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Smooth transition to new farm for Greenans

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Matt O’Keeffe offers an update of progress on the Greenan farm in Waikato, New Zealand.

After what Olin Greenan described as “a smooth movement” of 650 cattle to their new farm in the Waikato, it is straight into the calving season for the Greenan team. The logistics of moving that many livestock by road, along with the farm machinery and the contents of three houses, are quite enormous. It speaks volumes for the organisational skills of Olin, his wife Anna and their staff that the entire exercise was executed so smoothly. Olin reports that all is going well so far on the new farm: “We are settling in well and the fact that calving has started means that there is little time for reflection on past experiences.”

Maximising efficiencies

There are two milking sheds on the new farm but the two holdings are only divided by a drain and are being treated, effectively, as one property: “The plan is to fill the larger milking shed first and then as more cows calve, to begin milking in the second unit aswell. It makes for more efficient use of labour than having two distinct farms.” The staff are an interesting mix of Irish and international, with Gaelic games a very important talking point at this time of year, asOlin explains: “Kilkenny-man Paddy Raftice has just watched Kilkenny being defeated by Limerick while I am delighted that my home county Monaghan, has made it into the Super 8’s.”

Planning through a drought

While Olin has more than enough to occupy his mind at the moment he does keep up with the state of playback home: “I’m feeling some of the pain for Irish farmers as they struggle through the drought. Having farmed through some pretty severe droughts down having farmed through some pretty severe droughts down here, I can identify with the problems they are facing.”While understandably reluctant to give advice, Olin does place emphasis on having a plan in place to farm through difficult times: “You can’t micro manage a drought and you can’t keep watching every cloud and hoping there rain in it. My attitude has always been to have a rolling plan from week to week, with a plan of further action if it hasn’t rained in two weeks’ time. Questions around destocking and increased supplementation are obvious elements to be considered. I did find out quickly that while the grass is burnt there’s still some feed and dry matter value in that dried out pasture. Cows can often be more content than if the grass is there in abundance and it is pouring rain. So utilisation of available grass is very high. We tend to keep up the rotation and then introduce silage as necessary. Because the drought came early in Ireland the cows are still milking well, so adding extra feed makes sense as long as the milk price justifies the cost. When we get a late drought in New Zealand wetend to go once-a-day milking to reduce feed demand and maintain body condition score. Give me a dry summer over a wet winter anytime. You can farm reasonably well through a drought but a wet time really stresses everyone and there are decisions to be made almost every hour about paddocks and poaching and so on, as Irish farmers experienced last spring. It’s really the lesser of two evils.”

A calving onslaught

The phone call to New Zealand found Olin with a headtorch attached as he monitored a cow calving in one of the paddocks: “It’s early night-time and temperatures have dropped to two degrees. The cow has just delivered a lovely Jersey heifer calf. We’ll get some colostrum into the calf and her mother will be ready for the milking shed in the morning.” The new farm has a two hundred and twenty hectare milking platform. It’s a relatively new farm being converted from forestry and scrub land just thirty years ago. The soil is able to take a lot of water without flooding but there is a flip side as Olin points out: “In the summer, with the high soil temperatures things can get very dry with an impact on grass growth.But that’s more than made up for in the wetter times of the year when there is less risk of poaching than on the previous farm. At the moment (July 16) we have 2300kgs of grass cover so we are in a good position.Remarkably, despite the stress of being loaded onto cattle trailers for the two hour journey to the new farm, the cows are in good health and calving without difficulties.Condition score is on target with upwards of two hundred due to calve by July 20.”

A family farm

One of the non-business reasons for choosing thisOne of the non-business reasons for choosing this particular farm was because of its proximity to services,including schools, shops and hospitals. The two Greenanboys, Jack and Noah, are approaching school-going age and that was an important consideration, with the town of Hamilton close by. The family home is also much closer of Hamilton close by. The family home is also much closer to the farmyard, making it easier to keep an eye on the boys while also getting on with farm work. Olin and Annaplace a lot of emphasis on the value of farm family life and the opportunity to integrate the family fully into what happens on the farm.

Strong Targets

The initial share milking contract is for five years. TheThe initial share milking contract is for five years. TheGreenans own the six hundred and fifty cow herd and the farm owners do not live on the farm so most of the management is in the Greenans’ hands.There are regular updates of progress with an advisor on behalf of the owners. It is a bigger farm platformthat the previous farm near Auckland so there are more opportunities to grow the business: “There are extra challenges as well. We have another labour unit, a SriLankan man, in addition to Paddy from Kilkenny and Padraig from Waterford. Our targets for the coming season include producing eleven hundred kilos MS per hectare, that’s a total of 242,000 kilos of milk solids across the entire farm.The actual budget is for 220,000 kilos so we hope to surpass that. Other targets include seventy eight per centin-calf rate at ten weeks with less than six per cent emptyrate.” There are also solid financial targets to be reached so that the whole exercise makes good profitable sense.Fourteen tonnes of forage utilised per hectare is another realisable target for the Greenan operation. That figure includes maize silage produced on the farm.

Challenges ahead

The milk price outlook for the coming season is positive,The milk price outlook for the coming season is positive,according to Olin: “Fonterra have come out strongly,with a seven NZ dollar indicative price for the year ahead.This may reflect some pricing competition from other processors with a Canterbury-based processor planning to develop a site in the Waikato region in the coming period.The government has put constraints on immigration so itis becoming more difficult to secure labour. We have developed a bio-security plan for the farm because of the ongoing issue with M. Bovis. So there are plenty of new challenges for us as well as getting familiar with our new farm.”