Winning combination

A couple managing Northern Southland farming operation reckon they have a great partnership with their farm’s owners. Anne Lee reports.

Anieka Venekamp and Nick Templer are doggedly determined to own a slice of Godzone and farm their own piece of paradise but while they’re working hard to achieve that goal they’re also determined to enjoy the journey.

The couple were 2015 Southland Otago farm managers of the year, winning the title in their third season contract milking for Lyall and Jan Hopcroft near Balfour, in Northern Southland.

They had 25 mixed-age cows in the herd back then and 58 heifers.

They’re still with the Hopcrofts, it’s been a great partnership and thanks to the contract agreement with them they’ve been able to grow stock numbers and now, in their seventh season, they have 200 of their own cows in the 650-cow herd.

As well as their contract milking payment Anieka and Nick receive a lease payment for their cows and are able to keep 30 heifer calves each year.

As a payment for artificially inseminating (AI) the rising-two-year-old heifers at one of the Hopcrofts’ two owned runoffs they get half of the resulting heifer calves too.

“We have a really good relationship with our farm owners and they’ve been very supportive in helping us progress,” Anieka says.

They work in well together as a team on the farm with Lyall and Jan both actively involved.

The relationship extends beyond the farm too with Lyall and Jan often helping out with babysitting Anieka and Nick’s four-year-old daughter Maycie.

As the daughter of sharemilkers, who then went on to buy and convert their own farm, Anieka knows only too well the effort it takes to make it to farm ownership.

Her parents Frans and Jeanine migrated to New Zealand in the 1990s from The Netherlands when Anieka was just a tot and moved up the sharemilking ladder in Southland and Otago before buying a drystock property at Tuatapere.

Anieka worked her way up to herd manager on a neighbour’s dairy farm and when her parents converted she returned home as manager.

She’d met Nick, a sheep and cattle farmer and he moved back to the home farm with her and worked as a dairy assistant, learning the dairying ropes.

Before long the two ventured out on their own, first in a joint 2IC position and in 2012 went to work for the Hopcrofts.

Northern Southland is notorious for the dry spells that inevitably hit sometime through the summer and the variability of the season can mean equally big variations in pasture production for Anieka and Nick.

“The main thing is don’t panic,” Nick says.

“Down South they panic if it doesn’t rain for a couple of weeks but we know the dry will happen at some stage every summer so we farm for it. Eventually the rains will come,” Anieka says.

The Hopcrofts too are well aware of the climatic challenge and choose to have a good level of supplements on hand.

On average cows will get about 1.2 tonnes drymatter (DM)/cow/year as supplement.

With pasture production about 4-5t DM/ha below irrigated or reliably rain-fed pastures the level of supplement goes a long way to replacing that shortfall and enables production of 500-525kg milksolids (MS)/cow or 1440kg MS/ha.

Bought-in supplement is in the form of locally sourced wheat, palm kernel, silage and corn gluten meal.

The grain, palm kernel and meal are all fed in the 54-bail farm dairy with the amount fed automatically dispensed by the DeLaval DelPro system according to body condition score and production.

“If a cow is lighter and high producing she’ll be getting fed but if she’s fat and not producing she’ll be licking the bin and that’s all,” Nick says.

Anieka body condition scores the cows several times through the season and gets the vet and farm consultant Ivan Lines to calibrate her eye occasionally when they’re on farm.

As well as the supplement, they make good use of a cropping programme on the milking platform to boost dry matter production, taking pasture out for ground preparation and drilling through the higher growth, later spring period, effectively transferring that surplus to the often-drier January and early autumn.

About six hectares of summer turnips are sown in late October or early November to get them through a dry spell in January and they sow 12ha of fodder beet in October which they start grazing in late February and continue to use through to dry-off in late May.

“It was measured at 18t (DM/ha) on February 20 but it’s continuing to grow of course through the autumn and by May it was up to 24t DM/ha,” Nick says.

But cows don’t then go on to winter on the crop and instead are wintered on kale at one of two support blocks as Anieka and Nick and the Hopcrofts are unsure of the animal health ramifications of having cows on fodder beet from February to August.

They grow 6ha of kale on the milking platform for cows to return to after winter and this season are also growing a mix of green-feed oats and rye as a wintering crop on the support block.

The cropping regime on the milking platform means 18ha of new grass is sown each year and together with the new crops being planted can mean the stocking rate hits 3.4 cows/ha for a period during the late spring.

They use Minda Land and Feed to record covers and grazings and base cropping and re-grassing paddock selections on paddock drymatter rankings rather than “because it looks ugly”.

