Managers of the hub, which officially began operating on June 1, are using its first year to record baseline measurements for its 700 cows being milked this season. At an open day last week, business manager Guy Michaels told farmers there had been a few challenges already impacting the hub.
With two-thirds of the crossbred herd coming from the North Island, it had been initially a concern to introduce them to winter crops because they had never been on them before, he said. Limited infrastructure meant there were limited options to take the cows off pasture if there were transitioning issues.
They had been concerned that with 80 per cent of the farm in new grass they might not be able to avoid damaging it through pugging, but the farm team managed it very well, he said.
Calving in mid-July was “not something” Michaels would recommend to other farmers, and was a one-off factor because of North Island calving dates and in the future the hub would not have to repeat.
There have also been some environmental impacts on the farm. Michaels said the heavier soil at the bottom terrace was prone to pugging damage which they will need to manage and mitigate where possible.
“We didn’t get much of a chance to graze the autumn sown pastures before winter so this ground was soft over spring.”
The work to put the lanes throughout the farm had impacted the natural flow of water over the land, which was normal during a conversion and would be fixed this season, he said.
Despite all the challenges the dairy hub is on track to meet its milk solids target of 300,000 kilograms of milk solids for the season.
Michaels was confident they would have produced 151,000kg/MS by December.
He said there had been some criticism from farmers about the farm’s lower milksolids performance and had asked them to be patient.
There were many factors possibly contributing to a lower than expected production, he said. They included new staff without prior knowledge of the farm, a new farm with sometimes mixed and unknown farm history, new pasture, some underperforming paddocks, new herd cows, a 17-week calving period and a flat feed wedge with feed quality issues over spring.
For herd management, the cows have been split into four herds and allocated to different farmlets which are about equal walking distance from the shed and roughly have the same soil types.
Michaels said they were trying to treat every single cow in the four different herds the same as possible.
The Southern Dairy Hub has a research advisory committee with Southern Dairy Development Trust, DairyNZ, AgResearch and Fonterra representatives who review and decide the research on the farm. Research on the farm has to align with the dairy industry strategy set forth by DairyNZ.
DairyNZ senior scientist feed and farm systems Dawn Dalley, a committee member, said it was exciting to be able to do farm systems research at scale with sizeable research herds.
One of the real strengths of the farm was that they could have herds of up to 200 cows.
“It’s here to take risks on your behalf.”
However, the research had to support the costs of running a dairy business or else it would be at odds with the needs of the southern South Island dairy industry, she said.
“It’s all about learning on your behalf and making the mistakes so you don’t have to.”
Sometimes the research on the hub would be at odds with what was considered normal in the industry. However, Dalley said they were trying to work for the future rather than follow today’s systems.