Becoming manager of Camden Group’s Willsden Farm was just a “hop across the fence” for Robin Hornblow. For Robin, who is nearing the end of his first season as manager of the Te Pirita unit, it was a matter of coming full circle.
“I used to work on this farm ten years ago when I was a student at Lincoln University. It felt a bit strange coming back as manager but it’s a good challenge and it has changed so much since I was here anyway,” he says.
Robin started as a junior and then senior dairy assistant with Camden Group in 2007 before taking on the second in charge position at Prairie Farms in 2012 and farm manager role a year later.
It was last year he left to take on the slightly larger Willsden Farm, which peak milks 1080 on a 320ha total/306ha effective block.
The farm, which was converted in 1999, has a 50 bail rotary shed with automatic cup removers – technology appreciated by Robin who says it wasn’t there ten years ago when he was a student and milking was a two person operation.
Another big change has been irrigation. As a student Robin remembers moving four roto rainers on an 11 day round.
Today there is a centre pivot covering 150ha on a two day return, k lines covering 10ha on a six day round and three roto rainers on seven day rounds.
Water is now sourced from the Central Plains Water Scheme rather than deep wells as it was years ago. Due to the up and down season – wet or dry and hot – production has suffered as there has been an effect on feed quality.
Robin plans to more closely monitor residuals next season to make sure cows consistently hit residual targets in the paddocks. Good strategies around cow condition have left little room for improvements in this important area.
In late January/early February cows go on to three milkings in two days, which sees them spend more time in the paddocks relaxing and eating and less time walking.
Robin is targeting 485,000 kilograms of milk solids this season.
Camden Group is a number of jointly owned limited liability companies that own and operate large-scale dairy farms on the Canterbury Plains.
It comprises of four managed dairy units, two dairy support farms and interests in three cow owning sharemilking businesses. Robin, 30, is grateful for the good start it’s given him in the industry in helping him progress rapidly.
“It’s been great working for Camden Group. They’ve got a really good pathway for people who want to go forward. My ultimate aim is farm ownership.”
Robin has taken on the job at Willsden Farm with his fiancée Kirstie Austin, who works for Synlait as a plant operator in the special milk department.
She also lends a hand at calving time on Willsden Farm. The couple has been focusing on sprucing up the farm, completing jobs such as tidying trees around the shed.
They also reared 60 friesian bull calves they bought from the farm as a side business and sold them at 100 kilograms to grow their capital to fund their next step in the dairy industry.
They plan to complete one more season at Willsden Farm before going contract milking or lower order sharemilking.
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