Sunday, 22 April 2012

A Once A Day Milking Dairy Farm System Needs a Different Mind Set?

I wonder if OAD (Once a Day) Milking farmers should be farming like TAD farmers (Twice a Day Milking)?  After all they are completely different farming systems. Or are they really different? 
This is potentially a very interesting debate. Should all pasture based farmers farm in the same way or are the systems sufficiently different that they should develop different methods & different objectives? Organic dairy farms have developed different systems & objectives from conventional farms. So should OAD farmers farm as TAD farmers or develop a completely different system? It’s early days so let’s debate the issue.
 Innovative OAD (Once a Day) Milking Dairy Farmers from all over New Zealand met at Eketahuna this week to be part of Dr Colin Holmes OAD Milking discussion group. Colin with the help of DairyNZ started the group some time ago on the very same Tararua farm where we met this week. 
 Sherryn & Dale Marshall farm OAD on a tough steep farm but have done remarkably well given the terrain. In the photos you can see the green outline of the milking area up on the steep hill country. The Discussion Group agreed that it was an excellent farm for OAD milking because of the distances & steepness of the tracks & grazing. The cow condition of the OAD herd was excellent & a credit to their management & the care & attention of their farming team. 
I love the cut & thrust of a good discussion group where new ideas are scrutinised, & everyone goes home thinking with plenty of food for thought. However it is the first OAD Milking group I have ever been to where much of the debate was about how much supplement was being fed? I have never heard OAD milking farmers debating the merit of 300kgsN per ha per year vs. 200kgsN. These OAD farmers were farming like & thinking like TAD farmers. So is the “OAD Milking System” the same as or different from the TAD milking system? I would argue that the 2 systems are as different as “Chalk & Cheese” (an old saying from Gloucestershire comparing the then wealthy sheep farmers from the chalk country of the Cotswolds vs. the then poor dairy farmers from the Berkley Vale near Thornbury, UK). 
Once a Day Milking is a low input farming system that is ideal for pasture only fed cows. It is potentially a very profitable system, but only if the operating costs are kept very low. OAD herds have in my view the potential to produce the same Milk solids per cow as they were on TAD. This is because of the wide genetic variation within XBred cows as to how they adapt to OAD milking. There is the very exciting possibility of developing a OAD milking cow that is very different from the cows we see today being milked OAD.
  Goals of OAD Milking Herds .  
To produce the same total milksolids on OAD as they used to on TAD, with same number of cows. (but not the same cows).   
Select hard & Cull hard to capitalise on the huge between cow variations. 
Aim for 1kg MS per kg of LWT on OAD milking.
 Means you must weigh cows & herd test.
 Profit levels of 40 -50% GFR. 
Have a real Family life. 
Very focussed on being sustainable & very resilient. OAD Milking dairy farms have a real opportunity to be show that they have a truly sustainable farming system. A crucial aspect of OAD milking is how it can be a people sustainable system. 
 The 8 main points of Sustainable Farming are:-
To have a sustainably profitable farm business.
To manage soils for the future with less dependence on fertilizers & to build Soil Organic Matter (SOM) so increase soil carbon storage.
To reduce Energy consumption by reducing demand & generating on farm energy. To lower the Carbon Footprint of milk.
To better manage Water (conserve & reduce use), reduce pollutant losses.
To improve Dairy cow welfare, fertility & animal health.
To have a sustainable people practices.
To increase the bio diversity on the farm.
To develop long term business communication strategies not only with buyers, but with the professional support teams & the local community. 

The bottom line is that I believe OAD milking farms, people & cows are uniquely different from TAD farms. Therefore there are strong arguments to support a different breeding objective & a whole lot of different thinking that is uniquely OAD thinking.
If profit is the primary goal for a OAD system then why are you feeding concentrates(especially poor ones) & why are you even considering extra N fertiliser????
Every time a dairy farmer spends money they reduce their own profits & increase someone else's profit!
 I challenge all OAD farmers to aim for a really low input low cost pasture based system where all excess costs are screwed out of the farming system. Have the courage to tread a different path that is family friendly & highly resilient to price fluctuations.
 Go for it! If you don’t agree then feel free to debate it with me by adding your comments in the comments box below.
Great Discussion Group Colin & Leo. Well done!

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Genius...A Dairy Farm Team Whiteboard communication system.

