Cups, cows, academia a fine balance

Cups, cows, academia a fi ne balance

Norton Atkins is not one to let the dust settle under his feet. Managing his parent’s dairy farm near the tiny Tararua village of Makotuku, between Norsewood and Dannevirke, Norton balances the challenges of cups and cows, the world of academia and family life.
Transitioning the year round operation to oncea-day milking towards the end of last season is helping maintain the balance.
Norton’s parents bought the Makotuku property in 2004 while Norton was completing a Bachelor of Applied Science (Agriculture) degree.
With the degree completed Norton travelled around the United States and South America, eventually meeting his future fiancée, Ute, while visiting Peru.
“She’s German but was working and studying in UK. I ended up going to UK in 2009, intending being there two years but ended up staying seven. I started off working for an AI company in Scotland and saw a lot of the country.”
His time in Scotland was followed by work on a New Zealand style dairy farm in Cheshire and another that was a zero grazing farm where the cows stay indoors, fed cut grass and supplements.
Eventually securing a job at Harper Adams University in Shropshire as a research assistant, Norton was able to complete a Masters degree in Research before commencing his PhD researching the effects of wintering replacement dairy heifers outside, quite novel in Europe. The PhD remains a work in progress.
When Norton’s fiancée secured a job at Massey University the couple returned to the family farm towards the end of 2015. “The farm is 151ha total but only 126ha effective,” explains Norton.
“There’s a big gully that the Makotuku stream runs through, basically splitting the farm. One side of the gully is flat, about a third of the farm, and the other side is more rolling, taking up two thirds. The gully means there’s some long walks with the furthest paddock about 2 kilometres away.”
Another five blocks in addition to the dairy unit provide ample run-offs, supplementary feed and divrsity wuth sheep and beef..
This season the farm peak milked 348 cows, made up of about 210 spring calvers and 110 that calved the previous autumn, the balance were carry-overs.
The herd is mainly pedigree Jerseys, Friesians, Ayrshires and Shorthorns with a few cross breds. The Jersey stud is called Kohitiata while the rest come under Edenmore.
Norton explains that part of the reason for transitioning to once-a-day was to reduce on-farm labour intensiveness and farming complexity requiring family input – implementing a system where staff could have more responsibility.
With an aging herringbone shed realistically 24-aside, milking times were quite long with not a lot of time left to do anything else on the farm.
“We also had a lot of lameness with the long walks. The cows spend a lot of time walking to the shed, being at the shed, walking back from the shed.
So I thought, why waste all that time when they could be eating grass?” While production is eight per cent down on last season, Norton says that is to be expected during the initial transition. He says the cows have coped very well with only five cows whose udders could not cope.
“I’ve never looked back. Once-a-day has provided a lot of flexibility. Not having the afternoon milking makes managing the unexpected more manageable. I can get a lot more done outside of the cow shed – improving races and water systems, fences. We can focus on measuring grass and improving the amount of grass being eaten.”
It also enables more time for Norton to work on his PhD and spend time with his one-year-old son Emil.
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