Ever since watching a television advert about Anchor butter made with Jersey cows that lived on grass all year round, the then six-year-old David Noble wanted to farm brown cows in New Zealand. Wherever that was.
“I had no idea where NZ was, it could have been Mars for all I knew. I thought it was this amazing place where cows could be outside all the time that was where all the Jersey cows were.”
After university a visit to NZ confirmed it. David moved in 2012 from Halifax, England, met veterinarian Katy Jones and this year the couple have won the Central Plateau Share Farmer of the Year.
David, 34, and Katy, 32, are sharemilking 275 cows for Andrew and Hazel Kusabs’ at Horohoro, south of Rotorua. The rolling farm has a lot of trees and riparian plantings and bordered by the Mangakara and Pokaitu streams.
Katy works off-farm fulltime but also rears calves and the couple discuss all onfarm decisions together, from animal health to pasture management.
“I really enjoy farming. I get to put my learnings into practice. It also makes me a better vet, when you understand the value of stock and understand the financial and emotional implications.”
David grew up on a small landholding in West Yorkshire, but used to visit family farms. Farming always appealed to him and he has always liked cows.
After school he studied a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture and travelled to NZ on a holiday where he worked on a dairy farm for a friend.
“I enjoyed it that much and saw that much opportunity I knew if I wanted to farm by myself NZ was the place to come.”
He had accepted a job as a livestock buyer back home and went back to the job, telling himself he would work for 18 months and see if he was still as passionate about NZ.
“I lasted 16 months. I hopped on a plane and I haven’t been back.”
Katy grew up at Bucklands Beach in Auckland and studied for a Bachelor in Veterinary Science at Massey University in Palmerston North.
Her first job was in Te Aroha, where she met David. The couple were offered a sharemilking job three months after they started dating.
“I went from managing on a $8.40 payout to sharemilking with virtually no money. We survived for the first two years,” David says.
The job was sharemilking 160 cows at Tirau and they bought the crossbred herd that was on the farm.
They have culled sensibly and bought good lines of Jersey heifers to boost their herd Breeding Worth (BW).
“The herd is 72% Jersey now, we have a few black cows through other people’s breeding choices. But we will turn them all brown,” David says.
They are trying to breed a bigger Jersey cow and cull on body condition, Katy says.
“We breed for good udders, longevity and fertility.”
They nominate all cows for the first three and a half weeks then put out Jersey bulls. The couple also artificially bred (AB) their heifers for the first time last season.
Those choices are more expensive, but their herd is their only asset and they see it as an investment not a cost, David says.
The couple had a 68% conception rate for their 3.5 weeks of AB and a 79% six-week in-calf rate, but had no cows get in calf during the last two weeks with the bulls, which pushed their empty rate up to 11% this year.
“That’s the highest empty rate we’ve had, something happened in those last two weeks. But it means we will have a really tight calving, just eight weeks, and it sets us up to have a good mating this year,” Katy says.
They will also DNA-test their whole herd this year to give help make better breeding, culling and rearing decisions in the future.
“The average mis-mothering figure is 25%. You’re paying for Minda whether it’s right or wrong information, if it’s not right you can’t use those figures,” David says.
With environment regulation coming, milking and breeding the most efficient cows is only going to become more vital, so having accurate herd records is paramount, he says.
Both passionate about breeding Jersey cows, they have started their own stud, ‘No Bull Jerseys’.
A highlight for the couple was to have a Jersey bull calf picked up by CRV Ambreed last year which is in the sire proving scheme (Noble Carrick Charnock).
This was the first time the couple have entered the Dairy Industry Awards. It was an opportunity to take time out to look at their business rather than just working in it, Katy says.
“We also wanted to do it to meet like-minded farmers that are trying to progress, you get to rub shoulders with positive people.”
The process takes a lot of hours and Katy’s employers, Vetora in Rotorua, have been hugely supportive and allowed her to take time off for the competition.
Their farm assistant Rhys Prentice has worked for the couple for two seasons. Having such a reliable staff member made it easier to take the time out to enter the Dairy Industry Awards themselves, Katy says.
“We knew it was a good time to do it before Rhys moves go a bigger job next season.”
Rhys won the Stretton and Co Most Promising Award in the Dairy Trainee category this year.
The couple put their presentation together without getting any external advice or opinions, other than their accountant Craig Taylor from Candy Gillespie.
“We wanted to present what we did rather than just ticking boxes,” David says.
“We got feedback from the first round which helped us prepare for the second round.”
Their farm owners Andrew and Hazel have also been extremely helpful.
The couple won two merit awards, the LIC Recording and Productivity Award and the Ravensdown Pasture Performance Award.
David manages residuals closely and will pre-mow if necessary. He is aware of pre-mowing research which has been done but feels that the situation in which it was tested is quite different to the situation in which he is using it and would be keen to see more research done.
“When you’re not in Disneyland under a pivot irrigator, grass is trying to go to seed five months of the year it is important to maintain pasture quality. We try and farm in an environmentally responsible way which is in line with the farm owners’ aims.
“Grow as much grass as you can and use it.”
They use LIC Space which has worked well, but it’s important to be out onfarm looking at residuals, David says.
“It’s important to be out physically measuring grass, counting tillers on the ryegrass.”
The DairyNZ System 4 farm has an in-dairy feeding system and they winter 100 cows off-farm. Only a small amount of grass silage is made onfarm, with the farm owners preferring to buy in feed. They will make a little bit of grass silage onfarm if they have to in order to maintain quality.
They grew 6ha of turnips this year, with Rape, which has given the turnips some shade and helped them last longer, David says.
David is working with the farm owner to put in a variety of new pastures to cater to individual paddocks.
All farms are variable with some paddocks more exposed that dry out quicker, wetter paddocks, steeper paddocks etc, and different cultivators work in certain paddocks better than others, he says.
Looking ahead the couple are more focused on who they work for rather than pushing up in cow numbers.
“We get on really well with our farm owners. It’s more important to us to have a good relationship. That makes it easy to just enjoy farming,” David says.
“We are not trying to take over the world, as long as we’re progressing and having a good work/life balance.”
They will continue to improve their herd and look at other investment opportunities if they stay where they are.
Katy enjoys getting off-farm to ski and tramp, David likes his garden, and also going around a lot of stock clearing sales in his spare time.
The couple were both members of Young Farmers and are now members of Jersey NZ and try and attend a lot of discussion groups and other events around the area.
Runner up in the Central Plateau Share Farmer of the Year competition was Maurice Bryant. Third place was Anthony and Danelle Kiff.
Share farmer merit awards
DairyNZ Human Resources Award – Anthony & Danelle Kiff
Ecolab Farm Dairy Hygiene Award – Gerard & Marcelle Van Der Mark
Federated Farmers Leadership Awards – Anthony and Danelle Kiff
Honda Farm Safety, Health and Biosecurity Award – Anthony and Danelle Kiff
LIC Recording and Productivity Award – David Noble & Katy Jones
Meridian Farm Environment Award – Maurice Bryant
Ravensdown Pasture Performance Award – David Noble & Katy Jones
Westpac Business Performance Award – Maurice Bryant