Wednesday, 29 November 2023 11:55

A well-oiled machine

Written by  Anne Boswell
From left, Diane, Robbie, Macey, Rylee and Gareth Parkes. From left, Diane, Robbie, Macey, Rylee and Gareth Parkes.

Marlborough Sounds dairy farmer Gareth Parkes is a busy man. Not only is he the owner of Parlan Holstein Friesian Stud with wife Diane, but the owner of a contracting business that has played a key part in keeping agriculture afloat in the area since major flooding closed main roads in 2021.

“Last year, I did 62 trips carting stock in and out of the Sounds by barge,” Gareth says.

At the same time, Gareth keeps a close eye on the farm that he grew up on and has since purchased with brothers Ashley and Bradley.

Gareth and Diane, and children Rylee (16), Macey (11) and Robbie (8) milk 330 cows on a 100ha milking platform at Linkwater, under the name Parlan Holsteins. 300 of the 330 cows are purebred Holstein Friesian cattle, with the herd producing 500-535 kgMS/ year.

Gareth’s family has an extensive history of breeding Holstein Friesians, with his grandparents on both sides of the family establishing studs in 1937 and 1942 – Paroa Stud of Whakatane and Windermere Stud of Blenheim.

Gareth’s parents bought the Linkwater farm in 1982, and Parlan was established.

Diane grew up on a sheep and beef farm, but started working on a dairy farm after she left school.

Both Gareth and his brother Ashley’s (Paroa Stud, Rakaia) herds have genetics from the original studs of their grandparents.

For Gareth, his spring calving herd sees the first calves on the ground on July 25. They keep all the pedigree Holstein Friesian bulls born on farm, with numbers building up over the past five years, Gareth says.

“We were also keeping all the heifers sired by our pedigree bulls as replacements, but we have slowed that practice down a little now as numbers are looking good,” he says.

Diane rears all the calves on farm.

Mating starts October 15, with the herd undertaking six weeks of AI followed by six week of bulls.

“We do use the odd Hereford,” Gareth says.

Gareth says he and Ashley have four Semex bulls they use over both of their herds: Progenesis Puertorico, Westcoast Redcarpet (great for heifers as he is easy calving), Fly- Higher Sugarhigh-ET and Westcoast RocknRoll.

Gareth also has some Gillette Stanleycup and Walnutlawn Sidekick daughters coming through very strongly, which are to his liking and “not too leggy”.

The traits Gareth wants to incorporate into the herd include great udders and medium stature.

“We like a good, solid compact cow that produces well and is a nice-looking dairy cow; something that ticks all the boxes.”

He says they are also using high fertility bulls to counteract some fertility issues they’ve had in recent years.

Although Gareth is very involved in decisionmaking on-farm, he spends most of his time off farm running his contracting business GW Parkes Contracting. A core team of three staff keep the farm running.

Gareth does contracting such as baling, silage and tractor work, but a big portion of his time is taken up with running a stock truck and trailer throughout the country, carting stock in and out of the Marlborough Sounds weekly. Gareth and Diane purchased their first truck in 2016 and their first new truck in 2020, a Kenworth K200 Aerodyne.

Gareth has transported stock in and out of the Sounds for several years but following major flood damage to local roads in July 2021 he had to bring his truck and trailer unit in by barge. The Parkes family is involved in the barge business in the Queen Charlotte and Pelorus Sounds.

Previously, Gareth would drive into the Sounds at night and spend the day collecting stock and drive out to the sale yards or plant. Now, he has to barge in and spend the following day gathering stock from different farms, mobbing them up at yards near the barge site. He then has to load them all again and barge out, taking a day longer than the previous method.

The road into the Sounds is now open to cars and trailers, but not heavy trucks and trailers yet.

Flood Damage

In the 2021 floods, the Parkes’ own farm got “knocked around a bit”.

“We lost hay and feed off the paddocks,” Gareth says. “The paddocks were covered in feed, dirt and silt. The main road out to Havelock was closed and we had to travel via Picton.

“That event took awhile to recover from; the flooding in August 2022 had a lesser impact, thankfully.”

Happily, the Parkes family entered the 2023 HFNZ Semex On-Farm Competition with outstanding results: they placed first and second in the two-yearold class with Parlan Sidekick Connie and Parlan Ardor Cora respectively; first in the three-year-old class with Parlan Rambo Shill; first in the four-year-old class with Parlan Reginald Tort; first and second in the five-year-old class with Parlan Control Cleo and Parlan Control Lilly S1F respectively; and second in the Mature Cow Class with Parlan Lemust Penelopie. “That was just out the gate for us,” Gareth says.

Gareth says the Parkes kids are all great helpers on the farm, and all keen on cattle and showing. Rylee in particular has a strong interest in showing cattle, attending local shows and the 2023 World Wide Sires National All Dairy Breeds Youth Camp.

“Diane showed horses as a youngster so she has really enjoyed helping the kids show calves,” Gareth says.

In the future, Gareth says their focus is to secure a great group of core staff, a better fertility line and good production from the herd.

“You’ve got to walk before you run,” he says. “I don’t spend too much of my time with the cows, but there is still the passion there to make sure everything runs smoothly.”

Farm Facts

  • Owners: Parkes Family trading as Parkes Brothers Farming Limited
  • Location: Linkwater, Marlborough Sounds
  • Farm Size: 100ha effective
  • Cows: 330 (300 registered Holstein Friesian)
  • Production: 535 kgMS/cow
  • Stud Name: Parian

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