Careful farm management has resulted in a significant rise in production over the past four seasons at Waihopai Pastoral Limited Partnership, a 240ha Southland syndicate dairy farm.
Lower order sharemilkers Richard and Caroline Webster have been managing the farm since mid2014, milking 660 cows through a 50 bail rotary shed.
Both Richard and Caroline started out working in sheep farming before swapping to dairying 17 years ago. They have learned that getting the basics right is crucial to success.
As Richard observes, that means keeping a close eye on pastures and feed, plus thinking about how what they do today will affect them going forward. “Grass is still king for us – everything we do is all about grass,” says Richard.
“(However) we’ve gone away from silage: during the peak shoulders, when there is a need for more feed, we put supplement through the shed instead as we find that a more cost effective solution.”
Along with drainage improvements and rigorous lane maintenance, a lot of pasture work has been done on-farm to reduce invasive weeds, such as ragwort and dock. S
ince 2014, pasture per hectare at Waihopai has risen from 11.5T DM/ha to 14T DM/ ha. “It’s still nowhere near where it needs to be but we’re improving every year.”
Their hard work is clearly paying off, reflected in rising production. Prior to 2014, the best production achieved was around 264,000kgMS.
Last season, the herd produced 297,000kgMS. As well, the empty rate in rising 2 year olds is 3.5 per cent with the rate for cows having fallen from 15 per cent to 8.5 per cent.
“Pasture man agement is the key for us. The more we do to get the pastures right, the more kilograms we produce.” For farm managers like themselves, another fundamental part of the equation is ensuring robust, sustainable budgets are in place.
“We have a hybrid contract: our personal income is made up of a percentage of the milk cheque and business expenses are paid through a set monthly amount given to us to operate the business from the owners. Our costs are wages, electricity, shed expenses, vehicles and calf rearing equipment. This works well for us through the bad years. Staff can always be paid.”
As this is a syndicate farm, the Websters and their farm advisor meet with members of the farm board every six weeks to discuss performance and expenditure.
“It can be quite heated at times, but we’re working on trying to get a much more profitable system going forward.”
That includes getting automatic cup removers (ACRs) installed in the shed this coming season, which will improve the shed’s operational environment for both cows and staff.
Richard says it can sometimes be a battle holding onto staff, but having ACRs in the shed will undoubtedly help boost staff retention.
“It’s all about trying to get that work-life balance for our team.” Richard and Caroline, who have five children, say they have enjoyed bringing up their kids in dairy farming.
Isaac 20, Adam 18 and Erica, 15 have all helped on the farm over the years, while twins Caleb and Sonya, nearly 7, are just starting to help with calf rearing.
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- Cameron Contracting 2002 Ltd
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