Sunday, July 3, 2022

Wisconsin wisdom

Spending time on US dairy farms has been an eye-opener for Southland farmer Glenn Taylor. The winner of last year’s Alltech competition spent eight days touring farms off all sizes in Wisconsin, and attending the annual Alltech Global 500 event. He told Karen Trebilcock of fenceless farms, armed guards and lots of concrete. Glenn Taylor was glad to be home in mid-December, where there were no guns to be seen, there were a lot less people and where cows ate grass outside. The Winton farmer had spent eight days in the United States as a guest of Alltech. He visited dairy farms in Wisconsin ranging in size from 250 cows to 8500 and had gone to the three-day Alltech Global 500 in Lexington, Kentucky.

“They rang me up at the end of October to say I’d won the trip and see if I wanted to go. I had two days to decide,” he said. “It was right in the middle of mating but it was the opportunity of a lifetime so I said yes.”

The local CRV Ambreed technician took over the AI work on the farm and Taylor, who had only been to Fiji for his honeymoon and the Gold Coast for a family holiday, packed his bags. His eldest son Hayden’s 16th birthday party, which had already been organised, kept his wife Cherie at home. Guiding him through foreign airports was his former Alltech sales rep Rob McFarlane, now Alltech New Zealand general manager.

With three van loads of farmers from Australia, Denmark, Lithuania, Finland and England, they visited eight farms in Wisconsin.

“The first thing that struck me was there were no fences anywhere.”

A 5000-cow dairy farm they visited was on 32ha, only four of them not in concrete or effluent ponds, the 8500-cow dairy farm was on 65ha with 45 of those in concrete. The 8500-cow dairy farm had two 80-bail rotaries which went 22 hours a day, with two hours off for cleaning. The inflations were changed every 12 days. There were 79 staff, mostly Mexicans, and cows were checked constantly.

“Every half hour there was someone walking through looking at everything.”

He was impressed with how well the farms were run, especially the bigger farms.

“They were immaculate and animal welfare was top notch, far better than it is here. New Zealand could really take a step up.”

He said cows slept on sand beds which were changed regularly with the sand blown into the bail.  Calves were separated at birth, so cows didn’t bond with their calves.
“It meant they settled into milking easier.”

Calves were fed pasteurised milk which kept the mortality rate low and weaned at six to eight weeks at 90kg.

Feed developments

The herd ready for the afternoon’s milking.

Last year saw the couple make a change in their farming system. They dropped 50 cows, down to 200, and the grass on the 65ha runoff across the road was sold standing.After doing budgets with the bank it showed their net profit doubled with the change. So far they are on target. It also freed up their time to spend at their crib in Riverton with their two boys.

“I wanted the farm so only one person had to milk and I wanted to see what production/cow  I could do.”

Their one staff member, Ken Doyle, keeps things running when they’re not there. Milking in the morning, all washed up, now takes one person two hours in the 34-aside herringbone and less in the afternoon, with automatic cup removers (ACR), auto drafting and teat spraying helping things along. The drafting race and crush are also undercover in the dairy.

“This is Southland. We basically put a herringbone in a rotary dairy so we can do everything we need to with the cows undercover.”

Right next door is the free-stall wintering barn, built just after the dairy. Part of the DairyNZ Southern Wintering Systems research project, the farm milks about 55 cows through the winter (“two rows max”), including any late calvers, which pays for it.

“The economics of a wintering barn don’t stack up unless you are milking out of it.”

Although some of their cows like the warmth of the wintering barn there are others who refuse to go in.

“We were surprised with the rejection rate,” Glenn said. “We’ve heard since cows used to a herringbone have more trouble adapting to free stall barns. On rotaries, cows are used to having their own bail and stepping into and out of it, like a bail in a wintering barn. Cows milked in herringbones don’t do that. Their behaviour is completely different.”

On the farm, whole crop silage is made and grain grown to be fed on the concrete pad by the dairy. To fill the holes, 8 tonnes of palm kernel and 10t of molasses were bought in this season.  A mixer wagon is used for the silage with Alltech Bioplex High Five minerals added. Optigen, Alltech's unique slow release nitrogen (NPN), is used through the winter.

The Taylors like small-scale farming.  

“You get to do a bit of everything and I enjoy milking cows,” Glenn said. “We wanted to own our own bit of dirt, not to create a legacy, so that’s what we’re doing until things change. Farm succession is not foremost in our minds because we don’t want the boys to feel the burden of expectation to have to carry it on. We want them to be their own person and choose their own path in life.”

Of their two children, Hayden,16, enjoys doing much of the farm’s tractor work but wants to take up an engineering apprenticeship when he leaves school.  Mitchell, 14, is a Southland age group rugby and touch representative and boards at Southland Boys High School to make training three nights a week in Invercargill.

“Mitchell has a natural ability with stock but he’s too busy thinking about rugby at the moment to see whether he wants to go farming.”

Farm stats

Riverlea Dairies 2007
Owners: Glenn and Cherie Taylor
Location: Drummond-Heddon Bush Road near Winton, Southland
Area: Dairy farm 120ha (34ha leased) flat land, 65ha across the road. All grass sold standing
Dairy: 34-aside herringbone
Wintering: 100 cow free-stall wintering barn
Herd: 200 Friesian cows, ¾ pedigree registered, breeding worth (BW) 91, production worth (PW) 107
Production: 2011/12 season (250 cows) 123,000kg milksolids (MS), 2012/13 season (200 cows) 103,000kg MS target.

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