Diversity and the need to acquire a fair range of skills are aspects that Matt Barr has always loved about dairy farming.
When Matt’s father passed away through Leukemia in 2014, Matt joined his mother in the family business, Te Tiranga Farms Limited, something that was always on the horizon anyway.
Embracing the opportunity to research and initiate changes, Matt is now building upon the solid base established by his father, on farmland that has been in the family for four generations.
Completing his 4th season working in partnership with his mother, Viv Barr, Matt says being on a farm that has been in the family for well over 100 years makes him feel special and determined to carry on the legacy.
Located in Awakeri, a few kilometres from Whakatane, the 110hectare milking platform has a predominantly flat contour with a wide range of soil types from pumice to peat – a good mix when battling seasonal changes.
“We’re pretty summer dry though. As soon as summer hits we can become a bit of a desert pretty fast if we don’t get much moisture. We get around that by calving quite early – like around mid June.”
The early calving enables most of the farms production to be done before Christmas before the dry hits. Matt says that it can get so dry and humid it’s hard to grow quality grass and for the cows to provide milk in the summer.
Viv remains active on the farm, looking after the young stock on a 70ha support block just a few kilometres from the home farm.
The block is also used to grow maize and grass silage as well as wintering the majority of the cows.
Matt and his team of two dairy assistants milk 420 kiwi-cross cows in two herds. While the majority of cows are milked twice a day, the R2’s and R3’s are kept in a separate herd.
One of the changes that Matt has initiated is in respect to once-a-day milking for his heifers, with very positive results.
“Once the heifers have calved in June they go once a day,” explains Matt.
“We start mating in September and once they’ve had their first four weeks of AB I put them back on twice a day and then around Christmas they go back on once a day.”
Matt first trialed his approach to once a day with his replacement heifers during the low pay out year in 2015, finding that it took pressure off heifers and they seemed to cycle better.
“I found that I actually picked up the 6-week calf rate quite dramatically and then pushed that milk into the following season with a longer lactation period. The sheer number of animals being in-calf early impacts the following season because you have a whole lot more cows that have calved earlier, therefore providing them with lot more time to cycle and get in calf again.”
Matt says that he has learned a lot about farming because he has had to learn for myself.
“You have to make mistakes sometimes to learn. Dad’s not here to consult with, so I’m in a position that to a large extent I can influence what we do on the farm. Of course I still have to justify changes and decisions to my mother.”
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