A Taranaki farming couple, who have implemented strategies on their farm, are aiming to farm in an economically and environmentally sustainable manner.
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Grant and Anissa Boyde milk 175 cows on their 65-hectare farm at Stratford.

Grant and Anissa Boyde operate a 65-hectare (60ha effective) farm at Stratford, milking 175 mostly crossbred cows.

They say sustainability not only covers a farm’s financial and environmental aspects, but also the mental and physical wellbeing of the owners, family, staff and relationships.

“Some farmers never leave the farm, but it’s not good to be continually burning yourself out. Even winter ‘down time’ is busy because you’re doing maintenance and preparing for spring,” Anissa says.

Grant is concerned about mental health in the rural sector and has often raised the subject with politicians.

“The Rural Support Trust does tremendous work in that area,” Grant says.

“The reforms that have come into effect over the last couple of years have put significant pressures on farmers, particularly the young farmers. You must have a good support network around you.”

As part of their goal to be more sustainable, they are fine-tuning their system whenever the need arises.

When they took over the family farm, Grant mentioned to his father that he could see the farm producing 80,000 kilograms of milksolids. His father didn’t think it was feasible.

“We’ve got to be sustainable,” he says.

“When we bought the farm, Mum and Dad were doing 53,000kg MS from 210 cows. We now winter 185 cows and achieve much higher production. It’s about doing the cows far better, but we’re learning all the time. It’s a case of finding your farm’s ‘sweet spot’ and I’m still unsure if we’ve found it yet.”

Sadly, his father passed away before he could see that happen, but they did celebrate with their mother to acknowledge the achievement.

The higher production was achieved despite going on once-a-day milking (OAD) from February, so there was less stress on them and the herd during summer’s hottest months. They initially went onto OAD to protect cow condition during an exceptionally dry summer.

Last season the 175-cow herd produced 83.825kg MS and will produce more than 80,000kgs MS this season.

“I was never an OAD believer until the weather forced our hand. Contrary to popular opinion, the cows didn’t drop off that badly. I’ve always believed that you have to make the bulk of your production from calving to Christmas anyway,” he says.

“You must look at the season and determine how to extract the best value from your cows. It’s about making good early decisions and ensuring you take pre-emptive action as best as you can. For example, if your feed budget drops you must make some decisions. If you’ve been planning to cull some cows, then move them on earlier.”

It is a decision that is paying off and they have seen benefits across the board.

Last season was the first they switched to OAD during summer. As well as the welfare of the herd, they made the decision to improve their lifestyle.

“We’re not getting any younger and find that we’re beginning to burn out around Christmas. OAD allows us to get away and refresh. If you stay fresh, you make better decisions,” he says.

When Grant was doing his AI run a farm adviser told him to ensure he took a break after calving to reset and refocus, even if it was for just a few days.

During spring they get up at 4.30am and don’t finish their day until 6pm. They’re big days and it’s tough work. Doing OAD they found that they weren’t becoming as tired as usual.

“We still get up at 4.45am because it’s nice milking in the morning when it’s cool, fresh and peaceful,” Anissa says.

“You have happy cows too. It’s 1.2 kilometres from our hill to the shed. That’s a big walk for the cows. Hot weather puts a lot of stress on cows when they travel to and from the shed.

“The cows are much happier now that they’re not walking to and from the shed during the hot part of the day and we have very few lameness issues.”

The farm has been in the family since Grant’s great-grandparents purchased the 40.5ha acre block in 1907. It has been developed through the years to reach its present size. Grant’s uncle ran the farm for two years and Grant’s parent’s sharemilked on a farm directly across the road before buying the farm in 1973.

Grant hadn’t planned on going dairy farming and was considering joining the RNZAF as a firefighter. He instead accepted a motor mechanic apprenticeship with Stanners Motors in Eltham. He completed his apprenticeship and worked there for six years before taking a service manager role at White Heather Caravans in Normanby.

Anissa was brought up on a drystock farm and had never milked cows. Leaving school, she worked at the Eltham Pharmacy where she stayed for six years.

Grant never intended to go farming and considered joining the RNZAF as a firefighter. Instead, he became a motor mechanic before switching to farming. Grant begins hosing down the yards while the last of the cows are milked.

