Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Say goodbye to the bank

While many dairy farmers are focused on expanding their businesses, Bay of Plenty couple Wendy and Lindsay Marshall have taken a different approach. As they told Sheryl Brown, becoming debt-free has given them a level of financial freedom many other farmers would envy. Lindsay and Wendy Marshall know from experience that being debt-free can be a substantial adjustment for dairy farmers to get used to. The Te Puke dairy farmers are now freehold and the worry and pressure has certainly dropped away. “Dairy farmers aren’t used to watching money grow,” Wendy said. “It’s a mental change when you get to that stage of your life. It’s a very different way of living because you don’t have the financial worry.”

She said it’s a great feeling being able to tell your bank manager you won’t be doing any budgets for them any more.

“I did budgets regularly for them for years and we worked so hard to get to a system so we didn’t have to worry about money,” she said. “I’m not doing them any more.”

They had copped some criticism for not expanding and buying another farm in the past, Lindsay said. They had opportunities to invest in other farms, but containing their business has allowed them to be freehold and given them the freedom to make their own decisions.

“We had options to buy other farms, but now it’s given us life choices,” Wendy said. “We can do whatever we want, without the pressures.”

Enjoying life

Placid Jerseys are easy to farm.

“It’s only used strategically in the spring when there is that grass growth pinch,” said Lindsay. “We only buy between 30 and 70-80 tonnes depending on the season.”

The extra feed bought in during spring is so the cows are in good nick for an aggressive pre-mating programme which Lindsay and Wendy use. It involves tail-painting 40 days out and then checking cows 10 days out. They put CIDRs in anything that isn’t cycling and aim to mate 250 cows (150 cows and 100 heifers) in the first two to three days of AB.  

“We’ve used the programme for about 15 years now and most of the district is starting to use it,” Wendy said. “It’s becoming an accepted type of practice. It’s expensive, but it works really well. It certainly makes calving easy. With the programme we are averaging 70% of the treated cows in-calf to AB over the six-week mating.”

The herd is mated for nine weeks, running AB for six weeks and another three weeks with the bull. The empty rate sits between 7-12%. The calving date is usually July 20 and the cows will milk through into May depending on the season and do an average of 300 days in lactation.  

Once Lindsay and Wendy built their herd numbers up, there wasn’t a need for surplus replacements, so as part of the mating programme they switched to using Angus semen over potential cull cows with low BW or faulty udders. They now use Angus over 17% of the herd and a third of the incoming heifers.

When they bought the Jersey herd it had cows in-calf to Belgian Blue, and the crossbred herd had cows in-calf to Hereford. They have horrible memories of difficult calvings from both breedings so were looking for an alternative breed to put over the Jerseys. They have found the Angus to be easy calving, although they make the point that their herd doesn’t have any ‘small’ Jerseys in it.

Aside from easy calving, Angus calves are also easy to identify in the paddock.

“We only use polled Angus because we have the odd crossbred, so even if there is mis-mothering you can identify the calves easily.”

The calves all go on the bobby truck, apart from the odd few that are kept as beefies or bulls sold to farmers to put over rising two-year-olds. The calves are a good liveweight and good drinkers and are always ready to go on the bobby truck at four days old, Wendy said.

Lindsay swears the Angus/Jersey meat they’ve had has also been amongst the nicest homekill too. But he said people aren’t ready to buy the Jersey/Angus cross as beef because they have the “yellow fat phobia”.

Looking ahead, the pair have a decision to make about the future of the farm, how it’s run and who will run it, but for now they are enjoying the change of pace and the time and freedom that gives them.

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