“In NZ we pride ourselves on our clean, green image and we operate to supply a health food for the world market.”
Gordon McKenzie and his brothers realised dairy farming had a bright future in the South Island of New Zealand so they converted from sheep to dairy farming, but soon outgrew their available land. Gordon is now managing two farms and utilise a share-milker. Gordon’s Farm Manager Mark, Mark’s wife, two children and their parents operate one of the farms.
“We monitor milk hygiene daily through our dairy company. When the milk is picked up each day they tell us how much is received and two days later we get a reading from them on protein, fat content and SCC. This gives us daily milk control and allows us to see if our cows are going up or down in production. It also allows us to monitor the productivity of each paddock that we have our cows in. A few years ago we where only producing milk for the fat content but in the last few years we’ve also tried to improve the protein. We aim to produce the milk to the best quality as cheaply as we can.”
Silage is fed during the autumn “when feed is tight”. From 20 May to the end of that month the cows are taken off the farm and moved to “a run off block where they get self-feed silage”. During the winter’s last six weeks the herd is fed straw to increase the pH levels in their stomachs. “The winter period is a good time for the herd, owners and staff to refresh themselves,” says Gordon.
Crops and forages
The pasture-based system places heavy emphasis on environmental control - including accounting for CH3 emission, biodiversity, run off to surface water and the use of nitrogen enriched fertiliser and mono cropping.
“Our effluent is spread on pastures and we are very specific with how much we put on per hectare to gain optimal cow production. The fertiliser is soil tested each year to assess what needs adding.” The soil is tested using a portable device which measures the dry matter available for the cows, per hectare. “In a typical season we average 50 units of phosphate, 70 units of potassium and 185 units of nitrogen per season spread over six applications. We have contractors to help with harvesting and silage making because it’s more economical that way,” says Gordon.
McKenzie Farm does not use hormones, BSE or genetic modifications to increase its milk production. A typical calving season starts August 10 and Gordon’s aim is “to have most of our cows in seven weeks”. On November 6 the farm’s six week AI season begins, using nominated sires from local breeding companies. “After that time we run bulls with the rest of the herd for another six weeks.”
Calves are born on the grass or a pad then put into a shed between 12 to 24 hours after birth, where there’s plenty of straw and water. The calves are fed colostrum for four days plus meal with barley, oats and molasses. “We also introduce straw for their rumen development. They are fed once a day with four litres of colostrum milk and we make sure they have colostrum within the first six hours of birth to protect against diseases. After six weeks of being on the milk they are weaned and put on a grass paddock. At that stage they can eat up to one kilogram of muesli per day. We also give them an injection at weaning time against worms and the like and again after six weeks. While they are still young in the shed we dehorn them too. After 12 weeks they go off farm for grazing. Then they come home for calving. Mating is with Jersey bulls which gives easier calving”.
McKenzie’s raise their own heifer calves, but bull calves are taken off the farm and sold for meat after four days.
Copper sulphate is placed on the foot mat in the cow shed to help treat the cow’s hooves. Hoof treatment and trimming is carried out by the family.
“I’ve been milking for 30 years, getting up at 5am every morning for nine months of the year. Now I just want to manage the farm so I can still be actively involved and enjoy it. We spend more free time now and have the enjoyment of watching our family grow. We have had all the daily chores taken off us now by hiring a share-milker and we can hopefully spend the second half of our lives relaxing a little more.”
Gordon would like to see the UK and USA have their subsidies removed “so we are all producing equally” because NZ has no subsidies and it’s “hard to compete against heavily subsidised” overseas markets.
“The NZ dairy industry has a bright future and we want to give our children and staff the same opportunities to financially develop as my father gave me. Our children will come home after university and then probably travel, before coming to the farm to settle,” concludes Gordon happily.