Milking their way toward a million dollars

SHARING SPOILS: 2014 Southland Otago Sharemilker/Equity Farmer of the Year Steve and Tracy Henderson are aiming to have $1 million worth of assets by the age of 30.
SHARING SPOILS: 2014 Southland Otago Sharemilker/Equity Farmer of the Year Steve and Tracy Henderson are aiming to have $1 million worth of assets by the age of 30.

Cows are a sharemilker's greatest asset.

And Winton sharemilkers Steve and Tracy Henderson are focused on looking after their cows and young stock the best they can.

"We want to have $1 million worth of equity by the age of 30.

"And we hope to achieve this solely through stock growth," Steve said.

The Hendersons are in their second season 50 per cent sharemilking 310 cows through a 28-a-side herringbone shed on a 112-hectare milking platform.

The farm is owned by Adrian and Bev Simmonds, who live in Northland.

The Hendersons expect to produce about 128,000 kilograms of milk solids this season from their friesian-jersey cross herd, up from 121,000kgMS last season.

Both Steve and Tracy hail from farming backgrounds.

Steve grew up on his parents' dairy farm at Edendale, before the family moved to Pukerau, while Tracy was raised on a sheep, beef and deer farm at Taumarunui in the King Country.

They met while studying towards a bachelor of agriculture at Lincoln University.

After the completion of her degree, Tracy moved to Gorge Road to go dairy farming with Daniel and Emily Woolsey before joining Steve contract-milking on his parents' farm at Pukerau.

In 2009, Steve won the Southland Farm Manager of the Year title.

It was always the Hendersons' goal to win the 2014 Southland Otago Sharemilker/Equity Farmer of the Year Award and they were thrilled when they were named the inaugural winners at an awards ceremony in Gore on March 1.

The couple also picked up two merit awards - the LIC Recording and Productivity Award and the Westpac Business Performance Award.

"That was something else we wanted to achieve. It's great to tick that box and it will look good on our CV," Steve said.

The Hendersons started their herd in 2009 with the purchase of 20 in-calf heifers, which they ran on a 30ha lease block.

Their current job suits their skill base, enables them to run their business with minimum staff and gives them control over their young stock, which are their greatest asset.

One of the strengths of the farm is the accompanying 65ha run-off where the heifers are grazed from weaning until they calve as 2-year- olds.

The cows are wintered on kale at the run-off and supplemented with silage and fed according to body condition score with the lighter cows being preferentially fed.

The Hendersons operate a simple mating programme where the friesian cows are mated to jersey bulls and jersey cows to friesian bulls.

They are achieving a 74 per cent in-calf rate in the first six weeks, which includes first-calving heifers, using a combination of heat detection methods.

Previously, only tail painting was done but they are now using kamars too, which is helping them achieve a higher submission and conception rate.

The cows are wintered on kale at the run-off and are fed according to their condition score with the lighter cows receiving more feed.

"Be feeding the cows well from day one we've been able to achieve our production goals," Steve said.

All costs are shared between the Hendersons and the farm owners and they receive 50 per cent of the milk cheque.

The farm was converted to dairy 21 years ago and much of the development has been done, which has enabled the Hendersons to run the property themselves with the help of a relief milker.

However, a Lincoln student was employed this summer because the Hendersons wanted to focus on the dairy awards and their wedding which was held on the farm in early March - just days after the awards.

They operate an 11-day-on, three-day-off roster, which has enabled them to have some weekends off.

"It's given us a break and both Steve and it's our way of giving back because Steve and I both went to university," Tracy said.

About 10 per cent of the property is regrassed each year and the pastures are mainly ryegrass and white clover.

Under their contract, the Hendersons have another season on their property, but they also have the option of staying on longer if they want to.

Ideally, they would like to move to a bigger job milking 400 to 500 cows and employ a fulltime staff member.

"We don't want to go to 1000 cows but we want a stable income."

The Hendersons' eventual goal is farm ownership which they hope to achieve by 2022.

The Southland Times