Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Focus on farming differently

Becoming a focus farm has been a huge learning curve for Taranaki couple Chris and Kathy Prankerd. They told Barbara Gillham that, while they did it for their children, the benefits for themselves and their farm have been significant. Taranaki dairy farmers Chris and Kathy Prankerd have learned a lot since their property became the region’s focus farm, and they’re still learning. Established in June 2011, the focus farm is a three-year DairyNZ project aimed at better use of pasture and supplements, improving herd mating performance and higher farm operating profit. Now in their second season, Kathy said if it hadn’t been for a push from their son they wouldn’t have put their names forward for consideration.

“It was advertised that DairyNZ Taranaki were looking for a focus farm and in all honesty we went into it for our son who was into his second year sharemilking 50:50,” she said. “He had seen it advertised and thought it was a good idea for us all, and it has been.”

Out of seven applicants four were shortlisted.

“We had an interview and they came out and looked at the farm and we were selected from that.

“If it hadn’t been for that push we wouldn’t have done it. You tell your kids to put themselves out there and take risks,” Kathy said. “We’ve told them that all their lives so we could hardly say no. As a parent you have to lead by example.”

Chris said the role had made him farm differently and given him skills and information to continue farming successfully.

“We’ve learnt a lot of different skills,” he said.

“Before this I was just a gut farmer which many times worked but when it didn’t work, it really didn’t work.

“It’s been a whole learning exercise for us. At our age you think “I must know it all by now”, but you don’t. I’m still learning.”

The Prankerd’s farm is in the shadow of Mt Taranaki.

New approaches

The couple have five children, including two sons who have taken up farming. Kathy describes their sons’ method of farming as scientific.

“So for us it’s like a merging of the two. Everything on farm focus is measurable and about action to be taken, that’s what we’ve learnt. For me it’s been animal weights, I’ve learnt how to weigh animals and have an action plan. I discovered I’d been rearing calves up to 120kg and they were too small. We’ve grown these big animals that aren’t big enough. So now we weigh our animals and pull out some and give them a bit of coddling.

“I can’t emphasise enough the importance of weighing your stock. You can hire scales from your vet.”

Last season heavy rain created a lot of extra work for the couple.

“We had 3m of rain and you couldn’t do anything,” said Chris. “It started pugging in April and stopped in the following March, so the farm is still suffering from it to a degree even now.

“It was hilarious on the first open farm day we had. We had about 120 people here and we all walked out into this paddock and it was so wet they were shocked. But I think it cheered some of them up as they realised in comparison their own farms were okay.”

The couple’s 90ha (effective) farm at Tariki is classed as high altitude, something Chris believes worked in their favour when it came to selection as a focus farm.

“We are high altitude with high rainfall which I think was part of the drawcard for this farm. We aren’t right up on the bushline but the farm is 900m and rises to about 1100m.”

Currently milking 230 crossbred cows, Chris and Kathy are pleased with their milk production which is 18.5%, or 8200kg milksolids (MS) ahead of last season. They’re still hoping for a record 87,000kg MS, 2000kg above target.

“We were originally milking 250 cows but after redoing our sums we decided this place should run at 230. We have also been in the process of changing from a straight Friesian herd to a crossbred herd. We haven’t really discussed it but we may increase our stock numbers again by a few this year as the Friesian content is disappearing.”

Improved fertility

Two years before becoming the focus farm for the area the Prankerds had a bad problem with fertility and in their worst year had 26% empties.

“I think we realised we had reared our calves well enough but taking them from calves to heifers we didn’t grade them well enough. The second thing was we weren’t getting our cows in good enough condition by the spring. Instead of being body condition score (BCS) 5 they were about 4.2-4.3. This year we’ve got them up to 4.6 so there’s still a lot of room for improvement.

“Everything is going to Jerseys now and we’re looking at a crossbred herd to see if we can improve figures with their hybrid vigour as well as being smaller animals.”
At culling this year the Friesian content of the herd will probably be down to about 30%.

Chris and Kathy are going to try growing chicory this year, something they haven’t done before. During the winter they usually grow swedes and kale but have been disappointed with the crops they’ve produced.

“We had the cows on the crop for 29 days and we hoped to get 40 days out of it but it only produced about 8.5 tonnes/ha as opposed to the 11-12t we had hoped for.”
They’re undecided whether to try again.

“I don’t think we have good enough country to grow a good crop.”

Kathy said while the focus farm’s purpose is for other farmers to learn, one thing she’s probably learnt more than Chris is to include farm professionals and use your accountant and bank manager.

“Those guys actually want to help you run your business.”

Farm stats

Location: Tariki, Taranaki
Owners: Chris and Kathy Prankerd
Area: 90ha effective
Herd: 230 crossbred cows
Production: Target, 87,000kg milksolids (MS).

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