Business type: Owner-operator
Location: Awanui, Northland
Farm size: 231ha effective milking platform, 34ha eff support block nearby, plus 100 eff ha owned support block 15 km away
Peak cows: 690 JFX
PSC: 20/06/2021 MA cows, 10/06/2021 R2 heifers
Stocking rate: 2.99 cows/ha
Farm System: 4 (21-30% feed imported)
Production: 282,300 kg MS/year, 1220 kg MS/ha, 424 kg MS/cow, 3 year average, (292,000kg MS budgeted)
Soil type: 2/3 clay and 1/3 sandy peat
Wintering system: 80-85% of the herd is wintered on-farm, on pasture only
The last 3 seasons in the Far North have been very challenging. Pasture grown in this period is over 2 t DM/ha lower than the three seasons prior to 2017-18.
The farm plan implemented for this business takes into account that Northland typically has highly variable growth rates and more extreme weather events than many other parts of the country.
The goal is to achieve above-average profit levels with good animal welfare and environmental outcomes, by maximising output pre-Christmas, having high pasture utilisation, and efficiently using imported supplements to fill feed deficits.
Scroll down to get into the latest budget!
Numbers at a glance
Financial KPI 2021-2022 budget
Physical KPI 3-year average
Net dairy cash income
|Total farm working expenses
|Total operating expenses
|Dairy operating profit
Pasture and crop harvested
|Purchased N surplus
t CO2 equiv /ha/yr*
|Six week in-calf rate% (2020-21)|
*Find out more about these KPI's and how to calculate them for your own farm here.
Strategy and financial
The business vision is: an efficient, attractive and well maintained farm that is high-producing, profitable and environmentally sustainable, providing a satisfying and rewarding workplace. To achieve this vision we need:
- A management plan to make it happen
- to work well as a team
- good organisation
- good open honest communication
- clearly defined responsibilities.
Prepare budgets and monitor regularly, updating as parameters change. Knowing the current financial position means decisions can be made proactively.
The business has always had a priority to direct cash surplus into debt reduction. This has reduced the financial risk to the business from adverse weather events and fluctuations in the milk price.
It is important to continually challenge your own thinking. Working with rural professionals such as veterinarians, farm consultants, accountants and other farmers provides opportunities to evaluate the status quo and options for improvements.
Farm policy and infrastructure
- The farm has a 40 aside herringbone dairy shed that is situated 2.5 KM from the furthest paddock. The dairy shed is fitted with feed silos and an in shed feeding system.
- The farm is flat with a high water table so is prone to pugging damage.
- The 80% of the 710 cow herd is wintered on the milking area on pasture.
- The herd is managed in 2 or 3 mobs depending on the time of year so that preferential treatment can be allocated.
- Races, fencing and water supply are well maintained. The farm policy is to keep up to date with repairs and maintenance particularly when cash flow is good which eases the pressure on farm working expenses when pay-out is low.
- The farm dairy and machinery is functional but not extravagant.
- Milking days before Christmas are crucial, so calving June 20th, (June 10th for heifers), enables maximum utilisation of the better winter/early spring growth rates.
- Knowing the correct targets and meeting these targets for pasture cover, post grazing residuals, and cow live weights at key times of the year are the main drivers for many of the day to day decisions on farm.
- Young stock leave the farm at weaning and return just prior to calving.
Weekly pasture growth rates in the Far North can vary widely from average. The success of this farms system hinges on close monitoring of pasture cover and pasture growth rates so actions can be taken early to ensure cow feeding levels and pasture grazing residuals are not adversely affected by this.
Maximising pasture grown and maximising the utilisation of this pasture is key to a profitable outcome for the business.
Attention is paid to achieving optimum soil fertility, strategic use of nitrogen, minimising pasture damage in the winter and over grazing in the summer.
An ongoing pasture renovation programme each year ensures pasture species are updated regularly. This includes continuing to re-grass the farm with tetraploid ryegrass. This species has done well on the farm but does require particular attention to grazing management to maintain quality and persistence:
- Don’t graze too low
- Graze at the 3 leaf stage
- Maintain a longer round length (40 days) over summer
- Maintain a spring grazing rotation of no less than 25 days, moving to 30 days in November and 40 days by mid-December
Pasture measurement and comparisons against targets undertaken every 10 days. Achieving grazing residuals is key. This information is used to develop feed budgets and rotation planners so decisions can be made quickly to ensure target pasture covers are met at critical times of the year.
