Canada trip a boon for student

23:00, Jan 20 2014
Vanessa Robinson
BACK ON THE FARM: Vanessa Robinson is back from Canada, working at Massey University's No 1 dairy farm.

Vanessa Robinson may have been born and bred in Auckland but she is studying agriculture.

"My mother came from a dairy farm, so she knew about it and I spent time on relations' farms."

She says she had no idea what she wanted to do until she reached year 12 when she had to decide subjects for the following year. She never saw herself in an office job.

So an agricultural science degree it was.

Robinson spent 4 months studying in Guelph in Canada as part of that degree.

It has a population of about 120,000 and is a city in southwestern Ontario, about 100 kilometres west of Toronto.


Robinson did five papers in Guelph, the equivalent of a full-time course. She spent Christmas with family friends five hours north of Toronto, in the cold.

Now Robinson is back in New Zealand and working at Massey University's No 1 dairy farm, milking about 240 cows once a day. She had already worked there.

"The time in Canada was really interesting. You can learn from studying, but going to different farms helps you understand how they work."

She says she went to dairy farms as part of her papers in nutrition.

"Farming is really different. Most of the dairy cows are kept indoors and fed grain. So it is all about feeding and nutrition - it's a new perspective."

Robinson says there was another paper analysing performance of farms. "We had to go and look and identify strengths and opportunities. We looked at cow condition, nutrition and mating."

Mating was a lot lower than New Zealand submission rates - partly because mating was all year round, rather than seasonal. In-calf rates were about 14 per cent.

"In Canada farmers are on a litre quota system. It is really hard to get an increase in that quota. But farmers are paid on fat and protein, so they try to get that higher."

Robinson says all dairy products available in Canada are made in Canada.

"In New Zealand we're probably going to have more cows indoors. But I feel it will disadvantage us. Our production is based on grass which is cheap. But indoors does mean more control over effluent, but it is harder and more expensive."

She says most cows in Canada are friesian holsteins.

"They are about half as big again as our cows. And the production is a lot higher - about 40 litres of milk a day, compared with 20 litres in New Zealand. But the feed is more concentrated."

Robinson says she visited farms with milking robots - which allow the cows to wander in and be milked when they choose, rather than at a certain time.

Some of the robotic milking machines mean the farmer can detect early ketosis, mastitis and nutrition problems.

"Farmers using robotic milking means a decrease in the amount of time they are around the cows. Will a farmer spend less time assessing his cows, therefore missing key issues?"

Farmers might use the additional free time to look at cows and pick up signs and become better farmers, says Robinson, or they might choose to spend more family time but robotic milking gives them that choice.

Robinson says the dairy and beef club she belonged to went on a three-day trip to beef farms.

"It was nice to see cattle outdoors. There were few sheep."

Robinson says the only lamb she saw was New Zealand lamb.

There was also a trip to the Cookstown stockyards, which consisted of a large indoor area that housed sheep, cattle and goats before their sale and two show rooms where the cattle were weighed and paraded for buyers to view before an auction.

On the non-farming front, Robinson enjoyed visiting Niagara Falls and watching an ice-hockey game.

"I went with another exchange student to a Storm game, which is the Guelph team. It was such a crazy atmosphere, and the game was just so fast paced. The skill of the players was just outstanding; I wish I could skate like that. It was a brutal game though."

She is working at a Massey dairy farm for a few weeks, and is then off to the Netherlands to the home of breeding company CRV Ambreed.

Robinson will do honours this year.

Manawatu Standard