Over the past two years of being involved in Tiller Talk, Don and Kirsten Watson are working to increase their pasture and crop eaten from 8tDM/ha in 2017/18 to 12tDM/ha. The couple are looking to unlock the farms potential by way of conversations and learnings as a result of being involved in Tiller Talk. These include:
- Developing a set of decision rules to help achieve high pasture harvest
- Gaining a lot more technical information on pasture and crops and what seed companies are doing
- Talking about doing drainage differently – they also initiated some changes in 2018 to improve the drainage on their farm, which helped with ryegrass persistence issues in some key paddocks.
- Pasture renewal – the Watsons have regrassed a quarter of their farm over two years, selecting the poorest performing in spring and the most waterlogged paddocks.
- Pasture improvements to Kikuyu dominant pastures.
The Watsons were new to the Northland area and new to managing kikuyu.
“Tiller Talk has helped us with managing kikuyu – my knowledge on the management options with mulching and undersowing was brought to a new level. Knowledge of grass and varieties has increased massively. Reinforcing the value of basic pasture management and measurement.”
- High use of pasture growth data:
“Data use this year has enabled us to cut a whole lot more silage than the previous year. Cow production is higher this year (2018/19), and by harvesting more high quality silage, we have bought in less supplement. Rough data – by 7th Feb 2019 we will hit last year’s total pasture production (8tDM/ha)”.
- “Over Christmas got down to a 16-d round – we wouldn’t have the confidence of doing that without the data.” (2019)
The couple bought their South Head farm this season (2017-18) and are excited about the future.
“The timing is perfect – this is a fantastic opportunity to learn from local, like-minded farmers as we work at improving pasture species and pasture productivity on this farm,” says Don.
“I look forward to working with the agronomist on the different options for this farm to establish productive pasture species, and increase pasture quality and pasture eaten per hectare.”
The couple have both been on a steep learning curve over the last few years having only entered the industry 10 years ago.
They both grew up on sheep and beef farms, Don in Southland and Kirsten in Hawkes Bay.
They worked as vets here and in the United Kingdom, but when they returned home, Don wanted to go farming. He managed an intensive Hawke’s Bay dry stock property for three years while Kirsten continued as a vet, in between having their three sons, Riley, George, and Josh.
Ten years ago they relooked at their career options and worked through a DairyNZ dairy career pathway and goal planning tool. They saw the opportunities that were available in dairying so Don accepted a herd manager role in Central Hawkes Bay.
They built equity and worked their way up from lower order sharemilker in the King Country to 50:50 sharemilkers in Central Plateau.
This year they took the leap into farm ownership.
The farm they purchased is situated on the Kaipara Harbour's edge, on young marine clay. The flats (80% of farm) are very prone to winter water logging and pugging. Kikuyu typically dominates summer pasture on this farm.
Don's goals for the 17/18 season include:
- Adjust the stocking rate to maximise profitability at a system 2-3.
- Use a mix of chicory, plantain and clovers to increase feed quality and quantity.