Diversity strengthens dairy business

As both lower order sharemilkers and equity holders, James and Shannon Burke consider themselves fortunate to be able to diversify their interests in the dairy industry relatively early in their career.

The couple, who have two children aged one and three, are in their fourth season at White Pine Dairies on the Hauraki Plains near Ngatea. The 225 hectare farm is majority owned by Mark and Diane Townshend and peak milks 880 to 900 Jersey cows.

Working on a larger farm where they could upskill was one of the attractions of originally applying for the position, James says. An unexpected benefit was the opportunity to enter into equity partnerships in two entities as a result of their relationship with the Townshend’s who have considerable dairy interests in New Zealand and overseas.

One of the Burke’s investments were shares in Canterbury Grasslands which owns dairy businesses, in Canterbury, Southland and Missouri, North America. Its farms milk nearly 20,000 cows on 7,751 hectares. The other farm in which the Burke’s are equity partners is near Morrinsville and milks 220 cows. This, combined with being sharemilkers, means they have the best of both worlds. James says the additional opportunities made
available were unexpected. “It’s probably happened quicker that what we
thought, but the main stepping stone was to get more experience into a bigger job with larger cow numbers and managing staff,” James says. Their strategy over the next five years is to keep increasing their equity as much as possible by diversifying themselves. As well as the couple sharemilking and trading stock, Shannon will continue her off-farm role in dairy industry recruitment and James as an artificial insemination technician “This extra income will allow us to take advantage of investment opportunities when they arise.” White Pine Dairies has four full-time staff and is supplemented by 230ha of rolling to steep lease land of which 180ha is effective for grazing young stock and 50 to 60 high breeding worth carry-over cows. It aims to rear 35% replacements a year through seven weeks of AI and running recorded PHOTOS: Hauraki Plains sharemilkers James and Shannon Burke with children Bryah and Karstyn. The jersey herd in for milking at White Pine dairies near Ngatea. Diversity strengthens dairy business Russell Fredric bulls with the heifers and carryovers. This creates surplus animals of 15% to 18% each year, which enables the farm to generate above $1kgMS in surplus cow income. A long-established farm that has been in the Townshend family since 1946, White Pine Dairies is now in its fifth generation. The farm runs on a grass-based system which grows on average 16t/DM/ha per year, with feed occasionally supplemented with palm kernel extract to fill any feed deficits. Cows are milked through a 70 bale rotary shed. The farm has an older than average herd structure as culling is limited to animals with major health concerns, or older empty cows. Typical production is around 265,000kgMS which equates to about 300kgMS per cow and close to 1,200kgMS/ha. However following a tough spring that was extremely wet followed by a reasonably dry summer, last season’s production was 247,000kgMS. This translates to a relatively low figure of about 280kgMS per cow, but at 1100kgMS/ha is more than 10% higher than the 2016-2017 North Island average of 987kgMS/ha. “We struggle with this (heavy marine clay) soil type to get good production per cow, but per hectare we’re doing pretty good with a reasonably high stocking rate and quite small jersey cows.” While they are not high producers, the jersey’s have few problems with lameness and have a favourable empty rate of 7% to 10% without interventions such as the use of controlled internal drug release (CIDR’s). One management tool used is once-a-day milking. Part of the herd, mainly heifers and lighter cows, are on OAD all season. “We don’t have a set herd as such on oncea- day. We draft cows in and out of that herd as needed, based on their condition.” “We will milk 250 to 300 cows once-a-day all season, but closer to Christmas it will be more of a 50/50 split.”
By late February the entire herd goes to OAD. “Our general rule of thumb is condition score for once-a-day cows.” James says more farmers today are using OAD in the management of their herds. “For us, we find benefit in OAD as we can better manage condition score of cows. The minimal production loss is outweighed in the improved empty rates, condition score and decreased pressure on labour units”

Article from page 35 in the Spring 2018 NZ Dairy Magazine.