“She went from iPads to cow pads,” Grants laughs.

They moved onto the farm in 1993, worked for wages then went 50:50 sharemilking for a couple of years before buying the farm and herd.

“Grant’s parents asked us if we were interested in farming. We thought that we may as well give it a go and see if we liked it,” she says.

“Mum never believed that I’d become a farmer. I became very passionate about the history of our cows and enjoy getting up early in the morning during spring to see which cows have calved.”

Grants says purchasing the farm was a big step after having only farmed 50:50 for a couple of years.

“It was a big transition that happened very quickly,” he says.

“In saying that, I was brought up on the farm and there were always jobs to do after school. That’s just the way it was.”

And growing up on the farm, he knew the work involved. The couple needed a place to live on-farm, so bought and transported their home from the Moanui Co-op Dairy Company. It cost $38,000 to put it on the site and Grant and his dad dug the septic tank by hand.

“When Dad became ill, we purchased the neighbouring 30ha block and then he and I dug every fencepost in by hand,” he says.

“After Dad’s heart transplant he always said that the greatest gift in life is the ability to work. But the physical aspect of farming just about killed me after being a mechanic.”

Last year the herd produced 479kg MS per cow, even though the herd went OAD from February 19. This year the herd is looking likely to produce more than 450kg MS per cow on the System 2-3 farm.

Cow numbers have been reduced each year and production is currently about 4% behind last season, which was an exceptional one.

“We’ll still produce over 80,000kg MS, which is good going from 175 cows and OAD.

“We’re quite happy with that, but it’s certainly been a mindset change. OAD does save power and other costs, but it’s more about time. We feel far more refreshed and make better decisions,” he says.

Their aim is to produce more than 80,000kg MS every year and feel that they can achieve that sustainably and economically.

Achieving that production would be easier if they bought in a large amount of supplemental feed, but they feel it would be unsustainable.

“Grass is always the cheapest feed and we have to utilise it. We don’t want to be continually running out of feed because that puts pressure on people and the animals,” he says.

Last year they decided to buy 100 hay bales from the Stratford A&P Association and they’ve done the same this year. They see it as a way to support their local community. Purchasing hay frees up paddocks in the round and keeps the round as long as possible in readiness for the dry summer months.

Surplus grass is made into silage to get 25ha of pit silage and 30ha of silage wraps. They run a 32-day rotation, which can change when the silage paddocks are out. They feed 1.5kg of meal per milking through the in-shed feeder throughout the year.

“I used to spend one-and-a-half hours a day dusting minerals on the paddocks, which is one reason why we installed in-shed feeding. Now the minerals are added to the meal. We still dust the calving mob’s pasture with magnesium,” he says.

“We mix zinc into the meal so every cow gets its daily ration and we know they’re eating it. We have few animal health issues. Having your cows in good condition and not pushing them too hard reduces health problems and helps them cycle.”

They say there are cows that always tend to lose weight as they mobilise body fat to put into milk production and they’re usually the top cows. Those cows are dried off at the end of March or April to give them a chance to gain weight before winter.

“When we purchased the farm I made every paddock 2ha to standardise and simplify everything. It makes it easier to manage feed budgets because you can plan from the shortest to the longest paddock, which helps determine your shortages,” he says.

“And the 24-hour grazing gives the cows more area and the heifers have better grazing opportunities” Our goal has always been to tailor our farming style to suit our lifestyle and values.”

Since introducing OAD in mid-summer and going away from CIDRs, their in-calf rate has risen to 92%.

They try to maintain a tight calving spread. Calving starts on August 1 and finishes at the end of September. By early August they’re having big days of 14-15 calves a day. This season there were only 19 cows left to calve by September 1.

“Our buyer takes all of our Angus calves. They’re not all four-day-old calves. Some are older, as he likes to pick up groups of calves. They’re fed colostrum and I ensure they’re drinking well and make the call whether they’re ready to go or not,” Anissa says.

They had always been told that rearing calves and keeping them on-farm is the cheapest option, but keeping them at home put pressure on the farm due to its size so they are sent to a grazier.

“We mostly had great results when we sent calves out for grazing but one year we didn’t,” she says.

