No regrets in switching to once-a-day milking
Opinion: The struggle is real up here in the Far North where lack of significant rain has dried everything up fast with no respite looming in the immediate future.
What do you expect? It is summer. I was brave enough to commit to once-a-day (OAD) milking all season. Previously the thought of an out of control somatic cell count put me off this.
When the dairy payout was under $4 a kilogram of milksolids, I thought, 'stuff it', why should I break my back milking twice-a-day for nothing. With all the doom and gloom surrounding low milk prices, it was literally not worth paying for the electricity to run the shed in the afternoon back then.
While they are saying the payout could be $6/kg MS, I have no regrets about my decision to go OAD. The cows love it and the average somatic cell count is lower than normal despite me not using any intra-mammary antibiotics for two years.
Once-a-day milking has also allowed me to lengthen my round sufficiently to cope with the current dry weather with little impact on cow condition which is looking good despite the meteorological pressure.
The cost of the relief milker I employed to get away from the farm for a few days was halved, my shed expenses and electricity bill will be halved and hopefully that goes some way towards making up for the 30 per cent (to date) loss of production I have suffered.
I am also convinced I will not end the season with such a high production loss as the loss is incrementally decreasing as the season winds down.
I am not sure how high the payout would have to be to get me back onto a twice-a-day milking regime because the benefits to me have been priceless.
My daughters have both visited me in the summer break with boyfriends and grandchildren in tow and it was heart warming to have a good catch up and get to know the next generation and how cute they are too.
And because Nana was not too busy, there were afternoons spent at Matai Bay, Kai Iwi Lakes and Coopers Beach instead of slaving away in the cow shed. Once morning milking was done and silage fed-out – the rest of the day was for the whanau.
If you had suggested to me 15 years ago when I was trying to carve out a place for myself in the dairy industry that my future would lead me to OAD milking on a lease farm in Northland, I would have laughed in disbelief.
The Far North is a risky and expensive place to farm because of its propensity to dry out. This is reflected in farm prices and Northland farms are cheaper for a reason.
As far as a place to live goes, in my opinion you would be hard pressed to find better. The weather is balmy, the beaches are pristine, people friendly and the lifestyle is relaxed.
My stocking rate here is less than two cows per hectare and inputs are minimal. I would say the environmental impact is relatively low.
There has been dairy farming on this property for 100 years and I filled my house water tank from the farm stream recently which we drink untreated.
It is good to take a step back, milk less cows less often and have a chance to enjoy life instead of being constantly pressured by the demands of farming life, but does it pay the bills? And at what milk price does an easier life become unsustainable?
- Lyn Webster is a Northland dairy farmer.