The plan is to harvest as much pasture with the cows as possible so topping is not usually needed to maintain pasture quality.
Genuine pasture surplus will be made into silage. In the past 3 seasons there has only been supplements made in one year. The budget includes a small allowance to make silage just in case of a pasture surplus in spring.
Approximately 1,000 t DM per cow is imported each year. This does depend on pasture growth rates and utilisation, (more is needed if soil conditions are very wet and pasture utilisation is low) or if there is an early or prolonged drought.
60% of imported feed is PKE which is fed in spring or in the autumn to dry cows when the impact on FEI is low. The balance of imported feed is a blend of PKE, soybean hull and DDG mix. This is used in the summer to supplement pasture and chicory and ensures the FEI levels are kept below the penalty threshold.
16-18% of the farm is planted in chicory each year, (about 30-35 ha) and turnips (about 7 ha). This helps to reduce pasture surpluses in the spring and transfers a bulk of feed to summer.
The crops are planted as early as possible and are usually ready for a first grazing in December.
With the use of temporary pipes, all crop areas can be irrigated with effluent which helps maintian growth rates and yields.
The crop areas are regrassed as soon as possible in the autumn. Tetraploid ryegrass seed is used. The cropping programme means that the whole farm is cropped and regrassed about every 6-7 years.
50 ha of kikuyu dominant pasture is mulched each autumn and under sown with ryegrass.
Additional pasture renovation will be done to repair any pasture damage or to control kikuyu incursion into recently regrassed permanent pasture.
- A closed herd policy is maintained to minimise animal health risks.
- Peak cows for 2021-22 are 690.
- A goal for the herd is to have 100% recorded ancestry and very high genetic merit. For the 2021-22 season the herd BW is in the top 10% for the country and PW is in the top 5%.
- The herd is Jersey cross. This cross is maintained with Jerseys mated to Kiwi Cross and Jersey cross cows mated to Jersey.
- A lot of time and money is used to breed high genetic merit young stock so extra care is taken to ensure that these animals get every opportunity to remain in the herd for a long as possible.
- Heifers are synchronised and mated to AB using Jersey semen, then run with 8 high BW young Jersey bulls. Calves are gene marked to identify AB from natural mating sires.
- The heifers are calved 10 days earlier than the herd. First calvers are milked twice a day for 3 weeks then put on to once a day until they cycle and then back to twice a day. They are run in a separate herd which gets preferential treatment - kept closer to the shed so walking is minimised which reduces energy expended and the incidence of lameness.
- Reproductive performance in previous seasons has been below industry targets as the calving date has been brought forward by over 3 weeks. A more focused effort in this area resulted in a six week in calf rate for the 2020 mating of over 70% and an empty rate of 9%.
- Cows are mated to AB for 5-6 weeks then two teams of 10 bulls are run with the herd, swapped every twelve hours.
- Procedures for mastitis management were reviewed with the vet in December 2019. Improved implementation of udder health procedures has seen a reduction in somatic cell count for 2020-21, (130,000 average for the season).
- The incidence of mid season mastitis cases is still higher than desired so further work is underway to identify why and update procedures to remedy this.
- Calves are reared on colostrum and whey powder plus meal. 22% replacements are reared which is 160 heifers. 30 high BW jersey bulls are also reared. Weaning is at 75 kg.
- Yearlings are at or above target weights at mating and in calf heifers are all above target weights before calving.
People, health and safety
- The farm owners are only on farm once a fortnight for staff meetings and acknowledge that people are key to the success of the business.
- The labour on the farm is maintained at six full time staff plus the equivalent of nearly 1 full time equivalent, (FTE), casual labour which includes calf rearing.
- One of the six full time staff members is manager on the 100 ha support block 15 km from the milking platform.
- The wages paid recognise the increased experience and responsibility the staff have been asked to take on. Key staff have been with the farm now for 4 years.
- A ‘Team Manual’ is maintained which outlines goals, targets and expectations of team members. It covers everything from pasture management to machinery maintenance.
- The farm dairy is a 40 aside -16 rows, so longer milking times are longer than are ideal, plus there is also a support block that needs to be managed.
