retain a small number of guernsey cows which fight our cross-breds for top position on herd tests.”
The Bebbingtons say the main reason they have been drawn to the breed is that they are not commonly farmed here.
“Having the Guernseys creates a bit of a talking point and we’ve been amazed at the gathering of interest in the breed,” says Jemima.
Last year, when the couple moved from farming near Te Aroha in the Waikato, they had to get rid of their rising-two-year-old guernseys.
They used TradeMe as the means to do it.
“We had a really nice couple buy 12 from us,” says Jemima. “The interest is certainly out there.” .
All the guernseys are bred to imported guernsey straws and the Bebbingtons say the quality of milk produced is second to none.
“They are also very placid, easy to manage animals,” says Jemima.
She is on the Guernsey World Federation Board and Thomas is vice president of the New Zealand Association which recently hosted more than 50 breeders and farmers from the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States and Australia.
“For a small breed here, it was pretty cool. They all had a great sense of humour and were impressed with what they saw here,” says Jemima.
“It was just great to be around such positive farming people.” .
The visitors began their New Zealand visit in Queenstown, visited guernsey farmers in the South and North islands before settling into their World Breeders’ Conference, which is held every three years.
The next conference, which Thomas and Jemima hope to attend, will be in Pennsylvania, USA in 2019.
Their farm, which is five kilometres from Ohakune, has an effective milking platform of 160 hectares with a further 15 hectares set aside for young stock.
Its half-flat, half-rolling contour means that underfoot there are dramatic changes in soil type and condition.
The couple hosted a field day in April for local farmers.
“Where we came from, Hauraki, was such a different farming situation it was really helpful to have locals who had farmed in Ohakune for many years look over the property and give helpful feedback,” says Thomas.
“We’re 600 metres above sea-level, so the climate is very cold at times. As a result, we milk for only nine months, reducing to once-a-day milking in the middle of January.”
The cows were dried off on April 21, and calving is due to begin on August 6. Next to the 15-year-old, 40-a-side herringbone milking shed is a 450-cow-capacity yard.
The farm has two centre-pivot irrigators, but these have not been used for the last couple of years.
Jemima describes Thomas as a cow-whisperer: “It’s the way he looks after the cows. That’s the best way to describe it.”
A stickler for standards Thomas says he puts 110 per cent into every task and hopes this shows in his production and animal health.
Last season they managed to beat the farm record with production of 150,000 kilograms of milksolids.
Thomas says the farm is capable of more under the same system: “I think we can get 160,000 and my goal is to get there in two years.”
They have two more seasons to go on their contract, find the farm picturesque and great to work on, are very happy with where their farming business is heading, and plan to remain in the area, long term if possible.