Trewithen Farm

June 2013

An award winning dairy operation includes education and tourism in its business plan

In 2012 Trewithen Farm was the winner of the Taranaki Region Best Farm in the Dairy Business of the Year – the first time they had entered the competition.

Tony has been dairying since 1991, starting out in Normanby in Taranaki, in a married man’s role. Then he and Loie and their three daughters shifted to Tekiri in 1993, where Tony took up the role of a farm manager and Loie helped him and another couple on the farm, along with owners Ian and Judith Armstrong.

Two years later Ian and Judith offered Tony and Loie a lower order sharemilking position. Since 2004 they have been 50/50 sharemilkers at Trewithen Farm. Tony says dairying is a great outdoor profession; you can take it to any lengths or levels you want or degree of success.

The Faull family owns the farm. Gavin Faull was born here; his family owned the country store on the corner of the property. The farm has always been run by sharemilkers. He and his brothers all left, moving into different professions, and in 1990 Gavin took over the reins of the farm from a distance. Now Gavin’s son Oliver has come on board.

Tony says, “Oliver wanted to measure us against others in the industry, and that is why we entered the Dairy Business of the Year Award for the first time last year. It has turned out fairly well, and I am pleased we showed pretty good results against others in the industry. The competition used the results for the 2010/11 season, showing the farm made a 11.7% return on capital, well above the NZ average of 7.4% for dairy farms. Then, the 720 cows were producing 452kgMS/cow or 2079kgMS/ha.

It is a good competition in that it gives a breakdown of graphs of various areas of the business and where we are ranked. You can see where you are strong and where you are falling behind the eight-ball. We did a little bit of benchmarking before entering the competition.

My main policy is to do and expect the best you can. As long as you are conscientious and always trying to improve things”.

The total area of the farm is 361ha, with 89ha in runoff blocks and a 272ha milking platform. All the blocks are within walking distance. Another small block has just been purchased.

The farm was expanding, so a large 60 bail Dairymaster shed was built in 2006, and first used in November that year. Previously they were milking in a small herringbone shed. Dairymaster is an Irish company, and this shed, built to full European specifications, was the first of theirs built in the southern hemisphere.

It has wider than usual bails to accommodate larger cows, and the extra space gives them room to be more comfortable. The gauge of steel used is larger than most sheds, so everything is strong and stable and doesn’t flex. Tony says he has never seen a cow hurt in the shed.

The milk from each cow is measured, which he finds very handy with year-round milking. The daily cow records are easy to access when needed so they don’t have to wait for a herd test.

The shed is also capable of feeding to production, but they don’t use this feature.

The shed can also weigh the cows and draft them, based on electronic identification. There is automatic teat spraying too, and an automatic messaging system delivering verbal messages. This is helpful when cows need particular attention. “A fair bit of information is measured at every milking.”

At its peak, Trewithen Farm milks 1150 cows, with 850 in spring and 300 calving in autumn. The farm supplies year-round to Fonterra, with milk going to Hawera most of the year and to Longburn in winter.

It is a high-input farm, with just over 50% of the feed input coming from pasture. Feeds are maize silage, palm kernel extract, pellets at strategic times and molasses to appetise in the shed. The shed is designed to offer cows up to five different feeds when fine-tuning of diet is required. Cows can also be fed individually, however much of the feed is fed via an outdoor feed-pad. They grow about 55ha of maize and this year they are buying in another 10ha.

Gavin, who is in the tourism business, wanted a facility that would potentially cater to bus tours, although this opportunity has not yet been realised. “We have very nice facility, with an 18m x 8m room above the milking area with good toilet facilities. We often host field days and for the past three years we have visits from Wellington all girls school, St Oran’s, which has put agriculture on their curriculum.”

“We have fenced all the waterways here now, and mostly planted them, apart from a portion on the new block, which we will fence for stock safety. We have always tried to stay ahead of the game and the Regional Council with effluent disposal.

We flood-wash the yard and scrape the concrete pad into a concrete ditch that leads to the effluent ponds. From there effluent is pumped out onto about 100ha of the farm. The size of the reticulation area has to be adequate so we don’t put too much potassium on any single area. We expanded this area by 40ha this past summer.

Last year we started all paddock soil testing, where every paddock on the farm is soil tested once a year with Hills Laboratories and Ballance. We have been able to fine-tune our fertiliser application, which differs quite a lot depending on the history of various paddocks. We have colour-coded maps of each nutrient required across the farm.

Loie says their staff is the key to their business. They have five full time workers and five relief milkers. All staff, except for two full-timers who have joined the business as a result of expansion, have been working on the farm for more than five years.

“It’s a very good team and a very big family because we have been together so long.” Loie says key factors are having family time, time off work, and good communication skills.