Dark days do have a silver lining

Dark days do have a silver lining
Inglewood farmer Leighton Ritchie with grandson Jeremiah

Leaving a second generation family farm broken in by his father, in order to advance his own farming journey was a tough decision for Inglewood Dairy farmer, Leighton Ritchie.
He’s owned his 72 hectare effective farm on Dudley Road, for four seasons and also leases an additional 32 hectares next door. “The leased land is right next to the farm my wife Koshie and I own, so it is run as one farm.
This was a fourth generation farm when we bought it and I feel very fortunate to have acquired a farm, which has a strong family history to it,” says Leighton.
The herd of 250 cross-bred cows is well suited to the farm. To keep the cows in good condition 150 tonne of PK is supplied through the 28 bale rotary milking shed’s in-house feeding system.
“I was so used to a herringbone shed, that when we first moved on here I thought seriously about bulldozing it, but now we are used to it, it’s great.”
Helping on the farm is one assistant, though Leighton is looking forward to his son Aaron, a former builder, coming on to take over the day to day operation, leaving Leighton free to concentrate on maintenance.
“I have high standards about how I want the farm to look and there’s a lot of fencing improvements and general maintenance to do. It will take me a further 18 months to get it up to scratch.”
So far, milk production is tracking 5% behind the goal of 100,000 kgMS. A slower than usual calving season contributed to this, however Leighton says that since September last year’s production has been matched. The farm has a herd home capable of housing 200 cows, with the heifers wintered on their 25 hectare run off.
Leighton says using the herd home from dry-off through to calving works very well, keeping the herd in top condition and resting the pasture, reducing pugging and damage, given the high level of rainfall the farm experiences. “We have about 3.5 metres rainfall annually but the farm does drain fairly quickly.”
A really positive development has been the addition of an LIC drafting system, which Leighton says, can be managed through his phone. “The auto-draft system was certainly the biggest gain for us.
You can identify hot or lame cows and when they enter the milking shed, the programme picks them up, automatically drafting them off.” When NZ Dairy contacted Leighton in February he had just hosted a local discussion group on the farm.
Topics included identifying key cow-efficiency
traits, stocking-rates going forward, along with how to best manage a lack of feed supplement, balanced with the cost of buying more and how to decide when to dry the herd off.
Leighton has nothing but praise for the fine work his local Rural Support group provides. He knows from first-hand experience, just how important their help is during tough times.
“When I moved on to this farm I worked too hard. When I wasn’t working on the farm during the day, I was still ‘farming’ in my head at night and one thing led to another.
I became depressed and the support I received from Rural Support, my wife and kids, extended family and friends and counselling, got me through. It made me look at what made me tick.
“I started doing a lot of mountain biking and getting off the farm. With farming you live on your job, so it’s important to have other interests. It all helps to keep yo u feeling positive.”
Every cloud has its silver lining and for Leighton, the experience of going through that tough patch, three and a half years ago, has meant he’s much more aware of stopping and looking at the good things in life.
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