Autumn calving ticks all the boxes

Autumn calving ticks all the boxes
Dry summers and a winter milk premium paid by Fonterra made autumn calving a logical choice for Reperoa sharemilker Alastair Neville.

Changing to autumn calving is a strategic business and personal decision for Alastair Neville who is 50:50 sharemilking his family’s farm at Reporoa.
“Dry summers combined with pumice soils make it challenging to grow grass over the summer months. In winter we are feeding out anyway so we may as well be feeding a lactating cow and we can also benefit from Fonterra’s winter milk premium.
Plus I have a bach and a boat I would like to be able to use more over summer,” he says with a smile. Alistair is the third generation to farm the land.
He grew up on the 160-hectare farm, of which 150ha is effective and started sharemilking while studying at Massey University completing a Bachelor of Agricultural Science.
“It was certainly strange to be sharemilking from the Massey library,” he says crediting his parents, Stephen and Teresita, who were happy to manage the property until he returned home in 2011.
The farm milks a herd of 320 friesians through a 28 bail rotary shed. It’s the main thing technologyloving Alistair would like to change.
“My dream is a new cow shed with all the bells and whistles,” he says. He is hoping that transitioning to autumn calving and the higher winter milk premium will help him to invest in more technology for the farm. He has his eyes on ear tag sensors and Levno monitoring systems.
Technology he already uses on the farm includes Tracmap, which reduces operator error through more accurate placement of fertiliser and seed. He says he gains another hectare of crop through reduction in wastage.
He also uses the JobDone app, which helps him to efficiently keep track of day-to-day tasks.
Technology is combined with a focus on the basics such as tidying up farm structures in need of repair or replacement and increasing efficiencies.
To complement a 350 cow concrete feed pad he would like to build a concrete storage bunker. After experimenting with feeding kiwifruit rejects to his herd last season he is keen to try other fruit and vegetables.
Biosecurity is another area on which he would like to tighten up after the mycoplasma bovis scare.
“I want to develop plans to cover access points into the farm, boot and vehicle washing facilities,” he says. “Going forward this area is definitely something we need to focus more on.”
Over the past five years a pasture-renovation programme has seen poorer paddocks be sown into new diploid and tetraploid varieties such as Rohan spreading ryegrass and Viscount perennial ryegrass.
Around 50 cubic metres per hectare of whey, a byproduct from the nearby Fonterra processing plant goes on annually, which Alastair says has seen potassium and Olsen P levels increase.
Alistair plans to grow 13ha of lucerne, 5ha of maize, 5ha of winter kale, and, for the first time, 5ha of sugar beet to winter milk off.
“It’s a high-energy feed source and we will grow it, lift it and feed it on the feed pad. It’s a new crop for Reporoa and a few of us are giving it a go for the first time,” he says.
A palm kernel blend will also be bought in for supplement over winter months. The aim is to get the cows set up for moving to an all grass system in spring.
This season he is targeting 136,000 kilograms of milk solids but once the herd has finished transitioning to autumn calving his aim is 150,000 kilograms.
Alastair employs one full time staff member, Damian Agnew, now in his fifth season and his first as herd manager. Alastair says he enjoys the family oriented nature of the business, which is owned by a family trust.
He and his partner Holly, his parents and sister Carissa and her husband Tom all live on the same road. Tom even runs his panel beating business from the farm.
Believing balance is the key to a successful farming operation Alastair is also a keen advocate of the benefits of getting off farm. He is the current Federated Farmers Rotorua Taupo sharemilker chair and is vice chair of the FMG Young Farmer of the Year contest board.
“It’s really important to get outside the farm gate and get involved with the larger industry.”
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