Support targets control, quality
A newly created Landcorp unit, named West Coast Dairy Support, is being used to support surrounding Landcorp-owned farms.
The aim is to achieve more control over stock quality and ensure they are raised in line with Landcorp policies, says unit manager Tracy Gage-Brown.
“We’ve found that results from external dairy grazing can be unpredictable.” she says.
“This way we can graze to Landcorp standards and grow good quality heifers resulting in high-producing cows.”
The three blocks of land that make up West Coast Dairy Support were sliced off Landcorp’s Cape Foulwind farm.
The blocks are spread and it takes 45 minutes to drive from block-one to blockthree.
The initial plan was to use the blocks purely for dairy support, but with break fencing and better pasture management, the pasture standard has risen and the land is now also used for finishing cattle.
Landcorp has around 750 calves (up to yearling) and 750 rising two-year-old (R2) heifers on these blocks, and is grazing 800 cows from three Westport Landcorp dairy units.
They will finish around 800 friesian R2 bulls and 600 steers from the end of July to May next year.
Tracy, who has worked for Landcorp for nine years on Rangitaiki Station and angus stud Rotomahana, is charged with getting the new blocks on track and improving the heifers.
She admits that moving to West Coast Dairy Support has been challenging but rewarding.
“There was hardly any infrastructure, so we’ve started from scratch,” she says.
The 326-hectare block (Dairy D) was originally developed out of swampland and was gearing up to be a dairy unit.
Landcorp’s increasing attention to environmental issues resulted in the decision to abort the idea of a dairy farm.
The paddocks were 7ha in size, so Tracy has been putting up fencing so that the land can be grazed more efficiently.
This has also assisted with pest control, particularly porina and manuka beetle, neither of which likes being trampled by 170-odd cows.
Smaller paddock sizes also allow her to move animals often – essential in the wet West Coast weather and wet pastures.
In winter paddock sizes are halved yet again to reduce pugging. Most of the waterways have been fenced off and work is progressing on the rest.
A purposebuilt yard for cattle will be constructed (at present a satellite yard is being used), with the intention of keeping both people and cows safer.
The 297ha block, known as Jackos, is right on the coast, with the Okari River running alongside.
Tracy has been erecting perimeter fencing and working alongside Department of Conservation staff to plant and fence off areas for native species and birds.
Fescue grows well on the block and bulls finish well on it, she says.
“If you can grow fescue in quantity, the bulls will put on the weight – up to 2.5 kilograms per day. Fescue is a deep-rooting system which helps with erosion of the sandy soils.
It also helps control manuka beetles as they have more difficulty accessing the deeper roots they like to eat.
The third block, 80ha in area, is Westport Airport lease land. Tracy says this is more challenging to manage as there are both people and airport staff to consider.
The block is used to grow silage for the dairy farms and to graze some R2 heifers in winter.
Tracy says the aviation-industry health and safety requirements are high, but Landcorp has similarly high requirements, so it’s a good fit.
“The West Coast is a beautiful place and I think the future will be to show you can farm in an environmentally sustainable way.”