Prankerd Focus Farm

June 2013

A high altitude, high rainfall dairy operation is a DairyNZ Focus Farm

Just over half way through a 3-year stint as a DairyNZ focus farm, Chris and Kathy Prankerd are starting to reap the benefits of weekly monitoring of pasture covers, 6-8 weekly weighing of young stock and regular condition scoring of the herd along with support from a management team that meets fortnightly on the farm. Improved feed management has led to better cow condition and higher fertility.

Kathy and Chris Prankerd farm 102ha (89 effective) at Tariki, a high rainfall high altitude property east of Mt Taranaki. They have a herd of 230 milked in a 28-a-side herringbone dairy with a projected production of 88,000kgMS this year. Young stock are raised on a nearby 32ha leased runoff.

In June 2011 they became the Taranaki DairyNZ focus farm, a three-year project with the aims of improving pasture management, herd fertility and farm profitability. Chris says that they were persuaded to take it on by their dairyfarming sons so that the whole family would benefit from the experience.

The first year was difficult, says Chris, because the previous season had been very wet so they weren’t set up very well. “We only did 75,000 kg milk solids whereas the year before we had done 80,000. However, for the current season we got the cows in better condition and avoided pasture damage through the winter, and things have become a lot better,” he says.

“We have had low fertility problems here, but last year we improved from about 16% empties down to about 9%. This year our six-week in-calf rate is not quite as good as last year, around 70% rather than 72%, and I’m not sure why.”

Chris has realised that regular weighing of young stock and condition scoring of cows are both critical to achieving high conception rates and production. Last year the heifers, after some ill health as calves, had improved and were on target at the June weighing, but subsequently Chris discovered that they had put on no weight over the winter.

“We were weighing them only three monthly so it was a real shock to us. Since then we have gone to monthly weighing so we can monitor them better. Currently they are 12kg behind target,” he says.

“You really can’t tell whether or not your stock are up to weight unless you weigh them. The focus group came and looked at them and thought they looked beautiful, so our focus and message to people is that you have got to weigh your stock to know where they are actually at. You can’t tell by eye.”

This season’s calves are up to target or better, and Chris is looking forward to keeping them that way and achieving better in-calf rates.

Condition scoring of the herd at least every six weeks is another key focus. In February 2011 the herd was at 3.9 and by calving they were about 4.6. This February the score is a little better at 4.1 but there is some way to go to get to the target of 5.0.

“As we approach autumn we condition score monthly. I have just done it, and from that made the decision that 50 or 60 of the lighter cows will go onto once-a-day milking. In March last year the whole herd went on once-a-day purely because their condition score was too low. It was nothing to do with the feed we had on hand, and it certainly helped lift their scores but not far enough,” says Chris.

A third focus is weekly measurement of pasture covers, and having those figures has helped Chris improve feed management. “If you don’t monitor pastures then you don’t know when a feed shortage is coming. I’ve learnt how to fill in the gaps better when there is a shortage. For the last couple of years I have made 450 to 500 wraps of silage which is more than I used to make and last winter we had 2.75ha in swedes and kale that we sowed out into chicory and clover for summer feed. We also use palm kernel if necessary,” he says.

“I used to think that my pastures were OK but through the focus farm approach I can see that we have to improve them. We had been renovating one or two paddocks per year but it is not enough, so we are going to try undersowing some paddocks this autumn to get a bigger area in better pasture.”

Financially the farm is improving, and this year’s result will be considerably better than last year’s. Chris’s aim is to reach the top 25% of farms in terms of profitability.

Katrina Knowles, DairyNZ’s regional leader for Taranaki, says that the Prankerds have made good progress in improving reproductive performance of their herd and also in cutting the costs of that improvement.

“Last year they did a lot of intervention like putting the herd on once-a-day and milking through the mating period. This year we just condition scored the cows, identified the ones that were low and needed to go onto once-a-day for six weeks prior to mating. The others are being milked through, so we are trying to keep it profitable as well as improving condition, says Katrina.

“The Prankerds have got a real passion for what’s happening on the farm and the outcomes that they are getting. The management team has helped them put in place the weekly pasture growth reports and use tools like Minda and Minda Weights, so they are taking up these technologies. Now we are starting to pull back and empowering them to take over and report what they are doing to us, so that by the end of the three-year period they are independent and can keep the momentum going.”

Katrina explains that the focus farm project is farmer driven with a governance board of farmers who set the objectives. There is also a management team that meets on the farm fortnightly to help the farmer achieve those objectives, and that comprises a local farmer, DairyNZ adviser and a local vet.

“We have a fortnightly newsletter that goes out to farmers with what’s happening on the farm, the recommendations that are made to the farmer and the farming actions taken – the farmer doesn’t always take our recommendations,” she says.

“Then on the following fortnight we report the consequences of what has happened and recommendations for the next fortnight, and so on. We also have field days three times a year in March, June and October.”