Friday, July 1, 2022

Champions love what they do

A wealth of experience in dairying in New Zealand and Australia helped Niall and Delwyn McKenzie win the Farm Manager of the Year title in Northland. Niall, 34, has 18 years of experience since leaving school and Delwyn grew up on a family dairy farm at Kaiwaka before training as a primary school teacher. For the past 12 years she has been farming with Niall. They have experience with a range of different production systems, from large herds to small herds, high-input to low-cost systems, irrigation and dryland, and once-a-day (OAD) milking to three times a day.

Niall farmed in Northland for 11 years and then with Delwyn worked in Australia and Southland with large herds of up to 1500 cows, before returning recently to lower Northland.

They manage a 320-cow herd with split calving for Andrew and Angela Fleming on Te Arai Point Road, near Wellsford, and are coming to the end of their second season there.

They entered the awards for a third time because they welcome the opportunity to get evaluation of their farm management and business skills.

“We also enjoy the comradeship it brings meeting like-minded people, along with the competitiveness of the contest,” Niall said. “One of our strengths is our low environmental impact by having sustainable systems. We also enjoy farming in a partnership, farming profitably, and loving what we do.”

The couple’s goal is to grow within the business and to buy a small, coastal winter milk farm. They live by four promises: to challenge, evolve and create solutions; to get the most out of the property with the resources given; to make the most out of their strengths and weaknesses to gain the most out of themselves; and to have a bloody good time doing it.

“We run and milk cows for a living because we love what we do,” Niall said.

He loves the early mornings and working into dusk and said they both loved developing workable systems, where they recorded and reflected on practices while exercising management roles simply and efficiently, demonstrating financial profitability. The goal is to run a profitable, sustainable dairy operation with a low-cost, grass-only method with minimal supplements within a genuine feed deficit.

The Fleming farm has a 155ha effective milking platform with 12ha kikuyu runoff and this season was targeting 100,000kg milksolids (MS) until the drought hit. It’s a system two farm with low inputs, when only 6% of total feed is imported. 

Split calving 

Last season farm working expenses (FWE) were $3.20/kg MS and effective farm surplus was $2763/ha. This season is the first split calving, with 90 cows that calved in the autumn.

About one-third of the farm has been sown in new pasture within the past five years and Andrew aims to re-grass about 11ha annually. Milk production last year was 102,000kg MS, at 333kg/cow and 667kg/ha. A goal of the Flemings is to achieve 800kg/ha on this farm.

The previous season, before the McKenzies arrived, produced about 100kg/ha less, at 88,000kg. The autumn herd was due to calve on March 30 and the spring calving begins on July 14, with a mean calving date of July 27. There is no intervention in calving, no CIDRs and no inductions.

AI during the autumn goes for three weeks, with bulls out for five weeks, and in the spring AI is for six weeks, followed by bulls for five weeks. This year Niall and Andrew aim to have 70% of cows calve in the first three weeks. The herd is off-farm for grazing for four weeks of the year effectively.

Milking is carried out in a 29-aside herringbone, with the McKenzies able to call on Fleming family members as relief staff.

Niall describes himself as “the energy force, the mover and shaker” who loves a good discussion (“argument”). Delwyn looks after quality assurance over aspects of the farm and “keeps Niall on task”.

The couple also won the AgITO Human Resource Management Award, RD1 Farm Management Award and Westpac Financial Planning and Management Award.

Poroti contract milkers Mike and Donna Carroll were second in the Farm Manager of the Year contest and Wellsford farm manager Steven Ketter was third.

The Fonterra Best Practice Award went to Glenn Hobbs, of Whangarei, and the Northland Regional Council Sustainable Land Management Award was won by Sam Hartles, of Paparoa. 

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