Tim Parsons grew up in Tauranga. Future wife Melissa was raised in England. Neither came from farming backgrounds.
Today the 2018 Central Plateau Share Farmers of the Year have achieved impressive results on the Tokoroa farm they contract milk 950 cows for Trinity Lands.
After various dairying jobs and a stint in the UK with 200 cows, where Melissa says: “Tim realised how good he had it in NZ”, the couple arrived at Tokoroa in 2015.
And they’ve worked hard – alongside their three full-time staff – to achieve results, which they shared with fellow farmers at the Dairy Industry Awards winners’ field day at their workplace on March 28.
Not only have they lifted production but made big gains in animal health, reproduction and environmental practices.
Tim says the farm has a 54-bail rotary with in-shed feeding, and is 330ha with 15ha of lucerne – and came out of forestry nine years ago. “We run system 4 and this year we’re targeting 450,000kgMS and are on track for about 470,000kgMS.
“Some of the farm’s strengths are it’s summer-safe, you can get away with one person milking most of the year, it has good infrastructure and owners that are willing to bring in feed when needed.”
“Cows get 13kg grass and 5kg in-shed and in some harder paddocks they’ll get a top-up of 2kg. We aim to feed them about 20kg per day.”
Tim does farm walks to ensure pasture cover is there going into winter – and when they’ve got surplus – and has set their stocking rate at 2.7, knowing they have support from Trinity Lands for additional feed.
“I’ve done research and our stocking rate is 75kg of live weight per tonne of DM – compared to the NZ average of 80-90kg. This helps with longer walks and harder winters when cows eat a bit more.”
The herd’s reproductive performance has also improved. Tim says last season Trinity Lands brought a vet in and with the Parsons came up with a mating plan to improve the six-week in-calf rate.
A vet condition-scored the cows last autumn “making sure they were in the right condition to dry off”.
“Then on the first day of mating we did 450 cows with Controlled Internal Drug Releases – known as CIDRs – to fix the six-week in-calf rate,” says Tim.
“At 83 per cent it was well under where we wanted to be. We did 450 cows and shortened mating length by 18 days – and got the same empty rates. And we had a faster build-up of milk production.
“Production has increased from 480kgMS per cow to 510kgMS. We’re up 40,000kgMS on last season. If we contribute 30 per cent of that to early milk it’s net saving or gain of $50,000.”
This year cows had longer to cycle and produced similar results “and we only used 100 CIDRs”.
Tim and Melissa also want to farm sustainably, so looked at antibiotic use. “Last year we treated 260 cows with antibiotics for mastitis and lameness. This year we teat-sealed for mastitis and only treated 37 cows compared to 97 last year.
“Last year we treated 104 cows for lameness,” says Tim, who says their biggest issue is footrot.
“This year, every milking we’d clean out the foot and apply copper sulfate and only had to treat 11 cows. “It’s made a huge difference and put more milk in the vat.”
For effluent, a new storage pond is being built. And Melissa says all waterways have been fenced but they repaired one where water levels had risen. “With riparian planting well-established it’s just maintenance.”
She’s also introduced new sustainability procedures. “We’re power-vigilant and careful with hot water usage.” Tim has a song for staff to sing if they leave lights on.
“We save plant water to wash our calf equipment. Have a skip bin on-farm – so no rubbish holes. And I require all staff to recycle,” says Melissa
“This season we’ve created recycling bins at the cowshed. Anything that can be recycled goes in these – mag bags, plastics, glass, cardboard packaging, plastic caps off spray-cans, big drums, silage wrap etc.”
“And we re-use as much as possible.”
The couple have also reduced nitrogen dressings – following Trinity Lands’ policy to not apply N in winter months, when soil temperature is below 10 degrees Celsius, or before large rainfall is forecast.
“There’s no point putting it on and letting it get washed into waterways,” says Trinity Lands’ general manager Andrew Archer.
“It’s about managing the climate and when you’re actually going to get a response from applications. Running it into our river is bad for the environment but also bad for our bank balance – it’s just wasting money.”
Tim and Melissa say they couldn’t have won the SFOTY title – and five merit awards for leadership, health and safety, recording and productivity, farm environment, and pasture performance – without their staff.
“You can’t run the farm without them – they’re trained and competent and a big part of our team.”