Wayne and Elaine Cook, winners of the Sharemilker of the Year 2006.

July 2006
Wayne and Elaine Cook moved from Waikato in the North Island to Southland six years ago and jumped from 240 cows to 550 cows on a sharemilking contract. Three years ago they moved to the Otahuti farm of Peter and Maralyn Erb and expanded to 750 cows, run and milked in two herds. They recently renewed the 50:50 contract for a further three years. Elaine has a dairy farming family background, but Wayne was brought up on a sheep and beef property. Elaine says Wayne has had to park his ambition to be a dry stock farmer so that they can build their equity quickly through dairying. They have three daughters, Emma, Abby and Hayley.

Wayne was a sheep and beef farmer for about 10 years before taking up dairying in Waikato. Elaine comes from a dairying family.

The Erb farm at Otahuti is 350ha with 55ha used to winter cows on Swedes and baleage and 287ha in the milking platform, which is 2.6 cows/ha effective. This is lower than some farms because the Erbs have a policy of no nitrogen use on the milking platform. It also requires good pasture management and monitoring, which is Waynes specialisation. He aims for a target residual after grazing of 1450kg DM/ha and walks the farm each week. A mower will be used ahead of the cows to achieve target residuals in times of rapid grass growth.

Swedes are grown for two years on the non-milking part of the farm and then new grass is established and those paddocks enter the milking platform. Therefore 9% of the farm is renovated each year.

The herd is Friesian and Friesian-cross and the AI programme achieves 74% in-calf of cows submitted to AI, up 10% in recent years. All of the herd goes to AI for three weeks and then the potential culls are run with Angus bulls, while the rest of the herd continues for another three weeks of AI. The overall empty rate is a low 6%, without use of CIDRS. The induction rate is 5%, which is being phased out.

There are 180 herd replacements each year, which have been run on an adjacent Erb-owned drystock farm, but will have to be factored into the main dairy farm in future.

All of the 250t of baleage is made from the milking platform, which explains the low stocking rate and the lower MS/ha production of 1100kg. Some of the conserved feed is allocated for the shoulders of the milking season, but for the past two years this has not been needed. The herd is wintered off the milking platform for 82 days, from end May until mid-August. By this time some are calving and they start coming back to the dairy farm and all-grass feeding.

However there is no budgeted grass growth in June and July, hence the need for baleage reserves. Those cows which havent calved maybe on fodder until September 1.

The whole farm gets 660kg/ha of 25% Pot Super, while the effluent spreading area of 40ha gets only 535kg/ha of Super. The silage paddocks on the milking platform get an additional 375kg of 30% Pot Super, bringing the total fertiliser applied close to 1t/ha.

The no nitrogen policy came about because the Erbs, through experience, believed that it reduces clover content. Wayne says the clover content of the farm is excellent.

Staff employed on the property are Bruce McKeay, Shaun Phillips and Michael Fox, plus two milk harvesters. An aim is to have sustainable working hours in a 40-a-side herringbone. Permanent staff only milk one of the two herds each milking and the one who starts early finishes at 4pm. Permanent staff need to have a full dairy farming experience, not just endless milking. Milking at the peak of the season, with two herds, takes 5 hours with more than 20 rows of cows going through the herringbone. Daily working hours are capped at 9 hours and the roster is eight days on and two off, with no milking on one of the eight days.

The cows were dried off around May 30 and milking will not come back until mid-August to September 1. They are now on the 55ha winter farm, being break-fed Swedes and baleage. The conserved feed from the milking platform is equivalent to about 15,000 kg MS from lost production off pasture.

Elaine looks after the financial recording, measuring actual results against budgets.

In the 2005-06 season 318,000kg MS were produced, with a target of 315,000. This season the target is 320,000kg and the herd may go as high as 780 cows.

Per cow production is very good at 425kg/head. Farm costs are very low at $1.34/kg MS, which Elaine attributes to no bought-in feed, no nitrogen, low animal health costs ($37/head) and a policy of three strikes and youre out troublesome cows are culled.

The Cooks certainly dont regret moving to Southland, although it was a big move at the time. Their dairying business has expanded quickly as a result of that move and the opportunities Southland has provided.

They purchased a 110ha effective dairy farm at Winton, near Otahuti, last year and employ Casey McEwan and Brad Sloan there. Wayne says a financial goal will be to make the home farm self-sufficient.

The fantastic thing about the sharemilking industry is that if gives you a clear career pathway and a means to achieve your goals, whether farm ownership or equity growth, Wayne said.

The Cooks believe their direction, their commitment and ability to achieve identified goals contributed to their success in the national sharemilkers awards. We have long-term goals and have identified how to reach them. Short-term goals have also been set and achieved, Elaine Cook says.

The couples farming goals are to achieve 320,000kg MS at a cost of $1.43/kg MS.