Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Efficient and well recorded

A Jersey fan from way back, Taranaki farmer Peter Ayles talked to Barbara Gilham about why he likes the breed so much, and the joys of dairy farming.

Taranaki dairy farmer Peter Ayles has been milking Jersey cows on his Inglewood farm for the past 12 years and describes them as a docile, easy to handle breed that he believes are generally more efficient than others.

“They’re a smaller breed and I’m not a very big person so if anything goes wrong I can move them more easily,” he says.

“With them being so placid and quiet it makes them very easy to handle. A big Friesian would be about 650-700kg whereas these are about 400kg and their maintenance requirements are so much less.”

With 255 cows, Peter runs his 88ha with the help of his assistant herd manager Hayden Keeling.

“Hayden’s title may be assistant herd manager but he’s doing the pasture recording and all the AB stuff, so he’s just about the herd manager.”

Earlier this year Peter won gold at the inaugural Jersey New Zealand Herd Recognition awards in which there were five areas where members had to qualify. They had to use Jersey Genes (including purchasing Jersey Genes semen for use in their own herd), they needed to classify their entire two-year-old contemporary group of heifers for traits other than production (TOP) and register all animals over Jersey 12 content (excluding any lease animals). They also had to complete a minimum of four herd tests within a season and their herd had to have a negative enzootic bovine leucosis (EBL) status. If a member qualified in all five of the listed points, the level of recorded ancestry within their herd dictated which status and level they would be awarded.

To win gold Peter’s herd had to have a recorded ancestry of 98%, something he had no difficulty in achieving.

“My herd have had a recorded ancestry for more than 10 years. It was quite interesting, we did a mating programme with Ambreed this year and when the Ambreed guy came he said he didn’t see many herds like this.”

“We have 100% recorded animals now and in previous generations we had 99.5% and 90% so I was very lucky to start off with a well recorded herd.”

Peter, who was born and raised on his parents’ farm not far from where he lives now, has been farming all his life. He never worked on his parent’s farm, but when he left school he worked on a couple of farms including a sheep and beef farm at Ohakune.

“I love all farming,” he says. “It’s interesting and good fun. I couldn’t see a way to get into buying a sheep farm as there weren’t many ways of getting into it. The opportunities for sharemilking were so much better. I’ve seen a few share-sheep farming things happening now but at the time it was different.”

Keep it clean

When he bought his own farm he bought some Jersey calves from a farmer he had worked for and has stayed with them ever since. His 10-year-old dairy is a 32-bail rotary and keeping it in pristine condition is important to him.

“It’s the food industry,” he says. “It isn’t hard to keep clean once you’ve made a habit of it. When I had the dairy built I had it made bigger so you could stand back and hose easily underneath everything. If the building was smaller you wouldn’t always see and you wouldn’t do it. All the surfaces have also got a finish on them which also makes it easier to keep clean. Another thing I did was have polystyrene panels put in the roof so you don’t get the baking hot sun and it keeps the place cooler.

“We also have solar panels on the roof which saves me about $1000/year in power.”

Peter has no problems with mastitis.

“The average somatic cell count (SCC) for the district is over 150,000 while our count is under 50,000 so we are right down in the bottom group. For our whole season, right to the very end when they’ve got very little milk, the SCC levels are still very low.

“We still get mastitis but we do things properly. We check the cows at calving time and we pick up anything then and treat it immediately so it’s not niggling all the way through the season.
“Hayden’s pretty good at finding mastitis which is good. We use teat seals on the cows so the bugs can’t get in during the winter, and we also use a bit of dry cow antibiotic.

“It’s pretty important because when it gets to the time of year you want to put the cows on once-a-day (OAD) milking with our cell count so low we are well within the company’s range so we are not being penalised.

“It allows you to manage the farm how you want to not how they tell you to and if you’ve got a lower cell count you actually get more milk too.”

Milk production last season was 84,000kg milksolids (MS) and this season the target is 90,000kg MS, equal to the best production ever done on the property. Peter is confident this can be reached, with production so far 3% ahead of last year.

He feeds palm kernel in autumn and to fill grass growth gaps, with 70 tonnes fed last year. He measures growth every 10 days year round so has a good fix on what extra supplements will be required to boost the 400 wrapped bales of silage he makes every year. Sometimes, if grass growth allows, he’ll make 20-40 big round hay bales. Around 50 cows are grazed off the farm for seven weeks each winter to avoid pasture damage.

Treated phosphate rock with 20% potassium salts goes on at a rate of 700kg/ha with nitrogen (N) applied at rates of 100-150kg/ha.

Over the years Peter has carried out considerable planting along the two rivers, where many trout can be spotted, that run through his farm.

“Some was already done when I came here but every year I’ve planted more,” he says. “There must be thousands of plants.”

Flood-free

The rivers never flood his property due to their high cliffs.

“If we flooded here then New Zealand would be under water.”

The region does get very high rainfall. So far this year they’ve had 2.2m and there’s still another month to go, so it may be up to 2.5m by the end of the year.

“Between here and the mountain it goes up to 3m or 3.5m,” he says. “It can get very boggy in the winter and of course it creates issues with effluent ponds.

“If you’re going to store effluent, which they want us to do these days, and there’s 2.5m of rainfall on it that’s a million litres of dirty water you’ve got to pump out that you never used to have before.

“That’s why I don’t agree when they say one size fits all – it doesn’t. For the guys closer to the mountain than us it’s an even bigger problem Some of them would have to have a pond the size of their farm to accommodate it.

“It looks like the regional council is going to have what they call a dual system where you’re allowed to discharge from your second or third pond to a stream over the wet months and over the summer you have to pump from your first pond.”

At the moment Peter hasn’t got a storage pond but plans to have one put in. In the meantime he uses underground effluent lines and a travelling irrigator.

He’s keen to always improve the farm further and says the plan was to always leave the place better than when he arrived and look after it for the next generation, who he believes will have other problems to deal with.”

Peter doesn’t plan to expand herd numbers or farm size.

“I’m not here for the most cows in the country or the biggest debt in the country; I’d just rather enjoy what we’re doing.

“We don’t carry much debt I think our debt servicing is about 30-35c/kg MS whereas the average for the industry is about 120c.”

Today Peter describes himself as just managing the farm for a family trust. If he ever left the property he would move closer to the coast.

“I wouldn’t leave Taranaki; why wouldn’t I want to live here?

“I don’t regard my farming as a job. It’s been a long time since I had a job. No, it’s just a kind of hobby.”

Peter with assistant herd manager Hayden Keeling in the dairy.

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