Dairy Environment Leader John Hayward

June 2018

Environment leader John Hayward is promoting best dairy farming practices

John Hayward and Susan O’Regan own Judge Valley Dairies in Waikato. John was invited to join a group of around 300 Dairy Environment Leaders, a programme begun by DairyNZ.  The programme involves dairy farmers who are not only committed to the pursuit of excellence on their own farms but who look beyond the farm gate, to positively influence other farmers and engage with communities to increase understanding about, and appreciation of, dairying.

John was born in Edgecombe in the seventies and has lived most of his life in and around the Waipa district.  He grew up working with a range of cattle breeds and (when younger) worked for a time in Australia.

He began dairy farming on his return to New Zealand, starting as a farm assistant, working his way up through the ranks from contract milker, to sharemilker.  John eventually transitioned to farm ownership with the purchase of the 240 ha Judge Valley property in 2009 which he presently farms, working alongside their staff.

As Waikato’s Supreme Winners of the 2016 Ballance Farm Environment Awards, John is conscious of farming’s environmental footprint.  

He has sat on various industry environmental steering groups and committees and attended the Dairy Environmental Leaders Forum from 2015-2017.  

In 2016 and 2017 Judge Valley also made it through to the final 12 contestants for the Dairy Business of the Year Awards, receiving particular recognition for theirr achievement in Environmental Performance, and People Performance and Leadership categories.  

In his spare time John enjoys playing squash, shooting, and spending time with his children.

Susan O’Regan is “a Waikato girl, born and bred”.  Educated at Waikato Diocesan, then King’s College and Otago University, she graduated with Bachelor of Laws and Arts degrees.  After some time international travelling, Susan settled in Wellington, working at the Beehive as a Ministerial Assistant, before starting her legal career as a litigation solicitor in Auckland.  She specialised in family law, practicing in Auckland and Waikato.

In 2010 Susan closed her barristerial Chambers in Te Awamutu to focus on parenting and dairy farming.  In 2016 she became a Waipa District Councillor for the rural ward of Kakepuku and “thoroughly enjoys being part of the future of our progressive district.”

Says Susan, “John and I have five children between us (18 to 3 years in age) which keeps us both busy and poor.  Being from a farming family and daughter of a Member of Parliament (Susan’s mother is Katherine O’Regan), it is no surprise I am doing what I am doing today.”

John and Susan farm east of Te Awamutu on 245ha in what has been their first farming venture together, Judge Valley Dairies.  They are engaged in a number of initiatives on their property that exemplify the activities of Dairy Environment Leaders.  They describe themselves as, “a sustainable dairy operation focusing on maximizing production while minimising the effects of our activities on the environment.”

The original block was purchased in 2008, with a neighbouring block added in 2012, along with a major infrastructure upgrade, including a 30-aside herringbone dairy, race, water and effluent system.  A feed pad has helped to improve feed conversion efficiency.

In 2016, they were milking 485 cows on the 140ha milking platform, targeting production of 235,000kgMS. There are two full time staff and one casual worker.  Heifers and dry cows are grazed on the balance of the farm. They now 100% autumn calve.

Soon after purchasing the farm, John and Susan worked closely with the Waikato Regional Council, carrying out a Land Use Capability Assessment to ascertain the best use of the various land types on the property, including stock type, maize ground and retirement.  The farm’s environmental programme and future planting plans have been developed from this evaluation.

The property is flat-to-steep country, and prone to erosion.  In these areas, John and Susan have planted over 30,000 native trees, with riparian planting and wetland regeneration on 11 sites.  They have also protected an old Pa site (now covered in native forest).  They have put in silt traps, retired marginal land and planted 13ha in manuka and 5ha in pine.

John and Susan have also begun a joint manuka-planting venture with Comvita.  The relationship was begun through an introduction by the Regional Council.  A total of 10% of their land is now planted in trees.  John says trees help to control erosion and sediment loss, and mitigate nitrogen and phosphorus loss.  They also contribute to biodiversity and bee health, and will eventually contribute to a lower carbon footprint for the farm. 

The effluent management system incorporates green water flood wash recycled from effluent ponds that provides fertiliser for 62ha.  All fertiliser and effluent applications are recorded on a computer programme, which leads decisions on additional fertiliser use across the farm.  Other parameters such as water, soil temperature and soil moisture are also monitored.

It was noted in the environment award judging process that the operation shares characteristics with other high achieving producers.  They feed their animals well – around 1 tonne of dry matter per cow annually more then the New Zealand average.  As well, they pay attention to detail across all aspects of the business - animal husbandry, financial monitoring and staff relations.

The Dairy Environment Leaders Programme involves those who demonstrate the following values and characteristics: influencing farmers, engaging communities, influencing decision makers, and working with agri-busines and industry organisations.

John and Susan won the 2016 Waikato Supreme Ballance Farm Environment Award.  They also collected the LIC Dairy Farm Award, WaterForce Integrated Management Award, Waikato Regional Council Water Protection Award and the Ballance Agri-Nutrients Soil Management Award.  The judges praised the couple’s proactive approach to both the business and environmental sustainability.  It was noted they had created “a highly productive farm that works well in a challenging landscape while balancing environmental care”, as well as undertaking thorough financial analysis to ensure the most economic outcome is achieved when considering capital expenditure.  Their production was double the district average.

International guests are frequently hosted on the farm, with Americans from New Mexico and Texas on a “Learn International” trip visiting in January 2018, and some Danish farmers spending time at Judge Valley Dairies in February.

Judge Valley was also one of only 20 farms selected nationwide for the MPI Farm Systems Change Project.  This initiative complements existing dairy sector programmes such as Transforming the Dairy Value Chain PGP and a range of research and extension projects led by DairyNZ. 

Says John, “we have an ongoing involvement with this Project, attending workshops about the future of farming.  I am passionate about agriculture and helping assist the industry to be ready for environmental challenges into the future and regularly speak at workshops or conferences in the topic.  I have assisted farmers in advising them through the thorny process of securing land use change consents under the Waikato Regional Council Plan Change 1 (Healthy Rivers).”

A case study was prepared, having highlighted the operation as having a successful “triple bottom line performance”.


John says, “as a dairy farmer I think it is our job to please the public, and you know and also we need the public to understand what we’re doing on our property and trust that we’re doing the right thing, so it’s a bit of a win-win for everybody.

“When we started farming here we were an all grass system. We bought PKE in the gate as well, milking 250 cows.  So when we bought the other part of the farm we transitioned into a split calving operation, which was 50/50 spring and autumn. 

“This year we’ve now switched straight through to autumn calving, so with the idea of running an operation which is minimal waste, and also adding as much profit to our business as we possibly can. 

“So we’ve identified areas where we can make more money, mitigate the likes of bobby calves etc., and also grow all feed on farm so we’re basically closing the gate and becoming a self contained unit, which with our style of farm, we can do.

“Under the MPI farm system change project that identified that we had a very low environmental footprint and yet still had a very profitable economical farming system.  So I think doing with what we’re doing, we’re going to make that even better.”