Genetics could cut N leaching
Could breeding cows that excrete less nitrogen be the future of dairy farming? Puahue dairy farmers John Hayward and Susan O’Regan believe so.
They have used CRV Ambreed’s new LowN Sires over their whole herd this season in a bid to reduce milk urea nitrogen concentration in their cows.
They hope it could be the genetic breakthrough to help reduce nitrogen leaching into waterways, another tool that could help them reduce environmental impact.
They will monitor the effect through herd testing. The couple, supreme winners of the 2016 Waikato Ballance Farm Environment Awards, continue to invest heavily in this aspect of their farm.
They are fencing off native bush, have planted around 30,000 natives in riparian zones, and have fenced wetland areas securely to keep out stock.
A 13-hectare manuka operation – a joint venture with Comvita – uses marginal land and reduces erosion and overall nitrogen leaching on the property.
Their effective land use has been the result of doing a land-use capability assessment on the property – 245 hectares of flat to steep contour east of Te Awamutu.
Judge Valley Dairies milks 420 friesian and jersey cows on a 140ha platform, targeting production of 200,000 kilograms of milksolids.
Half the herd has been winter-milked over the last three years and they plan to switch the whole herd to this system in the next year.
They are already splitcalving in preparation. John says they have identified that the move could make them more profitable, allow them to grow more feed, and to benefit from premium bobby-calf prices.
They say they already run an extremely low-cost system with a low environmental footprint and highperforming cows. They have reduced cow numbers in recent years and halved their use of palm kernel; their goal is to eliminate it.
This is their first farm together. They bought the original block in 2008 and added a neighbouring drystock unit in 2012.
A year later they built a new feedpad, which has improved feed-conversion efficiency while lifting cow health and condition. The couple are assisted by two full-time and one casual staff.
John and Susan were finalists in the 2017 Dairy Business of the Year competition, which, says John, has identified subtle but important improvements to increase efficiency.
He says they have no plans to grow; they are happy with what they have achieved and aim to consolidate and improve They make a habit of trying to predict what is going to happen in the industry and of thinking outside the box about what and where they can do differently to get a better result.
“Farmers need to get their farms up to speed,” says John.
“There are some big challenges ahead of us in terms of population growth and the rise of synthetic meat and milk. We must have a premium product and market it with a point of difference.”
He acknowledges that they do a lot of things differently, but says it works for them:
“It might seem like chaos, but it’s organised chaos, and that’s what we like. The action never stops.”