For 85 years the Graham family has milked cows on the Awakeri farm Elizabeth and Joseph Graham bought in 1929.
The Coquetdale Trust sign features an illustration of the Croquet River and the Graham family home in England.
Called Coquetdale for the area in Northumberland, in northeast England, where they emigrated from, it began as 50 acres (19 hectares), growing with purchase of neighbouring land to 117ha.
About 56 years ago their son Bill and his new wife Kaye (nee Saunders) took over the farm, and 50 years ago the couple built a new herringbone shed.
The Edgecumbe earthquake of 1987 caused some minor damage but failed to destroy the building but late last year plans were made for its demolition and replacement with a brand new dairy.
Work was underway when on February 24 this year Bill died, as Kaye says “with his boots on” rolling up an electric fence on the farm.
“It was a huge shock. Bill never got to see the new dairy finished,” says Kaye, who oversaw the rest of the project.
Coquetdale is on fertile, low-lying peat soils. Richard Claydon, of Waiotahi Contractors, says the new cowshed site had to be excavated to 2.6 metres, at which point a number of springs were uncovered.
Pumps were employed to drain the site, which was then lined with geo-tech material and backfilled to build it up about one metre above ground level.
“Finding water wasn’t unexpected because of the peat soil,” says Richard, who documented the project in a series of photos showing how deep the excavations were and the process of draining, lining and re-filling the site. The project began mid-January and by March the site was ready for the builders to begin.
The Coquetdale dairy replaces a herringbone shed built in the 1950s.
“Fonterra also required an upgrade of the tanker entrance off State Highway 30, so we lengthened the cattle stop, formed a wider entranceway and applied two coats of chip seal,” says Richard.
Kaye decided it should become a suitable and lasting tribute to Bill, so had an attractive wrought iron and brick pillar fence built with a gate bearing the words ‘Bill’s Gate’. It complements the adjacent Coquetdale Trust sign, which features an illustration of the Croquet River and the Graham family home in England.
Waiotahi Contractors returned once the dairy shed was almost complete to form the new tanker track and turn-around area and tidy up the site. Waiotahi Contractors Limited is a privately-owned and operated company that has been servicing the Eastern Bay of Plenty and the greater area since 1957.
Waiotahi provides a wide range of construction services to the farming community, from mulching through to pumice, race rock, frost and effluent ponds, shelter barns, drainage piling and many other services, employing local staff and knowledge.
Kaye Graham commissioned an attractive wrought iron fence and gate at the entrance to the Coquetdale farm, featuring the words ‘Bill’s Gate’ in memory of her late husband.
Tracks Concrete carried out the concrete work for the dairy and Kevin Dodds says this included using a new roller to create a “roughened” surface in the circular yard. “This is easier on the cow’s feet and is non-slip but still easy to clean.”
The long, narrow herringbone dairy required about 50 truckloads of concrete delivered and laid by the Tracks team. Tracks Concrete is a 25-year-old Whakatane-based company, which has a record of integrity, expertise and customer satisfaction, proven by the number of its returning clients. “Our clients value the relationship we build with them and recognize our commitment to quality, budget and schedule,” says Kevin.
Smith Builders constructed the compact, functional and attractive dairy to a design, which Stephen Smith says is tried and proven. “At just 20-aside the herringbone dairy is one of the smallest we have built in a while, but suits the site and works well. The project was pretty straight forward once the site preparation was finished.”
Steve King and Iain Watson, of King Farm Services, installed the DeLaval MidiLine Milking System in the new Coquetdale dairy.
The dairy has a circular yard with backing gates which automatically wash the yard. The pit and milking area is covered by a wide span roof with water tanks, vat, ice banks, machinery room and store room adjacent to it. The long, narrow design of the dairy, which was built just metres from the original building, has enabled it to link with existing race systems for the movement of the herd.
“We like to build dairies which are straightforward and functional like this one,” says Stephen.
“All the contractors involved in the project worked well together and kept in touch to make sure we were all on the same page.”
The King Farm Services team of Iain Watson, Jason Makela and Graham Tebbutt installed the DeLaval MidiLine Milking System – which is designed to be operated by one person. Also assisting on the job were Will and Michael King, Rod Kennedy, Alex Knight and Jonathon Van Leeuwen.
Steve King says the system is simple and can be easily upgraded with automatic cup removers and full animal ID systems in the future. Clusters are positioned in the middle of the pit and swing over to serve both sides of the parlour, which is very efficient. “The dairy has automatic teat cup washers and all the pipework is stainless steel for longevity and appearance.”
Steve has been carrying out work on the Graham farm for at least 25 years – and in fact it was the late Bill Graham who was responsible for Steve beginning King Farm Services.
“I had been working for another company when I was made redundant. Bill rang up asking me to do a job for him and I said I no longer worked for that company,” says Steve.
“Bill said: ‘I don’t care who you work for, I want you to do the job’ so I did. And that got me my first job. It was 1987, when my wife Maria and myself started our own company. I’ve always been grateful to Bill for that,” says Steve.
Gordon Faber, of Independent Refrigeration and Electrical, says the brief for the new Graham dairy was to make it as energy-efficient as possible and to minimise electricity costs.
Gordon Faber, of Independent Refrigeration and Electrical, says the new dairy is energy-efficient.
With that in mind, the last project to be completed on the dairy is the installation of a heat recovery system from the ice bank, which will provide hot water for use in the dairy. The ice bank snap chills milk before it enters the vat via electronic expansion values, which control milk flow.
“This system works so fast there is an up to 30 per cent improvement in chilling efficiency. It is a little more expensive to start with but with improved milk quality and the savings in energy costs will pay for itself in 18 months,” says Gordon.
“We have installed LED lights in the dairy, which are also more energy efficient but provide excellent lighting.”
Kaye says the contractors involved in the project were tremendously supportive after she lost Bill, carrying on to complete a new dairy she’s justifiably proud of.
“Most of the decisions had already been made, but Stephen Smith did ring me with one more – what colour scheme did I want.”
Friends and neighbours in the close-knit Awakeri and Whakatane community also rallied to Kaye’s aid – including neighbour John Howard, who allowed the Graham herd to be milked in his dairy for three months.
Bill’s death was a double tragedy for the family. Kaye and Bill’s son Allan had died the previous year. Allan and his wife Margaret had been sharemilking on the family farm.
Today Cameron Peat is the farm’s 50/50 sharemilker, milking 235 cows.
Bill and Kaye are well-respected for their extensive involvement in the farming and wider community. Bill was a life member of the Whakatane A&P Show Association, and of the Awakeri Events Centre. He was also a member of the plains water supply committee for many years.
Kaye’s many activities have included being treasurer for the Bay of Plenty Federated Farmers for 12 years, a member of the Women’s Division of Federated Farmers, and she’s an active member of its successor, Rural Women. She also chairs the Bay of Plenty Farm Education Trust, which awards scholarships to students studying agriculture-related subjects at university.