Stephen Cullinan Scholarship Winner 2014

I am working on a thousand cow dairy farm in Methven, New Zealand. It is operated by a 50 : 50 share miller, Adam Glass, and is owned by his father. It was bought back in 2002 and converted from deer and sheep into a dairy farm. There are four full time workers including myself and one part time calf rearer. It is located 3 miles from the bottom of Mt Hutt skii resort. Being so close to the mountain gives the farm adequate rainfall for a stocking rate of 2.6 cows/ha with no irrigation.

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The block consists of 459 ha, it is used as the milking platform. It winters all stock plus 400 extra cows from another farm and it carrys some replacement heifers. The farm has a no meal feeding policy, it is your traditional low cost New Zealand farm with Jersey cross and Kiwi Fresian cows. One thing that struck me was the cow size, they are ranging from 550kg-700kg mature liveweight, a lot bigger than most crossbred herds in Ireland.


When I arrived here on the18th of July there were no calves on the ground, cows were being out wintered on kale and fodder beet. The thin cows at drying off( anything 2.75 or less ) were put on the beet, everything above got kale. They were getting 7 kg of crop 3 kg of silage and 1 kg of straw. Silage and straw was fed out in the field. The jobs at this stage were just moving breaks and feeding out to the cows.

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The due date for calving was heifers 5th August and cows the 12th. Calves started dropping on the 28th of July from heifers and on the 3rd of August from the cows, the jobs to be done built up from there! We were feeding cows, calving cows, milking, collecting calves and doing a daily springers draft on cows and heilfers. The heilfers calved on kale and the cows calved on grass paddocks which were earmarked for reseeding. We reached the midpoint in calving on the 23rd of August with over 500 calved. Calvings ranged from 40 - 60 a day at that stage. I thought I wouldn't see much of a calving jack out here but I was wrong! There were plenty of hard calvings especially with the heilfers. The heilfers were in calf to stock bulls and all calves were bobbied from them, the cows had all AI bred calves for the first 30 days, all bull calves were kept for a bull beef farm which the sharemilker operates. Any heilfer calf born after the first 30 days also bobbied. The average BW of the ai bulls used was 225, the BW of the herd is 81 and PW is 91.

Today there are 6 cows left to calve. This was helped by the use of induction. There were 38 cows induced, they calved from the 14th to the 17 of August. It was the first time in a number of years that the farm used inductions but with The ban on them next year it was thought it would be a good chance to clean up any cows while they could.

On the last milk collection, the cows averaged 23 litres, 3.86% protein,  4.86% butterfat. 2.07 kg/ms/cow, and scc was 136.production is still rising so they have not peaked as a herd yet, to date the farm is up 26% on overall milk solids production so far when compared to last years production. There is a number of factors for this. Firstly the midpoint in calving was reached 6 days earlier. There are 200 less calves being reared and probably the main factor is this is one of the driest springs on record in New Zealand, there was very little days where cows even marked paddocks let alone damage them, the cows settled down to milk after calving very quickly as a result.

The average farm cover is 560 on the last farm walk, it is low but it should build from here on as temperatures are rising. Growth rates have went from 31kg/dm/ha the previous week to 52 kg/dm/ha last week. Growth rates are expected to be around 60 kg/dm/ha this week.
The stocking rate on the milking platform is 2.86 cows/ha at the moment. The farm grew 14 tonnes last year and utilised 12 tonnes (86% utilisation). Last week 25 ha of the crop paddocks from the winter were reseeded, they were sewn with a grass variety called shogun, which is currently being trailed in Moorepark, it is very popular out here. It was sewn at 4kg clover and 21kg of grass seed / ha . Other varieties on farm are beley and 150.

There was also 40ha of fodder beet sewn last week. No kale will be set this year as it only yielded 9t/ha last year at a cost of 800 euro per ha compared to the beet at 22t/ha, at a cost of 1400 euro per ha, the beet was a lot better value and cows put a lot more condition on of the beet. There is still more ground to be sewn, all tillage work is done by the farm itself.

This is a low milk price year here with Fonterra paying 5.30 dollars/kg of milk solids (25 cent/litre). The total running costs of this farm are 3.80 dollars/kg/ms. This is low compared to the Canterbury average of 4.40 dollars. I have been at 3 discussion group meetings including one at Lincoln University and they are very informative. One main topic is how to deal with a low payout season like this. People are delaying reseeding, trying to delay raising p+k levels, trying to reduce concentrates fed and are not buying any extras EG machinery. On farm we kept 200 less heilfer calves, these would have been stockbull bred, they were bobbied as Adam thinks there is little or no market for them anymore. This is allowing him to reduce his contract rearing costs.

There was 200 ai bred heilfers kept at this stage half are weaned from milk, anything over 80kg is weaned and once they reach 100kg they are weaned from meal, they will be eating 1kg of a 18% nut at that stage. We tail painted all the cows this week for pre breeding heats, all cows were metrichecked first, only 35 cows turned up dirty, they were treated with metricure at a cost of 14 euro/cow. There will be 4 weeks of AI done, I am looking forward to seeing how breeding is done out here in the coming weeks. Myself and some of the lads I came out with of the dairy farm managers course are heading to Queenstown for a few days at the end of the month it will be nice to travel and see more of New Zealand.

-          Paddy Fitzharris, winner of the IFJ Stephen Cullinan scholarship with Macra