On a farm of his own at 27

BIG SAVER: Strong financial discipline has helped Matt Catley buy his first dairy farm at 27 years of age.
BIG SAVER: Strong financial discipline has helped Matt Catley buy his first dairy farm at 27 years of age.

Matt Catley last weekend moved from Sandy Kelman's dairy farm at Geraldine - where he's worked for nine years - onto his own farm at Clandeboye, right behind the Fonterra factory near Temuka in South Canterbury.

He cleared his debts and went looking for a farm at the beginning of last season, when dairy land prices were around $38,000 per hectare.

"It was probably the worst year to try and buy a property, with the payout being so high. I thought it was dear at the start, and I missed out on a few. At one stage the prices were going up $1000 a hectare a week."

He paid $52,000ha for his 110ha dairy farm, and said farms were now selling for $60,000 a hectare.

"The owners had set the price they wanted, and I had all my financing lined up. It was only on the market for three days."

He'd sold a run-off block, half the cow herd, and most of the heifers in preparation for financing a farm purchase.

At the Kelman farm they milked 650 cows on 185ha, with production of 470kg of milksolids per cow per year.

"Some people thought we were under-stocked, but our production was up there."

Catley and his partner, Amy Copland, will milk 400 cows at Clandeboye, through a 40-a-side herringbone shed.

"We're looking for someone else to work with us and we haven't sorted it out yet. It has to be the right person."

Along with being fussy about staff, he also prefers to run fewer stock, which he says improves animal welfare and keeps costs down.

"I like to keep things simple."

He's budgeting on costs before debt servicing of $3.50/kg.

While some people prefer to stock to the maximum in order to maximise production, Catley's approach is for fewer animals and more attention to detail.

"I'd rather milk less cows, and per cow be doing a lot better. Having less cows reduces your costs, and per cow production is higher."

He was comfortable with Fonterra's forecast payout of $7/kg for the coming season.

"If you have a good first year production wise and payout wise, that helps get the ball rolling."

Catley's financial discipline helped establish a strong banking history, which he said was crucial to achieving his goals. He left school at 15 and worked on a dairy farm in the Horowhenua, near his family's home farm.

At 17, he moved south to Geraldine.

"When I moved down here I had $40,000 saved from working when I was younger, and I'd saved half my wages from my first year working."

He worked for the Kelmans, and bought some cows that he leased back to them. It was easier to purchase stock then, he said.

"Cows were cheaper nine years ago because what the cows were valued at, and what the bank valued them at, was closer."

And a year later he went into a 50-50 sharemilking partnership with the Kelmans.

The Timaru Herald