“I rear the calves and am very passionate about them. I was extremely upset that they hadn’t looked after my babies properly.”

They buy in calves from Allen and Sylvia Topless from Stratford.

“We have a very good working relationship with them and for the last five years we’ve annually bought 20-30 replacement heifers from them. We pick high BW/PW heifers. Their animals are always quiet and well-grown.”

Instead of AI, they use bulls over their herd. The heifers are put to Jersey bulls and nine Angus bulls are used for the milking herd. The bulls go in on October 23 and are brought out on December 24.

They say using bulls over their herd instead of doing AI frees up time and simplifies the spring management.

“There’s no AI or feeding of replacement calves. We don’t have to draft, which substantially shortens milking time,” he says.

“The period from the start of calving until Christmas is an exceptionally busy time. And it’s when you have to make your best decisions.”

Grant’s parents’ herd was predominantly Jersey, but they wanted crossbred cows and aim for an F8J8 cow with hybrid vigour.

“We source our bulls from Chris Craig. He separates our bulls from his mob 10 days before delivery and puts them together to sort out their pecking order before they arrive here. They’re very quiet bulls,” he says.

It takes about a week to train the bulls. During the first week the bulls come into the yard and want to walk up the alleyway. But Anissa tells them ‘No, out you go boys, wait until the girls have finished’.”

After the first week some of the bulls stay in the paddock because they know the cows are going to return.

“The bulls have their inoculations before they arrive and return to the Craig farm when mating is finished. Hopefully, some return the following year because they already know the farm and our routines,” he says.

They have made several improvements to the shed, which was a 10-a-side herringbone. They have increased it to 16 bails and it takes an hour and a half to milk.

They still use hand pump sprayers for their teat spray.

“I can buy a hell of a lot of Cambrian sprayers for the price of installing an automatic teat spray system,” he says.

The effluent system is a 300,000-litre Flexi Tank situated beside the cowshed. Flexi Tanks are an enclosed “self-supporting” bladder that rises and falls in height depending on how much liquid is stored inside.

Installing a permanent tank would cost $70,000-$80,000 for their sized-farm, whereas a Flexi Tank cost them $27,000.

The farm has a 20ha effluent platform but the pump has the capacity to pump it further around the farm. Effluent can be stored for approximately 25 days until needed to suit the farm’s effluent management system.

Keeping things simple on-farm gave Anissa time to coach hockey for 11 years at Ngaere Primary School when their two children were young.

The Boydes are big believers in giving back to their community. They feel that community is vitally important and always do their utmost to help their neighbours.

During his first year on the farm, Grant found himself missing the human interaction that he was accustomed to, so he decided to become more involved in the community. He became a Stratford Veterinary Clinic director and was elected onto the Fonterra Shareholders’ Council.

He is also a Justice of the Peace, Stratford District Counsellor (SDC) and SDC representative for the Taranaki Regional Council (TRC) Policy and Planning Committee. Those roles keep him very busy. It’s also why he feels it’s absolutely vital to be seen actively implementing all regulation changes.

“I love being on the Stratford District Council. It’s really developed me which is why I’m standing again this year,” he says.

“One thing I see in Stratford is that our parents instilled good values in our generation and we have to do the same for the following generations.

“The people who volunteer in a small town make a fundamental difference to that town. Stratford is very fortunate to have that and we should never take it for granted.”

In the past, he has judged for the NZDIA and advises young farmers to back themselves. He worries that there seem to be fewer 50:50 jobs, which has always been the industry’s succession route to farm ownership.

“There are farmers who are prepared to leave equity in their farms to help the next generation of farmers. There are some fantastic young farmers coming through. They are knowledgeable, think differently and challenge the boundaries. It’s concerning to see so many of them give up farming” he says.

The farm is at a stage now where he can take the time off to pursue his council role. Anissa and their relief milkers run the farm to allow him to do that.

They take an annual beach holiday, although Grant sometimes travels away to play hockey at the Masters Games.

“It’s not really a holiday for Grant. It might be for me though,” she jokes.

Global Dairy Trade Event #306 concluded with the aggregate down 2.9%. Cheddar cheese was down 0.1%. Whole Milk Powder was 4.9% lower. Skim Milk Powder fell 0.6%. Butter dropped 1.0%

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