NZ Dairy Spring 2021

50 | nz dairy DAIRY PEOPLE » Just Jersey Nigel Riddell and contract milker Kahu Morgan. Dianna Malcolm N igel and Julz Riddell – who navigated a 360-degree career turn to achieve farm ownership –have made another decision to drive debt reduction. Nigel has worn many hats throughout his career, starting out as a cadet with Elders and culminat- ing with his role as the former General Manager of Link Livestock Ltd (LLL) – Jersey NZ’s cattle marketing business. Along the way, he has worked in lead sales and marketing roles with , Agri-feeds, and Bell-Booth. He is also known for his cattle photography business, CowShotz. At the heart of his journey has been a deep and abiding love for Jersey cows. They have been the constant itch he’s had to scratch, Nigel exited the corporate world, aged 37, to go dairy farming. He and Julz share milked on a 220-cow job for two years. They then doubled up the herd size for another two years, before entering an equity partnership with Nigel’s parents, Ross and Esme, at Maihiihi, in the north King Country town of the Waikato. “Cows were always my passion, and I just wanted to get closer to them because breeding was what I really loved,” Nigel said. Five years later they bought that 90-hectare [87 effective] family property outright. This season Thornlea Jerseys – trading as Just Jersey Ltd – calved down 260 cows. Full circle debt reduction However, once again, the playing field has changed within this operation. Fifteen months ago Nigel stepped down from the day-to-day chores and employed a contract milker. New to the operation this season are contract milk- ers Kahu Morgan and Rhiarna Millard, from Levin. He plans to use his industry experience by working off-farm as an independent livestock agent/auction- eer for LLL. At the same time he is givingthis young couple a step-up in the industry. His job description now includes a full time role selling and marketing livestock with LLL and photography to support the registered cattle sales LLL are involved in. He says the game-plan is going “exceptionally well”,helped by the mild weather in the lead-up to the spring and the addition of promising manage- ment. He said grass growth through the winter only slowed to 10kg Dry Matter (DM) growth per day at its worst and got as high as 25kg DM/day. Spring Body Condition Scores Their challenge this spring has been working through some early cow-condition challenges. They have a higher stocking rate of 3.2, which currently includes up to 50 bulls, which they use, or sell into AI companies and other dairy operations. They got caught milking a little longer (to May 19) because of Nigel’s work commitments last season, and it’s meant they have had to feed more in-shed, and on the feed pad this spring. They usually expect an ideal body condition score of 5 heading into calving, but Nigel estimates that in reality they had averaged closer to 4.7. To counter that they have bumped up spring in-shed feeding from 1.5kg to 2.8kg per cow per day. Switching roles to achieve their goals They also opened up their silage pit and moved up their feed pad offeringf rom 3.5kg DM/day to 5kg of DM a day within their 2.5-3 feeding system. The feed pad is used from mid-August to October 1, and again in the summer when it gets dry. “Our farm isn’t flat and our cowshed is on a hill so the cows are carrying milk uphill,” Nigel said. “With the North Island being early-calving the goal is always to eliminate that feed gap at this time of year. When we’re three quarters of the way through calving, and we’ve finished collecting AB calves – but we haven’t hit our balance date for growth – we are super mindful of not wanting to hold the cows back. This is a crucial time at the start of lactation for us. “We are focussed right now at getting enough feed into the cows and mating is always at the back of your mind within that. We did have less metabolic issues at calving this season, so that’s been great.” Last season’s production was 88,000kg MS from 235 cows (374kg MS average). Their goal this season is to achieve 400kg MS a cow. They grow everything on-farm, with the exception of their maize (100T). Automatic calf rearer They will rear less bull calves and embryo trans- fer (ET) calves this year. The Jersey heifer calves are weaned off milk at 75kg and sent off-farm (50 minutes away) weighing 95kg. The calves are being reared for the first time on a Lely automated calf feeder. “It’s amazing technology and we’re really impressed with it,” Nigel said.“Everyone that comes here can’t get over how quiet and calm our calves are. They’ve adjusted onto the feed stations very smoothly. “It’s been interesting to see that they drink twice as much at night as they do during the day time and that some calves go back to the sta- tion up to 13 times a day.” The calves get three feeds in a 24-hour period, moving from colostrum through to an adjustment on to four litres of milk powder (600g milk powder per calf a day). “They do seem happier and healthier and the smaller calves are doing better because we know exactly what they are getting. It’s not a race to see who can drink the most the fastest.” Breeding gear-change Breeding remains a key part of their business. Last year Thornlea was one of only two New Zealand farms to import semen from the North American sire, CDF Irwin Steve. The bull is the highest converting international Jersey sire in the New Zealand model. They now have calves on the ground, and Nigel has been impressed. Sires to make an impact at this farm include Leithlea Gunofa Sun, Kelland Speedway, and Braedene PAS Triple Star. “We’re very pleased to see our young sire Thorn- lea Misty Topshot graduate from the Jersey Future team into the LIC Forward Pack for 2021. He has lived up to his name with top fertility. We have more young bulls being tissue sampled this season for AB companies.” However, their ET work is now more measured. “We would usually do all our ET flushing in the autumn and we’ve done none this season. This is also the last year we plan to run a recipient beef mob. The last two seasons we ran 30-head. “This year we had 10. And, the plan is to elimi- nate that and do six weeks of AI and tail the herd with beef bulls so Kahu and Rhianna don’t have to rear calves latter on. It’s all about simplifying the operation. “We’ll work more with what we’ve got instead of making more of them. “We still select each bull for each cow, and we still make those same breeding decisions, but we won’t be dealing with extras.” 40 Turongo St, Otorohanga • 07 873 8973 • Te Awamutu Ph: 07 871 3091 ( Small & Large Animals) Otorohanga Ph: 07 873 7191 (Large Animals Only) e: