Tracy says she initially took on the calf rearing role as a way to get involved on the farm.
“I had been interested in calf rearing since I started taking calves to my school agricultural days. I love seeing stock raised well – they are the future of our farming business.
“Being a mother is also something that’s definitely helped me in my calf-rearing role!”
Tracy says the essence of doing the job well is having a love for animals. “I really care about the calves and do everything I can to keep them healthy and grow them into good heifers.
I love seeing stock raised well - they are the future of our farming business.
“I think a lot women have a similar attitude to calf rearing. I take my hat off to all rural women, they juggle farming, family and community and other work commitments. There are some incredibly resilient and capable women out there.”
Preparation is key
Tracy says being organised is the major criteria for the calving season to go smoothly.
“We have a compact calving, with the mean calving date about 12 days after the start date of July 18.
“We get busy really fast so the main challenge is to make sure everything is set up and everyone knows the routines and systems before calving starts.”
For Tracy and her assistant calf rearer, Allie Wright, who’s in charge of rearing the bobby and bull calves, preparation involves cleaning out the calf sheds, getting in new sawdust, checking and cleaning water troughs and calf feeders, getting the shed and equipment serviced and stocking up on animal health products that may be required.
Labour of love
Tracy says her and Wynn's four children (Thomas 15, Henry 13, Katie 12 and Molly 10) enjoy being on the farm and are a big help during calving season.
“They’ve grown up on the farm and help with tasks like recording calf weights, feeding muesli, cleaning feeders and troughs and helping set up for the season.
“I’ve always encouraged them to have animals for agriculture day so they can experience looking after their own animal and see the value of it growing and doing well.”
Caring for newborns
Tracy says they have systems on the farm to ensure newborn calves are treated with the utmost care.
Something Tracy has found works well is using pre-prepared temporary identification tags, to identify calves immediately in the paddock without compromising the welfare of the calf.
“The tags, which are kept on the motorbike, are on an elastic necklace that goes around the calf’s neck.
“We don’t tag them permanently in the paddock because they are often wet and dirty and we don’t want to risk infection.”
Calves are collected twice a day on the farm, and a piece of clean carpet is used on the back of the trailer so they don’t slide around.
“Hygiene is really important. Navels are sprayed straight away with iodine when they are picked up, the carpet is changed regularly and we don’t overcrowd them,” says Tracy.
Getting top quality colostrum into the calves as soon as possible is another priority for Tracy and Allie.
“We’ve had half the herd vaccinated for rotavirus and all calves get up to two litres of this colostrum – it protects them from all sorts of bugs.”
Tracy says she finds value in developing routines and streamlining tasks. An 800 litre milk tank has been set up on the trailer so milk can be transported easily and pumped from the tank with a hose to the calf feeders.
Attention to detail
When it comes to keeping calves healthy, Tracy says it’s the attention to detail that pays off.
“It’s the little things that make a difference – being extra diligent about getting navels sprayed and checking them regularly.
“We keep the heifers separate from the bobbies, but both are treated with the same care. It reduces the risk of any bugs spreading.”
A disinfectant foot bath is kept at the door of both calf sheds. Anyone entering has to wash their feet to reduce the risk of bugs being brought in and entry to the heifer shed is limited.
Calves are weaned at 85-90kg and Tracy uses a weigh band to record weights every week.
“It’s satisfying to know you are making progress and it’s a good way to keep an eye on anything that is not doing well. If a calf is underweight, we’ll move it to a younger mob.”
Staying sane in the silly season
While good communication plays a big part in their smooth calving and farm operation, Tracy says having a laugh is essential.
“We’re even more diligent about having our weekly staff meeting over calving because we know it’s a particularly hectic time of the year.”
Breakfast or morning tea is provided and it’s an opportunity to have a breather for an hour, check in on how everyone’s going and what jobs need doing.
“Ideas and systems are formed from the meetings. We’re always keen for staff to contribute ideas and for them to have ownership of their tasks.”
The whole farm team is offered a free flu vaccination and Tracy and Wynn make sure staff have time off through calving.
“We have a roster to manage leave, and timesheets are handed in at our weekly meetings so we can keep an eye on hours worked.
“The main thing is that people are well and healthy. We supply good wet weather gear and gumboots and make sure we’re providing positive feedback and celebrating success.
“We have a mid-calving shout with all the team and their families, but most of all, we try to have fun daily.”
Work life balance
Playing mum to 180 replacement calves doesn’t mean being mum to four kids stops, and Tracy says being organised is the best way to manage the chaos.
“I try and focus on the essential things, as well as staying healthy – eating well and getting to bed early.
“I’ve adopted a meal-plan system over calving so I don’t have to think about dinner. Mince Monday, casserole Tuesday, steak Saturday, roast Sunday and so on. I can still vary the meals and I will often make double so we have a supply of frozen meals on standby.”
The family also prioritise a pre-calving holiday and have a weekend off before mating starts.
Value of healthy calves
Tracy says getting calves off to a good start is invaluable.
“The calves continue to grow well and it means we do not have to play catch up by feeding extra supplement in the paddock. They’re more likely to get in-calf and there are fewer
vet bills if they’re already in good health.”
Tracy Brown - a woman of many hats
While Tracy didn’t grow up on a farm, she moved to the country at age 11. Her love for farming and animals grew, thanks to her neighbours who were pedigree jersey breeders. They taught her how to raise calves and provided calves for Tracy to take to school agriculture days.
Tracy went on to study AgScience at Massey University and worked as an economist predicting meat and wool production and prices after graduating. She is a Kellogg's scholar and has also held roles with Primary ITO and ASB Bank.
After marrying Waikato dairy farmer Wynn Brown and having four children, Tracy enjoyed getting involved in various community organisations and is currently a member of the local intermediate school’s Board of Trustees.
In 2010, the Brown family won the Waikato Ballance Farm Environment Award for their sustainable approach to dairy farming. Tracy is also currently the programme manager for DairyNZ's Building Dairy Leaders’ Forum, which provides existing and emerging dairy farming leaders with skills and support to lead positive changes required on farms and in communities.
Her most recent venture has seen her start the Agri Women’s Development Trust Escalator course. The 10-month programme is designed to equip women from agricultural backgrounds with skills, development and support to successfully lead and govern in the sector.
This article was originally published in Inside Dairy June 2015