Corin Schick’s love of his work and his livestock makes it easy for him to get out of bed to milk the cows early every morning, but it was not a boyhood dream to be a dairy farmer.
“When I was about 10, I guess, I wanted to be a truck driver, but when I was about 12 my world came crashing down when I found out epileptics couldn’t drive trucks,” Corin says. From then on he focused on his second biggest passion, to be a farmer.
“Now you couldn’t get me to drive a truck for love nor money. The early mornings don’t bother me one bit, they never have.”
Fourth generation Northland farmers, Corin and his wife Wendy have a herd of 285 jersey cows on 128 hectares in Pouto Peninsula south of Dargaville, after originally being 50/50 sharemilkers for Corin’s parents Roger and Dale.
At one stage more than 300 cows were being milked but two droughts and the cost of buying supplementary feed cut hard into the farm’s bottom line.
“I dropped the herd to 280. It was perfect. It took a lot of stress off me in the spring. I wasn’t looking for grass so much around September when things get quite wet here.”
As well as not having to compete for feed, benefits for the cows were less sore feet and reduced mastitis. “It was a whole lot easier to manage.”
Corin’s account of reducing the herd while maintaining similar total annual production has become a familiar theme among New Zealand dairy farmers.
“We were doing around 400kg milk solids per cow (for the 300 cow herd), but when we dropped the numbers we were able to do 425-448.”
Total annual production of 126,000kgMS against farm working expenses of just $2.39 for fertiliser, pasture renewal, weed and pest control, electricity and wages, in combination with Corin’s father providing free labour, the makes the farm a profitable operation.
Uppermost in Corin’s mind is providing a good supply of quality feed and nutrients to underpin both the performance and health of the herd.
“Animal health is a big focus. We keep our cows in good condition all year round and we do that by being proactive and not letting our cows get sick.” Corin is enamoured with jerseys and would never contemplate any other breed, but there are also practical reasons for his bias.
“We have clay soil and we bound the Wairoa River. (The jerseys) are lighter on the ground than the friesians so that helps.”
Grass is supplemented by silage, hay and palm kernel, plus chicory, as a summer crop grown on 20 hectares.” Recommended by the Schick’s farm adviser, the chicory has produced “phenomenal” results.
“We were able to graze the whole herd for 12 hours on it, then they would go off to a paddock at night. That meant we were able to shut up a lot of hay because we weren’t having to feed them any grass during the day.”
This ensured the cows were able to be kept in top condition, even during a drought. A fly in the ointment has been the herd’s empty rate, as high as 17% to 18%, “which we are not happy with.”
While measures have been taken to attempt to reduce the rate, so far there have been no definitive answers. During spring for the past two years, cows in-calf for three weeks are checked by a veterinarian for metritisis, an inflammation of the uterus wall, and treated if necessary.
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