Murray Skedgwell and Linsey Bennett from Tuatapere are still in pursuit of the perfect Jersey. The couple has just added several cows, in-calf heifers and yearlings to their stud after attending the Beledene Jerseys dispersal sale earlier this year.
“We wanted to get new blood from different cow families into our stud to further lift milk solids and litres per cow,” says Murray.
Murray started Mount Lake Jerseys 50 years ago when he was just 12 years old. This stud drew its genetic base from the stud of Beledene Jerseys, owned by his uncles.
Murray helped his uncles show cows, while still at primary school, so has a strong connection to Beledene Jerseys. The couple runs a 160ha self-contained farm, milking 330 pedigree Jerseys.
Murray says they love Jerseys as they consider them a good all round cow – lighter (which is good for wet conditions) with a high fat to protein ratio.
Mount Lake Jerseys breed some of their own bulls from their top cows as well as buying in bulls and semen from other studs. They aim for a good producing animal with good conformation.
Their top cows are producing around 6000 litres of milk/500 kilograms of milk solids per season. Linsey also comes from a Jersey mad family and started her own stud, Elmsbrook Jerseys, 40 years ago in Tuatapere.
Linseys parents and grandparents started the Elmsbrook and Beach Valley Stud 70 years ago. Their daughters have also started their own studs: Alannah, 16, started Elms Lake Stud and Julie, 15, Mount Brook Stud.
The girls pick the bulls they want their cows mated to and are growing their herd numbers slowly as Murray says they are both keen on a farming career post university. Murray says raising the best calves and heifers in the country is a real family affair.
Linsey and her mum Olive rear all the calves with increasing help from Julie. Murray takes the lead on the milking side of the operation with help from Alannah. A lot of the cows calve in covered yards to help protect the calves from harsh weather.
Calves are fed as much warm colostrum milk as they can drink in the first 7-10 days. When moved to the paddock they have calf huts available in case of bad weather.
They prefer not to wean the calves until they reached 100 kilograms, rather than the recommended weaning weight of 80 kilograms, because they find they do much better at a heavier weight.
It takes about 10 weeks for them to reach 100 kilograms. Last year the family was the first competitors ever to win both the Royal Agricultural Society South Island Dairy Heifer and South Island Dairy Calf awards.
The family was praised for the uniformity and condition of their Jersey calves and heifers.
Weather and the milk payout have been the biggest challenges in the past year. A good spring led to dry weather from January to the end of March, which saw them buy in feed and go to once a day milking.
There is also the ever-present mycoplasma bovis concern. Being self-contained helps to mitigate this and they spray vehicles and the footwear of anyone coming onto the farm.
“It is definitely a concern as if we got it then it could wipe out our stud. You’ve got to feel for farmers and their families who have got it. It’s always there niggling at the back of our minds.”
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