When Neil Bateup finishes milking in the morning, he likes to go fishing or to a rugby match. He doesn’t have to worry about getting back for the evening task. He just waits until the next morning.
The New Zealand dairyman, set up securely on about 600 acres that provide a more fantastic scenic view at every turn, was one of the first in his country to go to once-a-day milking, and he went into great detail about its benefits while discounting almost every question about potential problems that came from members of the Agriculture Leadership Exchange, here on a study trip to this small island nation.
Mastitis? No worries, as they say here.
“If we start them on twice a day and then switch to once, the somatic cell count doubles the first day, but then it settles down,” he said. But if we start them on once a day, there’s little difference.”
Bateup, in fact, consistently produces milk that ranks in the top 15 percent of his co-op’s quality rankings, and the Fonterra co-op contains about 10,500 farms. His production, he admits, isn’t topnotch, but with an amazingly low cost of production, his herd average of 15 liters per day (approx. 4 gallons) still produces a profit.
“Prices have been a little ugly lately,” he said, “but with this reasonably low-cost system, even at a price of $3.90 per kilogram, compared to $8 a few years ago, I can survive, yeeah. Before principal payments and taxes, I can produce milk at about $3.10, but some people are bleeding money.”
| The scenery that greets Neil Bateup every day is amazing, even when the pot of gold is on someone else’s farm.|
Part of Neil’s solution is that he has so few input costs. The grass in his paddock system of 33 areas that can be subdivided into 90-some during the peak grass growing season is just about the only thing the cows eat.
“I supplement with some palm kernel during the summer dry patch, and we will take some silage from the grass, and every few years we’ll buy some maize silage,” he said. “Not this year. Maybe next year.”
The grasses on which the 600-plus Jersey herd feed are just about as nutritious as any in the world.
“The studies I’ve seen show that grass alone costs the least and brings the highest profits,” he said.
Something about the makeup of the New Zealand soil keeps it going, like most things on Bateup’s farm, without a lot of effort. In fact, he said, he hasn’t renovated a single paddock in more than 30 years.
“I bought the farm in 1972, and I renovated five of the 30-some paddocks the first five years, he said. “I don’t bring seed onto the farm. I don’t spread manure. I don’t know what a harrow looks like.”
Interestingly, tractors on the farm are used only to haul milk to his calves, which are born beginning in July.
They’re kept in a barn for their first four days of life and given a healthy helping of colostrum, then grouped for pasture and fed milk — you guessed it — once a day.
He begins breeding his cows with artificial insemination, attempting to breed 92 percent of them in three weeks. He said he relies on bulls after that, and wants all cows with calf in 11 weeks or they’re gone. Then, by early to mid-May, they’re dried off, set out to pasture for the dry season, and the 40-cow rotary parlor sits empty until July 20 or so.
He admits that he turns over about 20 percent of his herd each year. The main reason is if they’re open, because with the long walk to pasture, he has little lameness and never trims hooves. They average six or seven lactations per cow before they’re culled.
Although the system is largely impractical during Michigan’s harsh winters, there are a few things that can be learned from Neil Bateup, said trip participant Terri Jo Hawbaker, a Pewamo dairy farmer and GreenStone Farm Services director.
“It was somewhat of a surprise that he hasn’t renovated any of his pasture, but now I understand that’s one of the benefits of being in the New Zealand climate,” she said. “That they can graze year-round and not put up any winter feed is hard to wrap your head around. That means no input costs such as a building or feeding pad.”
Still, she said, her visit to the Bateup dairy will prompt her to reevaluate a few things.
“I’m going to look at my equipment use and see how much iron I can offload,” she said. “I’ll look at what we can do better in winter to be more efficient and profitable on our grass-based system. Whether that means looking at stocking rate or just being a better manager, it’s something I’ll look at when I get home.”