Science, research at the forefront

Science, research at the forefront

With its own coastline and native bush flush with deer, Limestone Downs is a hunter and fisherman’s paradise – a bonus for those working the land.
Located near the picturesque seaside village of Port Waikato on the West Coast of the North Island, Limestone Downs is a large sheep, beef and dairy property owned by the C. Alma Baker Trust.
At the heart of the Trust’s reason-for-being is the furtherance of the science of agriculture, providing grants to organisations and individuals alike from funds generated through the farm’s commercial activities.
With a strong affiliation to Massey University, many research trials have been conducted at Limestone Downs, including one currently involving the farms dairy cows and calves.
Covering a total area of 3200ha, the sheep and beef finishing operation co-exists side by side with the recently converted dairy unit. With a good mix of hills, flats and a few basins, the sheep and beef platform takes up about 1800 hectares.
The 520ha dairy farm is comprised of a milking platform of 340ha along with a support block, about 70% of which is fl at land with the rest gentle to rolling.
At the back of the farm, 400 hectares of native bush, once grazed at the margins, has been fenced off for regeneration and future preservation.
Paul Mahoney, the farms general manager, says the dairy conversion took place about five years ago with the first milk taken away on August 1, 2013.
Paul, who has been on the farm since January 2017, says that prior to conversion Limestone Downs was a full fattening operation and a significant amount of work had to be done to complete the conversion project including fencing, creating laneways, putting water on, sheds, feed pads and land development.
“The farm’s still in development phase – still settling down. About 50% of the land had to be recontoured by humping and hollowing, and regrassing had to be carried out to take it from a beef bull unit to a dairy farm.”
Milking twice a day, and autumn calving, Paul says 760 kiwi-cross cows were milked through a 60-bale Waikato rotary shed this season. “Being a new conversion we’re doing 295kgMS per cow.
It would be nice to reach the national average of 360kgMS/cow and I’m hoping to get there in the next two to three years once the development has settled down.”
Paul says the soil type varies a lot from some peaty ground and sandy soils to a lot of clayey muddy soils. He says it can get very wet in the winter/spring months and very dry over summer. “We have a 500 cow feed pad adjacent to the dairy shed.
“The feed pad gets a lot of use throughout the year now with such wet winter/springs and in the summers we feed everything out on the feed pad. It helps the cows by taking them off the pasture and they don’t over-graze the pasture. Also the cows aren’t walking to water troughs – they are right there when they need a drink.”
Primarily a finishing farm, Limestone Downs is also home to 9500 ewes, along with 1200 head of cattle.
The cattle are part of a four year trial conducted by Massey University in conjunction with Beef Sheep and Lamb New Zealand. “The cattle are born on the dairy farm and then sent off to the beef and sheep farm at 100kgs, says Paul.
“For two years in a row we’ve inseminated the dairy herd with Angus and Hereford semen, putting the calves on the sheep and beef farm, growing them out till two years of age and then doing a bit of trial work as well.”
At its core, the four-year test will calculate the additional value that can be added by using highgenetic-merit beef bulls, versus the unrecorded bulls traditionally used as “follow-on bulls” in most New Zealand dairy systems, determining the financial advantages for the dairy farmer, calf rearer and beef finisher.
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