- Once a day milking is implemented from January in part to enable staff to take more time off and work reduced hours. Hours worked per employee for the summer and autumn 2021 were less than 50 hours per week, and by May 2021 all staff leave entitlement was up to date.
2020-21 Season Review
2020-21 Numbers at a glance
Milk Production (kgMS/ha) 1,277 $1,268 Milk Production (kgMS/cow) 444 444 Net Dairy Cash Income ($/kgMS) $7.49 $7.54 Total Farm Working Expenses ($/kgMS) $4.38 $4.80 Cash Operating Surplus/Deficit ($/kgMS) $3.11 $2.74 Gross Farm Revenue ($/kgMS) $7.51 $8.05 Operating Expenses ($/kgMS) $4.65 $5.14 Operating Profit ($/ha) $3,654 $3,689
*These KPI's are based on cash book actuals to 31 May 2021 and estimated non-cash adjustments. The final financial performance based on financial statements may differ.
- The estimated operating profit for the year of $3,689/ha is a pleasing result after yet another hot, dry summer and autumn. A comparison with the DairyNZ estimated benchmark for Northland owners of $1,456 puts this farm's performance into perspective.
- Production for the season of 292,200 kgMS, was slightly behind the budget of 295,000 but was 6% up on the 2019-20 season.
- The warm and relatively dry winter and early spring combined with another year of improved calving rate contributed to early season gains which helped final production for the season finish close to budget.
- While the summer was hot and dry again this year, the drought started later than last season and did not last as long. Less supplement was fed during the spring, and the dry summer and autumn were not as severe as 2019-20, so total supplements fed for the year was 14% less than budget.
- Prices per tonne were up and more of the feed purchased was of higher quality and at a higher price per tonne so feed costs were up on budget and contributed to about a quarter of the increase in farm working expenses.
- The purchase of a 100 effective hectare support block 15 km from the milking platform added flexibility to the autumn culling regime as cows could be removed from the herd without being sold. 60% of culls were carried into the 2021-22 season and sold at higher liveweights and at better prices.
Other points of interest
- Peak cows milked of 660, was 5 less than budget, however, 650 cows were still milking in December so cow milking days to December 31st were higher than the previous year.
- Crops were planted earlier than planned which helped to achieve good pasture utilisation and ensured that all the spring rotation planner targets were achieved comfortably.
- Growth rates in October and early November were higher than farm demand so baleage was made for the first time in over 5 years. In hindsight, this may not have been the best decision given the very dry conditions that followed from early November to late December, and pasture cover through this period was compromised.
- Chicory has persisted in second and third season regrassed crop paddocks which helped the summer feed situation.
- More nitrogen was used in late spring and early summer in an effort to improve pasture cover going into summer, so N use for the year was 186 kgN/ha compared with the budget of 120-150 kgN/ha.
- About 200 kgDM/cow less of imported feed was used but a higher proportion was as the more expensive PKE/DDG/SBH blend at an average of $485 /t so total feed costs were up 10%. Increases in cartage costs during the season contributed to higher per tonne landed costs. Cartage plus the cost to blow feed into the silos will be about $65 per t for the 21-22 season – well over 10% of the feed price.
- The whole herd went to once a day in early January which is at least 4 weeks earlier than most years. The staff all caught up on leave, farm maintenance work was all up to date by drying off and staff were well rested and ready for calving.
- Once a day milking has also reduced stress on the cows during the hot weather and the herd has gone into the 2021-22 calving about 0.25-0.5 BCS higher than previous years. 5 weeks after the planned start of calving for the 2021-22 season the farm is up 19% for the season and 25% on a daily basis. There are more cows in milk, but the daily per cow production is also higher.
- The practice to go to once-a-day milking from early January will continue as the benefits to both staff and the cows has been noticeable.
- The last of the herd was dried off on April 20th. With calving for heifers starting June 10th this has allowed the planned start of calving pasture cover targets to be achieved.
- Reproductive performance has been better with a 73% 6-week in-calf rate and an empty rate for the season of 9%.
- R & M costs were nearly double which accounts for nearly half of the increase in farm working expenses. Planned renovations to staff housing morphed into a much bigger job. Extra was spent on tracks at the new support block which was not in the original budget.