The first nine months have been ‘a bit of a rollercoaster’ for Dairy Trust Taranaki but the organisation has hit its stride, operations manager Debbie McCallum says.
The 110-hectare Westpac Taranaki Agricultural Research Station was previously managed by DairyNZ but the organisation withdrew research and farm staff from the site in July, leaving DTT short of both manpower and equipment.
The farm staff have since been employed by Dairy Trust Taranaki
DTT’s accountants, Staples Rodway, had installed a computer network with equipment and the trust had provided secondhand vehicles to replace those previously on-site for DairyNZ.
“Since then we’ve secured funding from DairyNZ and we’re applying to the Sustainable Farming Fund for more,” McCallum said.
“We were able to get our trials up and running on schedule so things are on track.”
The trust established trials on each of its farms at the start of the 2017/18 season. Measurements were being taken weekly, with monthly weighing and condition scoring.
The trial on the Gibson property involved dividing the farm into three farmlets, each using a different feed system. The first was all-grass, the second allocating 500 kilograms of palm kernel expeller (PKE) per cow, per year and the third feeding up to 500kg of kibbled maize grain per cow.
Across the road at the Kavanagh farm, two farmlets would look at the comparative productivity and profitability of spring and autumn calving across two herds of 300 cows.
The herd of 124 jersey cows on the 34ha Waimate West Demonstration Farm (WWDF) near Manaia was split into two equal herds and would move to autumn calving.
The first of the smaller herds would have its pasture intake supplemented with cropping while the second was topped up with imported feed, likely to include maize silage and PKE.
At the Stratford Demonstration Farm (SDF), the 166 jersey cows were continuing to calve in spring but had been split into two herds of 83 animals, the first of which were to be grazed on pasture year-round. The second herd would make use of the farm’s covered feed pad as required to minimise pugging and save on feed costs.
The trust was also in the process of securing farmers near the Waimate West and Stratford demonstration farms to come on board as companion farmers.
“Ideally, we’d like three to five per trial, running the same systems so we could compare notes and give feedback,” McCallum said.
With so much going on, having the right people on board was crucial, McCallum said. Strict trial protocol put a lot of responsibility on DTT farm managers Brett Thomson and Matt Butler at the Gibson and Kavanagh farms, as well as Paul Henwood and Nick Hayes, who were employed by Taratahi at the Stratford and Waimate West demonstration farms.
“Brett and Matt have a big responsibility terms of staff management and managing the different herds,” McCallum said.
“There’s strict trial protocol to adhere to and we’re lucky to have Dr John Roche, principal scientist from DairyNZ, on board to ensure all the work is carried out to a high standard.”
Farm supervisors, Joe Clough at WWDF and Graeme Pitman at Stratford, were also crucial to the smooth running of the trials and the trustees, led by chairman Brendan Attrill and deputy Graeme Robinson, were very supportive, she said.
“It’s been a very busy and constructive nine months but I think we’ve ticked all the boxes we wanted to. A website has been established and a weekly newsletter is distributed to 280 subscribers. The focus now is on ensuring ongoing funding and keeping the trials ticking over.”