DairyNZ is welcoming a report confirming M. bovis eradication is likely achievable.
Long-time OAD advocate and consultant Leo Hendrikse says the technique has a good future and he sees more farmers succeeding at it. Peter Burke reports.
About 50 people attended a field day held on Kerry Walker’s dairy farm near Te Horo Beach. The event attracted OAD farmers from Manawatu, Wairarapa and Horowhenua, some long-time OAD milkers, some new to it.
Walker has a 110ha (eff) milking platform running 250 Friesian cows now in their second season of OAD. Last season he produced 62,454kgMS, versus 75,000kgMS in the previous season. He hopes to lift this to 70,000kgMS this season.
The farm is an interesting mix of low-lying peat which is prone to flooding by a nearby stream and high sand-hills which offer a beautiful view of nearby Kapiti Island. Some cows are wintered off the farm, as are young stock.
It’s not an easy farm to run at the best of times, hence Walker’s taking the plunge into OAD. He hopes to address calving issues including narrowing the spread of calving, the in-calf rate and the three-week submission rate. The signs are good on all fronts but there’s still room for improvement.
Walker came to the farm in 1983 with an agri economics degree from Massey University and after two years OE. He moved up from farmworker to sharemilker and to farm ownership. But after years of running the farm as a twice-a-day (TAD) he made a change.
“We just thought we’d plateaued on our farming operation and needed a new challenge. We felt we needed a sea change to our system so we decided on OAD; we had a neighbour and brother who had also done OAD. I felt the farm suited OAD and would give us more resilience to climatic change,” he says.
The first year of OAD was successful though production fell unexpectedly, partly because of the transition to OAD and a wet winter. But there were big positives and he got more enjoyment out of farming.
An issue raised with Walker by the discussion group was his relatively high farm working expenses, but these do not worry him much.
“The focus is on the future and as far as farm working expense is concerned, we will bear this while we get our management system in place. If I cut too many costs I may have to work too hard.
“While profit is important it is probably secondary. I have been farming long enough now that my debt is not the overriding factor it used to be so there is some leeway to take an experimental look at it. Profitability is a goal but it’s not the reason we do OAD,” he says.
With the new government in place he feels the operation he is running leaves him well positioned to deal with any role environmentalists may have on changing the way farming is done.
He points out that OAD is far less intensive and pays more attention to animal welfare, so it ticks the boxes for the future. Though not a ‘greenie’ by definition he sympathises with the cause.
“Farmers want to do a better job and leave farms in a better state than when they took them on. The older and more settled you get in your farming career you naturally tend to be more sustainable,” he says.
Walker tells other farmers that the dairy industry has a great story. He regards the urban/rural divide as a myth created by the media and something of an election thing that now should be put to bed while all do their best with the available resources.
He loves the concept of the discussion group which brings a bunch of enthusiastic people together.
“It’s a bit like going to a church meeting where everyone is keen and it’s infectious and helps boost you along as well as getting great feedback. You can see how committed these people are. The fellowship is tremendous,” he says.