Reduced empty rate, low cell counts and a happy herd

Reduced empty rate, low cell counts and a happy herd
R2 dairy heifers graze on a dairy support block

Improved somatic cell count and reduced empty rates are just two of the benefits resulting from changes third generation Waikato farmer Hamish Clarke has made to the family dairy farm since his return three years ago.
Having completed a Bachelors degree and postgraduate diploma in Agricultural Science at Lincoln University, Hamish was working towards a Masters degree, studying robotic milking, when news came that his grandfather was terminal.
Hamish says his grandfather’s death was a huge knock to the family and his grandmother asked that he return to help out for a month or two.
He never left; taking general management responsibility for the farm Hamish is engaged in the farm’s strategic direction and ‘has a long nose into its financials’. Located in the Tauraroa Valley, the farm is 30 minutes east of Otorohanga and was initially purchased by Hamish’s grandfather and father as a sheep and beef operation about 40 years ago.
Deer were later introduced to the 400ha property, which has a good mix of flat to rolling to steep hill country, natural waterways and very good miro ash soils.
Hamish says his family decided to convert 200ha of the farm to dairy about twenty years ago when dairying conversions were popular, with the intention of selling and buying a larger beef and deer property.
“After the conversion they were making good cash flow and mum was also enjoying greater involvement on the farm, doing the record keeping and financials. They also found that they did not have to do so much physical work themselves, because dairy tends to bring in more labour.”
So the farm stayed and the family fused dairy, deer and beef into one farming operation. The sheep had previously been removed. When Hamish answered his grandmother’s call in 2015, the farm was calving 620 cows. He says he inherited a herd that was on the edge of becoming problematic with a high somatic cell count.
After seeking advice from their farm advisor and farming friends Hamish decided to reduce the herd to calving 570 cows. Cell count culls were the first to exit, followed by late calving and low production culls.

Reduced empty rate, low cell counts and a happy herd
Some of the 200 beef calves raised on the farm. Two Italian Ag Exchange students are prepared for milking

By removing all cows identified with Staph aureus from the herd they have gone from an average cell count of 210 last year to a much more stable 125 this year.
Hamish has also adopted a two-herd system, with one herd of 170 cows transitioning to once-a-day, a response to low dry-off body condition scores (4.5) and high empty rates (15.25%) in the season prior to his take over.
Reduced empty rate, low cell counts and a happy herd
while agricultural tourist Lisa stacks bales on the Tauraroa Valley farm

“In my first season we put the entire herd on once-a-day for the first month of lactation. We gained body condition between mating and calving.
We actually put weight on them in spring, which is pretty unheard of here. It cost us some spring production but fixed our BCS problem.”
While the intention was to revert the heifers back to twice-a-day after mating, Hamish made the decision to keep going with once-a-day, achieving very positive results. He says the herd empty rate was a record low 6.80% and while their production was down, last year’s heifers are now paying for themselves.
“Previously the heifers would crash and get culled out as empties. This lactation we have three three-year olds in the top 10 of our herd for lactation milksolids. They are milking like storm troopers.
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