Dawson Once a Day Milking

November 2011

Patoka farmers adopt once a day milking for their heifer herd to improve profitability

Patoka dairy farmers Nick and Nicky Dawson have moved to once a day milking for their heifers, just one way the award-winning farmers are taking it easy on their environment.

Nick and Nicky are equity managers with an 186ha milking platform on the 220ha home block, and a 180ha run off nearby.  The Dawsons have three children: Ben, Libby and Felicity.

They won the LIC dairy farm award in the first Ballance Farm Environment Awards for Hawke’s Bay earlier this year.  The judges comments were:

• the Dawsons are role models for other dairy farms with staff management and the importance of family and wider community involvement

• they have a passion for planting and a love of trees, as well as an understanding of their role on farms

• they have a keenness to see all difficult, wet and or erodible areas set aside for plantings rather than stock

• they are using the sharemilking structure and their current equity agreement as a pathway to farm ownership

• the farm achieves high levels of production in this district while sustaining a low environmental impact.

• It is a well-balanced business across the social, financial and environmental areas and provides a platform for many people to achieve their goals.

Nick says the decision to move to once a day milking for the heifers was mainly because they have two different types of land on the property. The front 144ha is easy rolling pumice country, and out the back there is 42ha of steeper, harder land.

Once a day milking for the heifers is a way of utilising the farm better. Nick says the most distant point on the farm is 3km from the shed, so “by the time you take 480 cows out there, it is a long haul”. The energy (and milk production) lost in walking to the shed and back again was quite high.

There are only 100 heifers, it doesn’t take as long for them to get out to the most distant point, and they get to rest and eat more instead of being in transit to and from the shed twice a day.

They have split the heifers into their own mob so the older cows won’t bully them. Keeping them in a separate mob helps to keep the weight on them, so that they get in calf more easily for the following season.

The heifers had been milked twice a day until three weeks before mating in mid October. The decision was then made to take the pressure off the heifers and give them a good chance to start coming on heat before mating.

Another reason for making the change was that the paddocks were set up for about 350 cows. As the farm has grown and cow numbers increased, they ran one herd to make it easier.

But with the whole 480 cows together, it was found their paddock sizes were too small, with too few water troughs.

Nick says splitting the cows into two herds makes everything fit better. “We run a stocking rate of about 2.5 cows/ha over the whole farm, but out the back the stocking rate is 2.3cows/ha, which is more realistic for that country.

We are hoping production from the main herd of cows will really pump now that they are on the easy country at the front of the farm and don’t have to walk as far.

In theory the production lost from moving the heifers to once a day milking will be made up in more production from the main mob of older cows. The move is not all about the heifers.

The heifers also have better feet so can cope more easily with the walk and they should be able to forage up the hills better than the older cows”.

Great Glen Farms is an equity partnership, started six years ago. Before that the Dawsons were sharemilking on the farm, having arrived nine years before from Taranaki.

They have a 40% equity partnership, and it is working very well. There are only two partners: Stuart and Ann McPhail, and Nick and Nicky.

The good relationship keeps things really simple, and communication (while it might be a cliché) is key to making the business work.

Nick and Nicky’s objective is to increase their equity and make a profit in the short term. Their personal goal is to own the farm themselves.

Nick says someone who came to do an audit on the farm suggested they enter the Ballance Awards, and when they looked into it a bit they liked how it wasn’t all prize oriented. With some awards it is predetermined what the judges want to hear, and it takes three or four years to learn what they want.

But the Dawsons felt that the Ballance awards had a genuinely good feeling about them, and they acknowledge they have quite a good status.

Another reason they entered was to stand up for dairy farmers, and show that they are not all bad.

The awards help highlight that many dairy farmers care deeply about the environment and the Dawsons believe they are trying their best to improve sustainability.

Nick says some dairy farmers deserve the dirty dairying label, but most have really pulled their socks up in recent years.

Nick and Nicky have built on the plantings of previous owners, fenced out all the waterways, and have planted all their gullies. They have 10ha of pines on land unsuitable for grazing, and their current goal is to put poplar shade trees into every paddock.