NZ Dairy Summer 2021

12 | nzdairy DAIRY PEOPLE » Paul & Rosie Franklin Dairying couple making their own luck Dianna Malcolm Paul Franklin – a sheep and beef farmer for two decades – says he’s “had a bit of luck” amassing four farms and 5000 dairy cows in Central Hawke’s Bay. But everyone knows that much luck is not only hard to come by – it’s impossible. This is,in fact, a shining example of a dairy farmer who is hard-wired to leave no stone unturned while making the most of his opportunities. Together with his wife, Rosie, the couple own and operate Springhill Dairies, from their home base at Ongaonga. When Paul’s bank manager first teased him about converting to dairying, he replied, ‘If you’ll bank it, I’ll do it’. Paul wasn’t joking, and it would be the conversation which lit the fire underneath the foundation of this empire. Paul and Rosie started with a solid conversion milking 400 cows on their home farm. Today that operation has grown to 520 hectares milking 1500 cows, but it is now part of a much bigger picture. Where luck did perhaps play a part was when their adjoining neighbour’s farm (which had been converted to the tune of $17 million by its former owners) hit rough waters after a run of challenging seasons and subsequent pressure from the banks. It was forced back onto the market and Paul and Rosie’s buy price reflected that. A recent 220ha lease property just down the road from the home farm has expanded this multipronged operation to a total ownership of 2237ha (1811ha dairy farms, 426ha run off properties) and 360ha (leased run-off). Springhill Dairies property break-down (with three of the four farms milking year-round) and a total annual production of 1.803million kg of MS include: • 1500 cows on 522ha at Ongaonga milked through a 50-bail rotary (this is the original dairy that hasn’t stopped for 20 years, 365 days of the year). Milking Friesians with a farm manager. It also has a shared run-off of 276ha, and an uncovered feed pad that can hold 1000 cows. It is partially irrigated, and can be impacted by drought. • 1400 cows on 509ha on the adjoining farm milked through a 60-bail rotary. Milking Friesians with a farm manager who is responsible for the day-day-day running on paddock rotations and staff. It also has a shared 276ha runoff (see above) and a small feed pad. It is also partially irrigated and impacted by drought. • 1600 cows on 550ha at Tikokino milked through a 70-bail rotary. It’s 100% irrigated and very similar to a Canterbury farm, with 11 centre pivots and an immense water source. Milking Friesians with a farm manager. It has an additional 150ha run-off (of which half is irrigated with centre pivots), and they are building a feed pad. • 500 cows on 230ha at Eketahuna milking OAD through a 40 a-side herringbone. The Kiwicross herd is being milked by a contract milker. Its production had peaked at 140,000kg Milk Solids (MS) under the former owners. Last season Springhill Dairies produced 199,662 kg MS. It is 1.5hrs from the home farm and it gets 2.2m of rain annually. Paul says if someone had told him at the start of his dairy journey that he’d be milking 5000 cows in 2021, his answer would have been simple. “I doubt it. “I always knew I could grow grass, and I guess in the end we’ve just converted that grass to a different end product,” he said. “Because now we convert it to milk.” He said the initial conversion regarding switching to dairy farming was prompted by the lack of progress in sheep and beef prices together with his workload. “Sheep and beef is cyclic and realistically they’re still cycling down,” he said. “When I gave up sheep and beef farming we were getting $130 for a lamb and that was 20 years ago. “Financially, in the long run I’d probably still be doing alright with sheep and beef, but the sheep and beef business had gone through some pretty tough times in the 1980s. We were at a scale where our farm wasn’t a two-man operation but it was bigger than one, and I was trying to run it myself. “I thought there’s got to be a better way. I’d considered the possibility of heifer grazing, and beef. But beef is mainly bulls and they tend to give you an untidy farm. Dairy had been in the back of my mind. It was a fresh challenge.” Dairying in the DNA Ultimately, he says there’s no denying your make-up. “I suppose it’s just in my DNA,” he said. “It would be easy to just sell up and do nothing to be quite honest. But, that’s not the way I am. I enjoy the challenge of growing grass.” He says Hawkes Bay is a “boom or bust” area for dairy because of its water challenges. But it comes into its own with supplementary feed options. “We’re not fully irrigated here. We can irrigate out of the river, and when we get cut from that, we have a storage dam that holds 500,000 cubic metres. But it’s still not quite enough. That’s when we use the feed pads. “We’ve got a lot of options in Hawkes Bay when that happens, with potatoes, beetroot, apple, corn waste, sweet corn and all sorts of things. It’s all readily available. “We can balance other feeds, for example if you mix apple (sugar) with maize (carbohydrates) you get a pretty good brew. And, beetroot has a similar feed value to fodder beet. We feed all the supplement feeds through mixer wagons.” Grass is king Paul chooses to buy in the supplements. Everything he grows on-farm is grass-based and part of that rationale comes down to animal welfare. “I used to take the cows off the winter crops we grew because they were up to their knees in mud. It’s not a good look, to be quite honest, and I didn’t like it. “I like it when the cows can sit down on the dry. I found they didn’t do that well on it either. Whereas on grass, the cows come from a grass-based diet in the herd, they go on to grass for winter, and they come onto grass for milking. There’s no transition periods. We now winter all the cows on grass and grass silage.”All of the farms make use of run-offs for replacement heifers and dry cows, because Paul believes that the only cows they need on the home farms are either springing or milking. Three of the four farms use AI to make the most of genetic progress. The heifers are all synchronised – which will include 800-head this year – and they will be mated to sexed semen for that genetic progress, and a deliberate focus on calving ease. Paul says permanent pasture seems to be a distant memory now that it often runs out after five or six years. They have responded by making the most of short-rotation grasses. They do a lot of direct drilling (particularly on the dryland country). “It’s quick to do, and some years you don’t even have to spray, you can just direct drill an annual or two or three-year grass,” he said. “We don’t do winter crops because this is how I want to farm.” While Paul’s daily workload means he has limited time to actively participate in Federated Farmers and Irrigation New Zealand, even though he is a member. He tries to stay abreast of what’s happening with Fonterra because, he “has a fair few shares proudlylocally ownedandoperated 100% kiwi owneD Hawke’s Bay • PHONE 06 879 9998 Proud to support Paul & Rosie Franklin For all your dairy livestock requirements contact Brownie: Phone: 027 271 4722 Email: Pleased to support Paul and Rosie Franklin with their large scale dairy operation Rosie and Paul Franklin. in the company”. “We’ve been pretty busy on the farm for a long time now. I try to take as much interest as I can but I’ve had no input into any industry politics really, because this is not an insignificant operation to run day-to-day.” He says he’s open to considering offers to buy the Eketahuna property. It is just far enough from the home farm, and it’s milking 500 cows OAD on 230ha. They have found the sweet spot getting the most sustainable production out of it, but Paul would happily let it slide off their portfolio. “It’s a low cost operation down there, and a buyer wouldn’t lose the shirt off their back taking it on,” he said. “It’s free draining and it gets rainfall. It can be a bit tough in the spring, and that’s why we milk OAD.” The next move for Springhill Dairies would be to establish an operations manager. Paul and Rosie’s son, Mark, and daughters Alice and Emily aren’t interested in putting cups on cows, but they are all capable in business, and Paul says any one of them is more than qualified to fill the role. “We have been working to get the business to stage where one of them could possibly come home, if they wanted to and find a place in that position. “We’re in a pretty good place with the direction of our business at this point.”