Young farm manager's passion for dairying
Happy cows equal good milk production and happy cows mean happy people, says Manawatu dairy farm manager Amy Lowe.
That's her mantra. She scratches an upset cow and tells her to settle down. The cow was not happy at the new people (the photographer and reporter) in the shed, turning the wrong way at first and kicking off the cups.
A friendly talk and scratch from Lowe, and she calmed down.
Lowe says she was mentored and helped in the early part of her career in dairying, and she now supports students and trainees who think they may want to be part of the dairy industry.
Lowe is seen as an up and coming young leader in the dairy industry.
She has been making a name for herself, and was recently awarded runner-up in the Farm Manager of the Year category at the Dairy industry regional Manawatu/Horowhenua/Rangitikei awards.
Her partner Joshua Mitchell also works on the Kairanga dairy farm, along with farmhand Deon Weir. The three of them milk all year, 460 cows, with 220 calving in autumn, and 240 in spring.
Both Lowe and Mitchell grew up on dairy farms in Manawatu.
Lowe was on a 110-cow dairy farm and that sowed the seed for her passion for dairying.
"I loved going out with Mum and Dad on the farm and being with the animals when I was growing up. I adored the animals, which has progressed into an interest and passion for breeding."
She says she grew up on a friesian stud, and breeding better cows is what helps drive her.
They look after cows for Nikki and Grant Kearins and are contract milkers - so the more the cows produce, the more Lowe and Mitchell earn.
They have increased production per hectare and lowered the mastitis count. They provide milk from the farm to the privately owned dairy company Open Country at Whanganui.
Open Country has 590 suppliers to its plants throughout the country - 101 provide milk to its Whanganui plant.
Lowe says that with contract milking it means she is responsible for the whole running of the dairy farm business - such as staff, feeding the cows, and making sure the milk gets in the vat.
"I go on my pasture walks, work out what the cows are getting, and top them up with supplements - such as maize and grass silage or palm kernel extract and an energy mix."
They have a feed pad and a 'loafing barn', which means cows can calve there.
"When it is horrible weather, we set that [loafing barn] up and put the cows there. They're shut in, because cows often go out in the mud and go somewhere horrible to calve if they're allowed."
When they're not calving, all cows also have access to that when it's cold and wet, says Lowe.
She cares about the cows and says one of the worst things is lying in bed, hearing rain or hail, and knowing the cows are out in that.
Lowe says the temptation is to go out and put them under cover.
She says the spring cows are due to calve from July 25 and there are no early calves yet.
Lowe says everybody knew, and she did at the age of 8, that she wanted to own her own farm by the time she was 30.
In the next few years, she and Mitchell say they are aiming for a 50:50 sharemilking position and have talked about it with the Kearinses. They aim to stay on the farm and can sharemilk there. Later they want to own a farm.
They raise bull calves for beef, and build up equity that way.
Fifty:50 sharemilking means the sharemilkers run the farm, pay for some costs and own the cows. The farm owner has the land.
Lowe is a go-getter, bubbly, cheerful and full of energy.
She says her first job after leaving Palmerston North Girls' High School was working at the Kearins farm.
Lowe was always keen on farming, and did agriculture at NCEA level 2 and 3 by Correspondence.
After working for a year at the Kearinses, Lowe went for four years to Collis Farms in Kairanga and worked her way up from a junior to second in charge.
Then there was a move back to the Kearinses, where she manages the cows, pastures, supplementary feed (such as silage and palm kernel extract) and milking.
The two calvings and milking all-year system means there is always something to do, says Mitchell.
"Calving, mating, milking. We need to be here every day. The only down time is for about six weeks after New Year."
They go away some weekends, when Mitchell says he can talk his father into milking for them.
And winter milking is under way. The cows have been on the feed pad, and are waiting for the gate to be opened so they can go into the 30-a-side herringbone shed. The radio turns on.
"Hi ladies," says Lowe as the cows come in. They are her girls and she says her parents once told her she should treat the cows and other people's business as though they were her own.
The best thing she got out of entering the dairy industry competition was feeling all right about budgeting.
"I know how much it costs to buy in supplementary feed, to run a dairy shed, and it has to be less than what we get for milk. Otherwise it doesn't add up."
The owners are happy to spend a bit, to make it easier for the people dealing with the cows, she says.
There is an automatic drafting gate. Lowe and Weir sort out the cows (by eartag number) to be drafted to another paddock.
Lowe continues her study in the industry now she is fulltime farming, with Ag ITO courses.
This year was Lowe's second year entering the Dairy Industry Award farm manager section. She came second, but won the 'Best Livestock Management' award.
"I was really pleased, because the girls are my passion."