Kale fails the wet weather test

Kale fails the wet weather test
Pieter van Beek (11) helps out on the 170ha Greytown farm run by father Wilfred

Kale has not proved a magic formula for Wairarapa dairy farmers Wilfred and Rachel van Beek showing that each farm and farming system responds differently to new inputs, says Wilfred.
“We found in the wet weather, and because of the density of stock when feeding it, the cows tended to trample it into the ground more. For us hay and silage fed under an electric wire works better. We also found the transition period required with kale meant we lost time whereas with hay and silage they have more opportunity to put on weight,” he says.
As a result of this there has been a fl ow on effect on cow condition this season but they still achieved an 11% empty rate, which has been steadily decreasing each year, although their six week in-calf rate dropped slightly to 66% from 75%.
The couple are 29% lower order sharemilkers on a 155ha effective/170ha total unit at Greytown. It is their seventh season on the farm where they peak milk 480 crossbred cows through two cow sheds.
The larger cows are milked through a 20 aside herringbone shed while the heifers and smaller animals go through an 18 aside herringbone. The farm, owned by James and Jane Smallwood, has a separate herd manager for each shed.
The van Beeks say their main focus is on optimal pasture utilisation and maximising pasture grown.
They now calve on 1 August to match the demand for grass on the unit when they typically have plenty of cover. They prefer not to make baleage instead focusing on fully feeding the cows.
The focus on grass has led the couple to individually soil sample each paddock to optimise their fertiliser regime making it specific to each paddock.
Around 85% of the farm is irrigated by k-line and sprinklers. Effluent is dispersed through travelling irrigators and spread on about one third of the farm.
A project recently completed was a storage bladder – this method chosen as the farm has a walkway going through it, borders a river and has over 40 neighbours.
Wilfred says the bladder doesn’t release any smell and is safer as it is enclosed and nobody can potentially fall into it. They now have 1.1 million litres of storage. This season they are aiming for around 200,000 kilograms of milk solids.
It’s a little reduced from their typical 215,000 kilograms due to a very wet and cold July to October followed by a very dry November, which saw them make the decision to cull 35 cows.
From December things improved so they say they now regret culling but are pragmatic that farming always has an unpredictable element so you can only make the best decision on the day.
Wilfred hails from the Netherlands where he says he always wanted to be a farmer.
He studied farming in his home country coming to New Zealand on a holiday where he met Rachel. Rachel grew up on various dairy farms in Nelson, the Kapiti Coast, Upper Hutt and Masterton.
The couple started their farming careers on Rachel’s parents’ 145ha effective lease farm north of Masterton milking 420 cows.
When the farm was later sold they took a year off to visit the Netherlands then returned to New Zealand as first lower order sharemilkers on part of the same Masterton farm milking 270 cows for three years.
They then spent two years on an 115ha unit near Martinborough milking 360 cows before arriving at their present position. Their aim is not farm ownership or even a 50:50 sharemilking position.
The van Beeks have a great deal of responsibility and relish their job. They are also kept busy in their personal lives bringing up their six children: Leon, 13, Pieter, 11, Amarita, 9, Frits, 6, Gus, 4 and Eleonora, 2.
Wilfred says the next challenge will be how they respond to imminent changes to the local district plan which is looking at cutting irrigation takes.
As water is something the farm heavily relies on any reductions will prove difficult so they are taking a wait and see approach.
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