Autumn calving beats summer dry

Autumn calving beats summer dry
The herd on the feedpad at Alex and Narda Harvey’s Te Kopuru, Northland, farm.

Come February next year, Alex and Narda Harvey’s 30-aside herringbone will have its first siesta in 20 years of operation.
Having operated a split caving regime on their Northland dairy unit for the last 20 years, the couple made the call to transition to autumn calving, and will start their first full season next year.
“We’ve been trying to get away from the summer dry,” explains Alex.
“Up until the last couple of years you could almost guarantee that Northland would get a drought of some description – the law of averages is that you will get a summer dry.”
Alex says that it’s easier to grow grass in the wintertime when it is wet than it is in the summer time when it is dead dry.
“Our pasture cover in the summer time can disappear in front of you, without grazing it – because of the dry and no soil depth. That’s the reason we chose autumn calving – we knew the autumn cows produced more and better.”
Alex and Narda farm off a 140ha milking platform along the West Coast Road in Te Kopuru, on the Pouto Peninsula. Alex says the soil is not the best. About 50% of it is Te Kopuru sand; a soil type that grows grass deficient in copper.
“It’s got a rock hard pan underneath it. We dig it out with a digger and use it on the races—that’s how hard it is and it makes the digger bucket smoke. You can’t drive posts in it with a post driver.”
Then there is about 40% of reasonably virgin peat soil that has not been consolidated, and while
it grows grass, is full of Kauri stumps and logs.
“It’s all been dug over for Kauri gum way back in the day. And there is about 10% red hill loam at the back of the farm. It gets very wet here – it’s called pan soup underfoot. The cow puts its foot down and when it pulls it out it fills up with water and just slops back into place when she lifts her foot up again.”
With the last of the Harvey’s change over seasons from split calving, autumn calving is now complete, as is mating.
Alex and Narda’s son Lloyd and his partner Kristy have the role of contract milker on the farm. At the business end of production are Alex and Narda’s herd of pedigree Holstein Friesian cows, all 100% registered.
“The original herd is my mother’s parent’s herd from the old family farm in Warkworth, so I’m third generation farming those cows and Lloyd will be the fourth, says Alex.
“My father started the stud up in 1972.” Some 260 cows are currently being milked, with a production of 158,000kgMS at the factory being targeted.
“We’re actually targeting 620kgMS/per cow on the herd test and last year we did about 615kgMS on herd test. There’s quite a discrepancy between the total production at the factory and cows milked transitioning from split calving to autumn calving because of carryovers.”
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