Friday, December 8, 2023

Farming to a company plan

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A corporate formula is the bedrock for a Canterbury farm’s industry award. Tim Fulton reports.
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Irrigated dairy conversions usually go like the clappers in Canterbury but at Delaborin it was a virtual age before most of the farm was connected to pipes and centre pivots.

Delaborin, near Hororata, about 50km west of Christchurch, is part of Theland Farm Group. The 29 farms belong to Chinese-owned NZ Milk.

Just a few years after converting fully to dairy the owner’s patience has been rewarded and earlier this year the farm was named the Canterbury winner at the 2018 Dairy Business of the Year awards.

Managed by contract milker Paul Clement, the 1200-cow Delaborin unit also recently won a Ballance Agri-Nutrients Farm Environment Award for integrated management.

Judges said it was tightly contested but first-time entrant Delaborin stood out.

“In the end it came down to cost control that decided the difference. They have a very good pasture harvest at 15.5 tonnes DM/ha from a medium input system,” the judges said.

The awards used farm data from the 2016-17 season.

“Winning was unexpected as it is not really something we set out to achieve,” Clement says.

“But it is nice to be recognised and even though the team involved that year is no longer together it is still good recognition for them.”

Clement says though the award was for two season ago it is great to be able to take the time and reflect on the good.

“As farmers we don’t often take the time to think about what has happened on the farm and the good aspects of the season. We become focused on what’s next and what needs to be done.”

He says the Dairy Business of the Year Awards are a great concept and well structured.

“They are a good fit for our business as they judge on what we are doing on a daily basis. Our goal is to be profitable and the business analysis we got from entering has been hugely valuable and informative in our business planning.”

Planning is done annually using in-house feed and cash budgets linked to confirm system concepts and highlight opportunities to improve profit.

Paul has a team of four and they hold regular meetings. From left, farm assistant Pedro Mayea, Paul Clement and 2IC Ryan Dickey talk about health and safety.

Cows are allocated enough winter grazing, kale and straw to increase of half a body condition score. The quality of summer pasture is managed by making grass silage on the platform to control the average pasture cover.

Clement says a key focus and opportunity is body condition management and reproductive performance because so much rests on getting cows in-calf including impacting on the days in milk, cost or income from replacements, ability for voluntary culls and subsequent quality of the herd.

Limiting livestock losses and involuntary culls, good milk quality management and accurate recording are also important.

“We aim for a condition score 5 at calving for mixed age cows, 5.5 for first and second calvers,” Clement says.

“At the end of May we aim to have August calving cows at 0.5 BCS or less away from these targets.”

Calving begins on August 8 and they rear 350-400 replacements. 

“It can get pretty hectic during calving and on a busy day we can have more than 50 cows calve so it is good to have that extra pair of hands,” Clement says.

Calves are gathered up from the paddock twice a day and the team ensures they get a good feed of colostrum within six to 12 hours of birth.

The target weaning weight is 90kg in 90 days and, once weaned, all replacement calves are sold to the wider business for the group. Calves are off the farm by December.

Theland runs two heifer-only businesses so once they have been milked for a season they are sent to the other farms.

“We don’t necessarily get back the calves that were born on this farm but the system works well,” Clement says.

The herd on Delaborin this season is now A2/A2. It was previously a crossbred herd.

Mating begins on October 30 and they do AI for five weeks then run a crossbred bull for a further six weeks.

In previous years, they have mated low breeding worth cows to Wagyu or Hereford.

Their culling regime includes empty cows, multiple mastitis cases in more than one quarter, chronically lame cows and poor udder confirmation.

Looking ahead, Millar says the focus is on sustainable profit to deliver choice and adaptability.

“We are also looking to reduce our reliance on brought-in feed and we intend to adopt a strategy and technologies to mitigate water quality and climate change.”

For Clement life continues to be busy at home with a young family and on the farm. Abby is on maternity leave from her job as a general practitioner in Darfield.

Outside of farming, he is a regular for the Darfield division two rugby side playing lock and for the past 18 months has been a volunteer firefighter for the Hororata brigade. 

“Working for the brigade is a good way to focus on something different and a way to become involved in the community,” he says.

“Often when I took a day off I would spend 80% of the time thinking about what is happening on-farm.”

The couple have a number of life goals they want to achieve. Career-wise, they want to ensure they are in a position to take any opportunities that might arise.

“Even though Abby is a townie and loves the beach I think I have converted her to the rural lifestyle,” he says.

“She would probably love a farm next to the beach and farm ownership is quite possibly on the cards but what type of farm is still up for discussion.”

Theland Purata Farm Group – Delaborin, Dairy Business of the Year KPIs

Location: Hororata, Canterbury

Cows: 1195

effective area: 352.8ha

Milk prod: 460kg MS/cow, 1560kg MS/ha

Return on capital: 5.3%

Operating profit margin: 32.4%

Operating profit per ha: $3118

Cost of production per kg MS: $ 4.21

Operating expenses per kgMS: $4.18

Pasture harvest tDM/ha: 15.5

Pasture % of feed: 81.8%

Core per cow costs: $662

Labour efficiency cows /FTE: 230

Environ Score out of 15: 9

HR Score out of 15: 10.6

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