NZ Dairy Winter 2022

| 47 nzdairy DAIRY PEOPLE » Dairy Innovation: Nic & Kirsty Verhoek Pushing the boundaries with smart tech Karen Phelps Nic and Kirsty Verhoek are excited about the possibilities of newly installed Halter solar-powered smart collars on their herd. The collars will bring a multitude of bene ts to the farm helping them to boost cow performance and maximise production, says Nic. “For example I’ve just put up virtual fences on my phone in ve minutes that would normally take me several hours,” he says. Halter uses high-resolution mapping of the farm to enable precise virtual fencing and pasture optimisation. Halter collars connect to the app via communication poles installed on the farm. It allows farmers to draft cows, automate herd movements, maximise cow health and pasture utilisation among other things. It will be important for the Verhoek’s as they are aiming to reduce reliance on bought in feed and optimise their system. The couple are 50:50 sharemilking a herd of 740 Friesian and Friesian Cross cows on a 160ha effective farm in Morrinsville for farm owner Hans Geessink. Nic says it took them a while to nd a farmer with a similar mind-set where the focus is fully fed cows. The system ve farm has a mixer wagon and feed pad and 73ha of support land. The Verhoek’s also lease a 125ha block in Paeroa themselves, which they use for growing their heifer replacements and running a beef herd. It’s part of their no-waste farming strategy to reduce bobby calves and add value to their business as well as provide an additional income stream. They raise around 90 weaners and 75 R1 Hereford/Charolais cattle. These come from the main herd to make the most of cull cows. “As a dairy farmer you are a price taker but with beef cattle we can be price makers as we wait until the price is right to sell so we can get maximum value for our hard work. It’s about farming smarter,” explains Nic who hails from a sheep and beef background. It’s been a tough season in the Waikato with the driest weather the area has ever seen according to some old timers, says Nic. He says there hasn’t been a decent fall of rain since Christmas. Fortunately, they grow 73ha of maize on support land and had foresight to buy in additional maize at an okay price. They also grow 46ha of grass silage and 25ha of winter crops, mainly oats and rape. They went cold turkey in terms of palm kernel this season and didn’t buy any in when the farm would normally use around 700-900 tonnes. Instead they’ve focused on maximising home grown feed and more sustainable options including locally sourced by-products and fruit and vegetable waste. “Cows are very ef cient converters of whatever you feed them so when the opportunity of waste food such as peas and carrots etc becomes available we jump at it as our facilities enable us to feed it ef ciently to our cows. Our goal is to be a system ve high input farm with 100% home grown feed.” Kirsty, who has a PhD in ruminant nutrition, provides special expertise that Nic acknowledges is a distinct advantage. Kirsty contracts to BakerAg as an agribusiness analyst and is a casual senior scientist at AgResearch. She is also mum to Isabelle, 4 ½, Fergus, 2 ½ and Lachlan, eight months. Their target production is 580-600 kgs/MS per cow, which they think they can achieve in the next few years. In their rst season on this farm they produced 393,000 kgs/MS peak milking 730 cows. This season in spite of the drought and the change to different bought in feed they will achieve 360,000 kgs/MS milking 710 cows. They are looking forward to embracing the advantages that technology has to offer and pushing its boundaries to help achieve their goal of a sustainable and ef cient food-producing dairy farm. Halter solar powered smart collars use high-resolution mapping of the farm to enable precise virtual fencing and pasture optimisation. Halter screenshot (top) on smartphone, dry cows on crop. Dry cows with no fences on high value crop. Maize harvest coming in. Agricultural contracting company based in the Waikato Grass silage | Maize silage All forms of cultivation Bailing | Digger work 027 450 0125 @wallingcontractingnz Walling Contracting Ltd