The Tutira based farm owned by the Prendergast family trust is in the process of shifting to once a day milking from January to May to help mitigate the summer dry that often hits the area, says farm manager Campbell Prendergast.
“It reduces operational costs at this time of year and improves animal health while still maintaining production,” he says. The farm was a ballot farm gifted to his grandfather, Jim, after World War II.
Located halfway between Napier and Wairoa, the farm was run as a small dairy unit milking 90 cows and rearing 200 pigs who were fed the skim milk – a waste product back in those days.
The farm was converted to sheep and beef on the back of the rise in wool prices before converting to dairy around 10 years ago when dairying became profitable again.
The farm is 120ha total/90ha effective and milks a herd of 190 kiwicross cows through a 27 aside herringbone shed. Campbell says that when the farm was first converted it was all about cow numbers and production.
Now thinking has shifted to a focus on profitability, which has led them to drop cow numbers from 250 over the past three seasons to try to find the best balance for the farm. He will increase cow numbers to 215 next season. Growing 10ha of lucerne has also been a game changer in terms of combating the summer dry.
While in the past Campbell tried crops such as turnips, plantain and chicory he said it was difficult to time the crop for the dry period, which can start anywhere from the end of November to February. Lucerne on the other hand tends to just keep growing well so it is more flexible and suits the farm better.
He acknowledges though there are challenges with lucerne, such as bloat. He has tried a variety of methods to mitigate this including mowing before and after the cows, break feeding and Rumensin anti bloat capsules.
He says he is still learning the best way to use the different methods and what will best suit the animals and farm. Campbell has found that natural mating suits his herd best using high BW kiwicross bulls. He DNA tests both cows and bulls.
The shift from AI has been marked – mating costs have halved and in the first five weeks 85% have calved meaning more days in milk. Before this figure was more like 4050%, which meant the farm then struggled to have enough replacements.
Effluent is collected in an 80 day storage pond with weeping wall. It is then gravity fed to the travelling irrigator and spread over around 15ha of the farm.
The farm employs one full time staff member and mum Judy helps out as needed. Campbell’s father Kevin still worked on the farm up until his passing five years ago. Last season the herd produced 330 kilograms of milk solids per cow. The target this season is 340 kilograms.
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