Tauhara Moana Trust near Taupo is a finalist in the 2012 Ahuwhenua Trophy BNZ Maori Excellence in Farming (Dairy) Awards.  
 At a recent “Green to Gold” Discussion Group I was privileged to meet Olly & Kim Gibberd who are milking over 1600 cows on the 693 ha effective Tauhara Moana dairy farm. Olly & Kim are the DairyNZ Central North Island Focus Farm.  I expected to see excellent farm management (which is what I witnessed) but I wasn’t expecting to see a Farm Business Management innovation in the Herringbone shed office.
 In the office was the most amazing & well thought out Dairy Farm Team Whiteboard Communication System. This is very definitely Kim’s baby but it has evolved from a very strong leadership approach by both Olly & Kim. Although they lead by example, their leadership style is one of allowing the Farm Team to manage themselves & to take individual responsibility for their own actions in contributing towards the overall Farm Performance.
 Olly sets the work environment boundaries & the tone in which he expects the team to work together. Everyone in the team knows what the farm business targets are & what is expected of them as individuals in the team. 
What Kim has done is a piece of Farm Business Management genius. She has embedded the key leadership philosophies and the daily tactical management tasks into a Whiteboard Communication system, which is very visual, clearly understood & on which every farm team member contributes every day. This has been achieved by using a series of large Whiteboards around the milking shed office walls. Each Whiteboard is a communication system to individual team members & management. Tasks are set & once completed, all recorded as having been successfully finished. Essential animal health recording of treatments, withholding periods & cow ID are all recorded on the Office Whiteboard system. There is a separate Whiteboard to identify weeds & spraying tasks….this is based on a large farm map. 
The list of Whiteboards includes paddock grazing records, lameness, monthly milk production actual vs targets, jobs needing to be done, a monthly calendar, staff roster, days off & supplies needed.
 Olly & Kim have developed their own unique staff bonus system called the $5 Bonus…it’s based on a $5 reward for a job well done & a $5 penalty for not being at work on time or a job not completed (especially if it causes other staff problems e.g. not shutting gates)…..& you guessed it there’s a “$5 Whiteboard”. Fines are written in red & bonuses are written in blue……it’s very visual & every team member’s bonus performance is clearly visible.
 The Whiteboard system & the different boards have evolved over time. Even the board titles started as permanent pen but once firmly established have evolved into professionally produced by a local sign writer specialising in Whiteboards. There is huge benefit in Kim’s system being highly visible in the epicentre of the farm…the Milking shed office. In this way everyone is fully informed & able to contribute & record key daily management information.
 I think this system could over time evolve further to be computer/smartphone based using cloud technology.
 Each dairy farm could develop their own “Whiteboard Communication System” but don’t rush in and get a heap of boards produced. The Tauhara Moana system has developed over time with staff involvement (it has not been imposed from above) & a Farm Management leadership style which devolves responsibility to the Farm Team to manage, operate & take ownership. 
The Ahuwhenua Trust Awards field day at Tauhara Moana, just north of Taupo is on the 3rd May. I suggest you put it into your diary & on the day have a look at the Whiteboards in the Milking Shed Office. 
Congratulations Olly & Kim, I was very impressed.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

If Dairy Farmers want to FARM in the BLACK they Need to be GREEN

The NZ dairy industry is in a very interesting place right now. On one hand they generate serious export dollars; their contribution to the national income is undeniable. The wealth generated by dairy products means that most New Zealanders enjoy a good standard of living. On the other hand they are viewed by increasing numbers of thinking New Zealanders as exploiting our natural resources to the detriment of the environment. Sir Paul Callaghan spoke at the “StrategyNZ: Mapping our Future conference” in March 2011, pointing the finger at dairy farmers but also illustrating the economic reality. 
Dairy farmers have a real challenge: - to produce milk but to reduce the impact on the environment.    

Andrew, Jenny & Fred Hayes are NZ Landcare Trust Ambassadors. In 2005 they won the BFEA- Heritage Restoration Award on their dairy farm for their work around Lake Kaituna & Lake Komakorau. Lakeland Farms surround both of these Waikato peat lakes. Dairy Consultant Alison Dewes (Headlands) told the Waikato Balance Farm Environment Award Alumni Field day that the Hayes family farm system is strongly aligned to their values & beliefs to improve the environment in which they farm. They are aware of what impacts their farm has on the wider environment & they are open to new ideas & ways of thinking. Andrew & Jenny like to measure, assess & review their performance on a regular basis. They have formed a Lake Care Group & invited in many outside experts such as University of Waikato (Prof David Hamilton), water quality PhD student Bex Eivers, Environment Waikato & DairyNZ to help them improve & restore their peat lakes. Involving a wide range of outside people & other local farmers has brought together scientific & regional expertise & practical common sense.
I was particularly impressed with the work experienced Dairy Consultant Alison Dewes (Headlands), has brought to the farm.   
 Her work suggests that moderate stocking rates, close monitoring of inputs & costs can generate more profit when there is an environmental “push” & focus by the farmers. This is a seriously important message as many farmers believe that complying with environmental standards will in some way reduce their profitability. The Hayes farm is a shining example that their passion for a better lake environmental outcome has in fact improved many of their key production efficiencies & increased their profits. This year they expect to harvest 14.5 TDM/ha of pasture (which puts them in the top 5% of Waikato dairy farmers). The profit per ha is very high & means their Return on Assets (ROA) is over 9%. Over the last 8 years they have reduced nitrogen use from 180kgsN to 30kgsN/ha/yr. Nutrients are much better utilised & recycled with 90% of the farm is covered with farm effluent once a year & no fertilizer is brought onto the farm. So it can be done & the Hayes family are a very good example to all dairy farmers in NZ.
Prof David Hamilton explained to the field day that the Waikato Peat Lakes were formed 15-18,000yrs ago & are today biodiversity hotspots that have important functions of moderating extreme flood events & reducing nutrient flows into the river systems. The health of the lakes reflects the health of the landscapes. Relatively low cost on farm changes are considerably more affordable that major lower catchment mitigation which is prohibitively expensive. There are 94,000ha of peat soils in the Waikato with 80% developed into agriculture & horticulture. Developed peat soils are highly productive soils but there is a risk of them being over drained & lost to farming.
Andrew Hayes created a 16ha buffer zone around the peat lakes, which were badly silted & completely retired a further 2ha of land. Willows were removed & more suitable species planted in the buffer zone. On the 10 inflow drains silt traps were constructed. Bex Eivers PhD study is looking at the effectiveness of the silt traps. The work around the lake & the more water that is being retained in the lake has had a positive impact on the farm as the retention of moisture has helped to minimise the peat shrinkage & Andrew doesn’t have to cultivate the peat soils. A flatter milk production curve has resulted from more summer pasture growth. Andrew quite rightly credits what is happening in the soil & water as being vitally important & Consultant Alison Dewes (a key team member) focusses on pasture grazing management, profit & cost control. 
There is a saying "that YOU (farmers) can’t be GREEN if you are in the RED." Very true! However it is also a truth to say "that if YOU (farmers) want to be in the BLACK you must also be GREEN."