Going back to grass a leap forward

Going back to grass a leap forward
Drummond Dairy farm manager Koos Slabbert (top left) with farm workers Daniel (Uruguay), Zane (NZ) and Emiliano (Uruguay)

After just a year in New Zealand, South African immigrants Koos and Ria Slabbert have found themselves a great job on a great farm with great owners, and a clear direction of how to take the farm forward in an efficient and sustainable way.
Koos and Ria, along with their children aged 10 and eight, have been in New Zealand only a year. The couple have been farming for 20 years, and in the dairy industry for 10 years.
They took the management position at the 340ha effective Drummond Dairy, an equity owned farm in the South Waikato, six months ago.
“The farm is in very good condition with good fences, paddocks, and races, in-shed feeding, and a feed pad,” Koos says. Th e cows however had a lameness problem, with the wetness and degraded races causing up to 20 lame cows a week.
McPherson Contractors is currently doing a great job of fixing up all the races and with constant vigilance, the lameness problem has now reduced to one or two cows a week.
Koos says the future for Drummond Dairy is going to be in milking only from grass, and buying in feed when needed.
“For two years, Drummond Dairy has grown its own maize for silage but they’re not going to do that anymore,” he says.
“This year we planted winter crop to move from the large area in annuals following the maize. With the wet winter and spring, options were limited. The early dry period has meant results are not very good. But grass seems to grow very well on this farm. Going back to grass is a natural thing and it should make the farm more efficient. We have been planting all sorts of grasses to work out what works best on the farm, and we’re going to stick with those. We’ve got a mixture of cocksfoot, ryegrasses such as Trojan, Rohan AR150, plantain, and clovers.”

Going back to grass a leap forward
Sunset over the South Waikato farm

Removing the crops will also put the 30ha that’s currently in cropping back into the dairy platform, making managing the daily round a lot easier for Koos and the team.
It will also allow Drummond Dairy to stick to its optimum cow numbers of 1040, while it currently milks 977 cows. Drummond Dairy is also considering retaining young stock on farm by utilising areas less suitable for the milking herd.
Efficiencies on farm could also be assisted with the right team of staff, something Drummond Dairy has always struggled with in the past.
“That’s something we really want to get a grip on for next season,” Koos says. “Having the right staff is a very important point on the farm. We can easily get someone with good experience, but they also need to fit in.”
He says there seems to be a lot of work available in the local market which is outstripping the supply of capable farm workers.
“However, we remain optimistic.” Drummond Dairy has gone a long way with providing good housing for its staff, a good work environment, and good salary packages.
“We strive to give suitable time off, with fair hours of work, and be employers who are always open to listening and giving fair advice.”
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