Thursday, 16 May 2024 10:55

Couple who never gave up farm ownership dream

Written by  Anne Boswell
Atiamuri dairy farmers Paul and Lesley Grey never gave up their dream of owning their own farm - and in 2020, that dream came true, after five years of searching for their ideal property. Atiamuri dairy farmers Paul and Lesley Grey never gave up their dream of owning their own farm - and in 2020, that dream came true, after five years of searching for their ideal property.

Atiamuri farmers Paul and Lesley Grey never gave up their dream of owning their own farm – and in 2020, that dream came true.

“Our kids are all grown up, so it wasn’t a matter of buying a farm to stay farming, it was a matter of finding a farm we liked,” Paul says.

That ideal farm was Sue Pembridge’s 77ha farm in Atiamuri. The couple sharemilked in Mangakino before selling their large herd in 2015. They settled in Tokoroa for a short stint of townie life while they searched for their ideal farm. Five years later the milk price recovered and there was an opportunity to buy Sue’s farm.

The re-establishment of the Grey’s herd began in 2020. They purchased a herd of 200 Holstein Friesian cows, with a few crossbreds. Over four seasons they have averaged 91,000 kgMS per year, around 460- 470 kgMS per cow. This season they are on track for a record-breaking total of 95,000-97,000 kgMS.

Paul’s passion for breeding pedigree Holstein Friesians started when his father took a liking to the breed and established the Maranui stud in the 1970s.

He initially joined HFNZ as an associate member in 1977 and he vividly recalls his first pedigree cow that he bought, Longlands Atlas Karen, bred by Phil Jones.

When they bought the Atiamuri farm, Paul considered trying something new and looked into purchasing a Jersey herd. But his deep love of Holstein Friesians took hold and they purchased a Holstein Friesian herd.

Although the farm is primarily a pasturebased system, the Greys have a feed pad, feeding about 150 tonnes of palm kennel and 150 tonnes of maize as well as a bit of DDG (Dried Distiller Grains).

“The Holstein Friesian cow does take more to feed than other breeds, but she will go a lot further,” Paul says.

Paul and Lesley do about seven weeks of AI to kick off mating. Paul is a firm believer that the extra week is worth it when you consider the price paid for a ten-day CIDR programme.

“We start calving around July 15 and still have AI calves coming through till the end of September, but that doesn’t bother me,” he says. “I find this way I use less CIDRs, and I never have trouble selling the extra heifer calves because they’re Holstein Friesian.”

For the first season on the Atiamuri farm, Paul went with LIC for semen.

“I needed something simple for the first season on this farm with my limited contacts,” he says. Since then, they have slowly transitioned to CRV, with the most recent mating entirely to CRV semen.

“Back when we had our bigger herd, we did nominate with CRV, but I am excited to get more adventurous and broaden our horizons,” Paul says. “This is an advantage of having a smaller herd; I can be more precise, and less about numbers.”

Appreciating The Breed

Raised around Holstein Friesians, Paul Grey loved their looks but over the years he has come to appreciate more about the breed.

“When I was fourteen, I probably didn’t understand the benefits of a Holstein Friesian – they just looked a bigger and better cow,” he says. “But the reason I have stuck with Holstein Friesians is because for not much more money when you buy a herd, you’ve got a cow that has a better residual value when her milking season is finished; you’ve got more options for calves; and at our age we don’t need to milk as many to produce what we do.”

Although Paul has been milking cows since he was thirteen years old, he is not prepared to slow down – yet.

“We started off with a timeframe of five years,” he says. “We are now four seasons in with one more season to go, and then we will re-evaluate what we do.

“The personal goal would be to get these cows up to 600 kgMS per cow – that would be an achievement I’d be proud of – but one that could take a few more years. We’d have to build something with a bit more engine room with around 550-600kg liveweight, which can’t be achieved with the standard LIC or CRV genetics.”

Both Paul and Lesley feel the work they’ve put into the farm and their herd is just starting to come to fruition. Paul is incredibly enthusiastic about what he does and loves to milk cows.

“I’d personally like to milk cows till I’m sixty-nine,” he says. “I work on the theory that retirement sounds all good and dandy, but it’s actually pretty damn boring, too.”

Fertility is Key

Udders, temperament, and fertility are the traits Paul Grey says they mate for in their herd.

“Fertility is especially important,” he says. “It’s heart breaking when you can’t get a good cow in-calf.

“While we are building up this herd, my priority is to focus on improving the udders throughout the herd,” he says. “And I always make sure I’m picking the bulls with the better fertility trait. I also consider good feet, legs, and stature; I also don’t want them too big.”

As this is only the Grey’s second season with their own stock coming through, it is too soon to tell which sires are performing well.

“My initial focus was simply to get cows in calf, but I look forward to fine-tuning my selections for replacements over the coming seasons,” Paul says. “We have bought the odd heifer from Wayne and Leeanne Taylor over the last few years, two of which are fantastic producers.”

One of these is Muritai Chuck Lydia S3F GP84, sired by Hillbrae Gaunt Chuck-ET and out of Muritai H-House Lydia S2F.

Paul’s heifer Lydia has BW 406, PW 442, and LW 477. Lydia’s production to date (from her January herd test results) showed that over 194 days in milk she has produced 4,210 litres of milk (185kg fat, 163kg protein).

“We have a crop of calves coming through that were also sired by Chuck, but after his fertility trait changed for the negative, we shied away from using him anymore,” Paul says. “But I must admit after milking Lydia and being incredibly impressed by her, I am seriously considering using Chuck again.”

CRV bull Hillbrae Gaunt Chuck- ET has a fat BV 44, milk BV 521 and his udder overall sits at 0.95.

The other standout young cow Paul bought from Wayne and Leeanne is Muritai Omah Wylow-OC S3F GP83. Wylow has a BW 381, PW 577 and LW 765. Her production to date (from her January herd test results) showed that over 201 days in milk she produced 6244 litres of milk (250kg fat, 240kg protein).

Paul and Lesley managed to keep one cow from their large herd, Valden MOM Treasure-ET VG88 – better known as the “horse”.

Treasure is now thirteen-yearsold, and her best production season saw her in milk for 305 days, producing a total of 11,433 litres of milk (481kg fat, 408kg protein). The other top producers in their herd include Maranui Beamer Madi S0F VG87, who in her four-year old season (2022/23) had 274 days in milk, producing a total of 7001 litres of milk (326kg fat, 278kg protein.)

Another notable cow is Maranui Rapture Rim S0F VG88. In her seven-year-old season (2020/21) had 291 days in milk, producing a total of 6387 litres of milk (381kg fat, 265kg protein.)

And, Maranui Kels Moira S0F VG86 had 289 days in milk in her six-year-old season (2022/23), producing a total of 7,247 litres of milk (379kg fat, 391kg protein.)

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