Cross Tasman journey opens eyes
IN 2002, Brian and Michelle Moore were sharefarming in New Zealand.
Come December, the dairy farmers will have been running their own farm at Mirboo North for 10 years.
While farming in a foreign country has been a learning curve, the Moores have also bought some Kiwi farming know-how of their own that is paying dividends to their Aussie milking operation.
Many facets of their NZ farming system have adapted to their Mirboo North property, given the country and conditions are similar country to their home region of Waikato, but the journey has been challenging.
The Moores’ way is a pasture-based approach with no grain fed to reduce costs and shield from the impact of a feed shortage during a drought. Few NZ farmers feed grain due to cost.
“All over the world, farmers are price takers and if you are a price taker, you have to make sure your system can survive on the price you are given,” Brian said.
Key to maximising their pasture use is a plate meter: essentially a plate on a stick that measures pasture density electronically, enabling the Moores to stock a paddock according to feed availability.
“Not many locals use this system but we want to make the most of our pasture,” Brian said.
About 70 per cent of the farm has been renovated with a mix of matrix and bealey perennial ryes, and white clover. Summer crops are a blend of chicory, plantain and pasja.
“Because we are so reliant on the grass, it has to be right,” Brian said.
“We also only make silage if there is a genuine surplus. We can’t pull it out of the cows’ rotation unless it’s a genuine surplus, but we have only bought hay and silage once since we have been here.”
Paddock sizes have been reduced to allow closer management of pasture.
“The whole key to being pasture based is getting your grazing height right. If it grows too long, it’s rank and if it has not got a lot of energy in it, and if you graze it too short, it is too slow to regrow,” Brian said.
“We try to time calving to be six weeks before peak pasture growing time because that is the most efficient time to feed; before when the demand for pasture is greatest.”
Cattle are selected for their medium frames, increasing their ability to feed efficiently, and consume 16 to 18 kilograms of dry matter a day compared to 20 to 22kg for a bigger animal. Empty rates have dropped as a result.
“When the drought hits and the rain hits, those cow maintenance costs are what really hit you,” Brian said.
“A lot of Australian genetics have been imported from North America where the cows are housed, and here they have to walk and the cows can’t cope because they do not eat as fast.”
The herd is a mix of NZ Friesians and Jerseys, with milker numbers ranging from 170 to 200, and they attribute the low cell count and incidence of mastitis to their choice of genetics.
“Anything that milks on our system stays,” Michelle said.
“The biggest thing is fertility in the system. We have improved our empty rate to seven to eight per cent since we have been here.”
The Moores concede production is lower than other farms of a similar size, with around 60,000kg of milk solids produced on the farm during a 268 day lactation. However, only 44 per cent of their income is total farm expenses.
Protein tests average 3.5 per cent per litre and fat tests at 4.7 per cent per litre.
Brian and Michelle share the workload, with their 11-year-old daughter Samantha helping out, avoiding additional labour units.
Fertiliser selection has changed from superphosphate to reactive rock in a bid to improve soil structure. Whereas superphosphate is water soluble, reactive rock relies on bacteria in the soil to break down. They are also moving away from urea to sulphate ammonia.
“We do not do soil tests; we test the grass,” Brian said.
Michelle added: “We try to monitor what the cows are actually getting out of it.”
The couple has tried to sell the farm, concerned their system was taking too long to work, but their persistence paid off.
“The farm was too big and to use our system we were trying to re-work the whole farm,” Michelle said.
“It took us five years to change the herd over.”
The Moores moved to Australia for the opportunity to own their farm, then an unattainable goal in NZ where land prices were unaffordable.
“We would never have even been able to manage a deposit in New Zealand because it’s extremely expensive,” Brian said.
NZ farms are sold at a price based on farm production. With a production payment of $47 a kilogram of milk solids, a farm producing 100,000kg would be valued at $4.7 million.
“This farm cost us the equivalent of $7 per kilogram of milk solids so it was a no brainer to move,” Brian said.
“We came to Australia in the June of 2002 and looked at other places, including the Western District, but we found this to be similar and with a more reliable long term rainfall average.”
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