A shiny light at the end of a pretty gloomy tunnel

We’ve all heard the term ‘resilience’ when it comes to describing important attributes of those working in the farming sector, but for some, that word takes on a whole new meaning, as in the case of Bay of Plenty dairy farmer, Bridie Virbickas.

In the one season, she lost a member of the team who returned to the UK for a family emergency, her 2IC on ACC, another staff member of the time resigned and then to top it all off, Bridie snapped a tendon in her hand. “Without my Mum stepping in to help out I don’t know what would have become of that season. I had to continue to milk, wearing a massive splint to protect my hand. To say the least, it was a very very challenging time for me.” Her sister also came back from uni and helped on the farm, while her dad helped with the mowing and anything else that needed doing and somehow, she managed, to get through the 2020 – 2021 season.

A shiny light at the end of a pretty gloomy tunnel came in the form of ‘the most wonderful Manager’ who she found through word of mouth. “Oly’s timing coming on to the farm, nearly two years ago now, was just perfect for me and now I have a really wonderful team that are always here working hard.” Bridie contract milks 650 cows. That number of cows increasing from two years , given taking on a lease block over the road and purchasing a portion of the neighbours property next door. Having a 600 cow feedpad, built two years ago, has given Bridie security within her farm management system. The herd is all Jersey, a breed Bridie and her family have had a long association with. “My dad started off with Jersey’s when he purchased a portion of the existing family jersey herd in his early 20’s. Our family has farmed jersey cows here for around 100 years which is pretty special. Mum’s always loved the breed as well. In terms of efficiency, they are really great.

They are smaller, so you can get more cows on in terms of stocking rate and they have a higher milk solids percentage of their milk.” And as if taking care of a large dairy platform isn’t enough, Bridie still finds time to involve herself in her other great passion, farming governance. She is currently Federated Farmers Sharemilking Chair for Bay of Plenty and is also with the Contract Review Committee for Federated Farmers. “It’s been great because we are  nally back meeting face to face instead of all the zoom meetings through COVID.” Bridie is also about to start as the Dairy NZ Associate Director, a new governance role. An Associate Director, is there to observe and learn; it’s part of Dairy NZ’s strategic plan to future-proof the governance realm and to enable those showing an aptitude for such work, to learn.

Back on the farm, Bridie and family are just in the planning stages of replacing the exisiting two
x 22 herringbone sheds that serve the farm, with a new rotary plant.“There’s a lot to plan for and think about with such a significant expense, so we’re just beginning to look at things.” The Edgecumbe area, where the farms are located is known for its tendency to be prone to flooding, however Bridie says the local Federated Farmers and the wider farming community has a really good network of support to farmers impacted. “We usually set up at someone’s home and coordinate the movement of stock as necessary and ensure help is provided as quickly as possible. We operate a phoning-tree to  nd places where cows can be relocated to.” Calving commenced 12th July and will be completed in 12 weeks.

The management practice is to have 25% replacements coming into the herd each season and all Jersey bulls are reared. “We don’t send any Bobby’s to the works for the first 5 weeks of calving, instead they go and live up on the hill farm and Dad sells them as yearling bulls. That’s a lot of lives saved.” In all, given the experiences of recent seasons, Bridie says she is thankful for her team and the support of her family. “I’m very lucky to have what I have. I love farming and caring for the animals and my team.”

Article sourced from NZDairy – Written by Sue Russell