Olin Greenan's Gypsy Day 2013

September 2013

A sharemilker moves his family to his new farm on June 1 (Gypsy Day) 2013

Olin and Anna Greenan were major movers in the 2013 Gypsy Day, when sharemilkers move farm with their cows, machinery and personal effects during May 31 and June 1, which is the end of the dairy season. They moved from a 70ha effective farm at Eureka, near Hamilton in the Waikato to the Clevedon district in South Auckland. The old farm, on which they had been for four years, ran 240 cows in the last season while the new farm will run 480 cows in the first season. Gypsy Day has huge stresses and financial costs for the sharemilkers.

Irish-born Olin Greenan, aged 35, was at agricultural college in the UK when a dairy lecturer told him NZ was well worth a visit for a young agriculturist. He came in 2001 for one year and has remained and settled. He rose to herd manager on a 560-cow farm at Taupiri, northern Waikato, owned by the Bird family and in 2008 he was awarded Waikato Dairy Farm Manager of the Year and then National Dairy Farm Manager of the Year in the annual dairy industry awards. He then moved to a 50/50 sharemilking position at Eureka, near Hamilton on 100ha which carried a peak of 300 cows. After four years on that contract, Olin and his wife Anna have moved to a bigger farm of 170ha at Clevedon which can milk 480 cows.

The Greenans milked 240 cows in the 2012-13 season at Eureka, The farm lost a 30ha lease block and so the herd was downsized from 300 to 240. Olin and Anna leased out the additional 60 cows pending a move of farm and new contract. Production with the larger farm and herd was 1100kg/ha MS and with the smaller herd 1250kg/ha (87,500kg for the season). The farm dairy was 30-a-side herringbone with automatic cup removers. The breeding of the herd is Friesian moving toward crossbred, about half-and-half presently. The farm was system two dairying, with low levels of supplementary feeding and in the last year in particular Olin was chasing profit rather than production.

Olin is particularly proud of his Fonterra supply grade-free gold status, achieved after four years being grade free in milk supply. He has incentivised two new staff members on the new farm to try and extend that excellent record.

The Greenans have moved to Clevedon to a 170ha effective farm with heavy clay soils and some peat which has a tendency to get very wet in winter but dry out quickly in summer. The farm has a 28-bale rotary, which means with 480 cows a long time milking. Olin has hired two full-time staff members -- South African John van der Berg and Irishman Ross McCrea. The farm needs more development and facilities to run a herd of this size, but more milk production must come first. Leased land of 70ha from two neighbours has been added onto the 100ha home farm and the infrastructure is underway. Olin has budgeted for 160,000 kg MS with all calves and wintered cows on the property, using 120-130 kg/ha of nitrogen, 100 tonnes of palm kernel and 120 tonnes of grass silage, along with 10ha of summer crop. The farm will milk 480 cows, which comprise the 240 from last season, including replacements, the 60 cows which were leased out and another 180 cows which Olin and Anna have bought at an average of $1700 each (over $300,000 outlay). That is a big step up in capital and debt commitments. It is not easy to find sharemilking positions with large herd capacity without moving to the South Island and Olin and Anna have grasped this opportunity to increase cow numbers, milk production and capital base in order to be in a position to make the jump to farm ownership in the future. The farm is owned by the Mieklejohn Trust and although the owners live off the property they are very supportive of Olin's plans.

As an immigrant, Olin doesn't have a family base for support, although his first jobs in NZ came with very supportive farm owners to whom he is still close and marrying Anna has added her family to his life. She is a qualified dietician, now working part-time at Middlemore Hospital and does not activiely dairy farm full-time. Olin says that is a benefit, because she emphasises the importance of having time off the farm as part of the work/life balance.

Olin also has a sister Lucinda Ransley, married and living nearby in Gordonton, and both his sister and her husband helped with the move.

The biggest challenge before the move was still running the existing farm and honouring the contract until May 31. All the logistics of the livestock transport were very stressful, moving 400 cows in unit loads of 42. "On the Saturday the first three units went at 6.30am and the final one not until 5.30pm, so I was sitting around at the old farm until then, while Anna's parents and friends unloaded everything at the house," Olin said.

The week before they moved, the Clevedon farm suffered a mini tornado which brought down trees and power fences, but fortunately Ross McCrea had started work there early and was able to tidy up enough to place the cows in various paddocks. No cows were injured and everything made it to the new location. The support from friends and family was extraordinary and the Greenans hope to be able to repay in kind in the future. Getting to know the new farm will be different, because of no resident farm owner, so Olin and his staff members will have to discover everything for themselves.

He says the biggest stress since moving has been the "cold callers" wanting to show their wares and sign him up for services. They should have the courtesy to ring up and make appointments beforehand, he says.

The new farm is in a large lifestyle zone in South Auckland and Olin realises that he has a shop window on dairying to maintain, which the staff members must look after also.

Gypsy Day tips include :

    • Planning - first and foremost, finding the right place to go. That requires marketing yourself and using all available dairy industry networks, doing due diligence on the prospective farm and its owners, visiting the farm as many times as possible, at least once a month in the lead up, looking at pastures, resources, facilities, soil fertility etc.


    • Cows - book and arrange finance for transport requirements months in advance. Most units take only 40-50 cows, which means as many as ten truck movements for large herds. Cows must be emptied out before loading. They should be in good condition and many sharemilking agreements specify the average condition score of the herd required.


    • Machinery - some tractors and implements may be driven to the new farm, otherwise transporters will be needed.


    • Household effects and family - get as many helpers as you can for furniture and family moving. Keep cool and plan well in advance.


    • Costs - these are likely to be substantial. As much as $50,000 to $100,000 for moving a large herd inter-island, and $10,000 to $20,000 for a regional move in the North or South Island.