“We’ve got paddocks that I think look really ugly but they never come up at the bottom of the list so they don’t get done. If they’re producing, there’s no point spending money re-grassing them.

“What we’re trying to do is lift the low producers up so we lift the whole farm’s drymatter production,” Anieka says.

Their best pasture paddock is producing 17t DM/ha/year.

The farm has its own cultivation, drilling and mowing equipment so, apart from ploughing, tractor work is done right when it’s needed, weather permitting.

Lyall is often available to do it too.

“Whoever’s free will jump on the tractor and we’ll just get it done. It means that if there is a break in the weather we don’t have to wait around like everyone else for contractors,” Nick says.

This season that’s meant despite rain events through the late spring and summer they were able to get crops in and established and new grass was almost ready to graze by late November.

About half the farm is on heavier soils and the other lighter and while each has its challenges they also have their benefits with the heavier country holding on longer in summer and the lighter areas quicker to dry out and get growing in the spring.

The Hopcrofts have two support blocks totalling 187ha and both work hard for the farm.

One has been totally re-grassed in the last four years and is producing about 13t DM/ha in pasture alone.

“You have to treat them like the dairy platform if you’re going to make them pay,” Nick says.

All but 150 cows are wintered on the support blocks and all young stock are reared from weaning through to their first calving.

Heifers are wintered on kale and self-feeding silage but any lighter heifers are spread out on grass.

Cows and heifers come back to the milking platform just before calving and all the springers are brought into the farm dairy every day.

“By the time they calve the heifers are used to going on the platform and because we can draft at the touch of a button it’s no hassle having them all come through,” Anieka says.

“We get a good close look at each one too so anything that needs another look can be drafted out. It also means we’re not chasing calved cows around in the paddock,” Nick says.

Reproduction

Heifer matings are carried out based on detecting natural heats.

Nick heads down to the support block each morning at about 6.30am to pick animals to put up for mating.

That’s after he’s been in the farm dairy picking cows from the first herd.

“The 2IC picks the second herd so I can get away to the runoff – about 12km away.

“The AI tech arrives at the runoff at 7.30 and when we’re finished there we go back to the farm so the tech can do the cows,” Nick says.

Lyall and Jan helps out with the heifers at the start of mating if they can.

They’re run into the yards and drafted up based on activation of heat detection pads.

Heifer mating starts on October 28, the same as the main herd, making for a busy first three weeks.

This season they had a 96% submission rate in 18 days and put bulls out to follow up to give an eight week mating period.

The heifer empty rate was 7%.

Pre-mating heats are recorded for the milking herd and the vet palpates anything that hasn’t cycled.

From there Anieka and Nick use an aggressive CIDR programme with 80 cows CIDR’d this season and 86 the year before.

But there are a few provisos.

“We get a fantastic result from our CIDR programme but we’re not putting everything up.

“If she’s a repeat offender for instance she won’t get a CIDR. We’re really targeting the cows we want in the herd – high producers, if they’re not cycling we’ll give them a CIDR,” Anieka says.

The six-week, in-calf rate for treated cows was 76% last season and 79% for the rest of the herd.

The empty rate on their 9.5-week mating was 8% last year and generally sits at 9%.

They sire prove for CRV Ambreed and have a bull of their own in the CRV progeny testing bull team.

His daughters will be milked from next season’s calving.

All sires are A2 A2.

They’re able to nominate up to 40% of the herd with top producers the main candidates for nominated semen.

Anieka says they’re aiming to get a cow that has good udder support, good all-round udder traits, is fertile and has good capacity but she’s not targeting big liveweights.

“What we really want is a good fertile cow that gives plenty of milk.”

Nominated sires will include Friesian and Jersey but Anieka also uses it as an opportunity to add a bit of colour and uses a few straws of red genetics that can include Montbeliard, Normande and Aussie Red.

They’ve taken the interest in red breeds a little further than just a dabble with 30 pedigree Ayrshires now included in their own 200 cows in the herd.

Anieka says the reds let them bring in some strong scores on the udder and fertility traits.

“It’s good to get a bit of that three way cross going too,” she says.

Breeding adds interest and is important to the couple who are as focussed on the journey as they are on the end goal.

Finding ways to have a balanced lifestyle for their family and their two staff – 2IC David Lupanthe and dairy assistant Emman Ordain – can mean doing things a bit differently.

After the first five weeks of mating for instance, when everyone’s starting to get a bit tired given they AI for the full 9.5 weeks, they will put Limousin bulls out on a Friday night and let them take over the mating task for the weekend.

Nick says the next step for their progression is a 50-50 sharemilking contract or an equity partnership but first up there’s the important matter of a wedding with the couple tying the knot this month.