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Fine-tuning of operation sees move to autumn and spring calving

Fine-tuning of operation sees move to autumn and spring calving

Fine-tuning of operation sees move to autumn and spring calving

Family-owned Huirimu Farms encompasses both dry stock and dairy operations. Robbie Sherriff and his family run the farms and look to improve year-on-year, producing and rearing healthy animals with a team of people who enjoy their work.

Robbie’s parents, Alistair and Judy, began farming when they purchased a property near Mangakino in Waikato in the 1970s. From there, in the early 2000s, they sold and moved to Arohena. Before joining the family business, Robbie worked for three years at the Hamilton and Te Awamutu PGG Wrightson stores.

“After working for PGG Wrightson, I travelled to the United Kingdom. Soon after returning, I was talking with a neighbour over the fence and he mentioned he wanted to sell his farm. So, we purchased it and converted it to a dairy platform,” says Robbie.

“The conversion was a huge amount of work but it was also an exciting time as I was new to dairy farming. We went hard for eight to nine months, followed by our first calving, so it was a big learning curve.”

The milking platform in Arohena is on rolling land and in grass year-round. With the decision to build a herd home, the crops for feeding the herd are grown on Huirimu Farms’ other properties including maize, silage, lucerne and chicory for the calves. In addition, DDG, maize, grain and PKE are brought in to feed the herd.

Robbie, his wife Shannan and their farm manager Grace milk Friesian crossbred cows. They were chosen for their bigger size as they provide a good base for breeding replacements.

“We aim for per-cow production, so we go for a lower stocking rate and feed more per cow. In total, we feed around about 2.3 tonnes of supplements per cow per season,” explains Robbie.

The herd home shelters the cows from adverse weather events, though Robbie says they use it every day of the year, with a portion of the cows in there at a time.

“We have lifted 100 kg of milk solids per cow since installing the herd home without increasing the amount of feed we provide. No matter what the weather does, whether it is wet or dry, we are better able to manage our herd’s health.”

This year, Robbie says they made changes to their calving setup, keeping calves indoors for longer and moving to spring and autumn calving. While in the past, calves were placed in a paddock by two weeks of age, they now remain in the shed until weaned at 65 days old.

“We were having issues with the calves due to storms coming through in September. Now, we have a purpose-built complex housing calves that is divided into multiple pens. With a feeder in each pen, up to 30 calves can be accommodated. Plus, we use automatic feeders in the shed too.

“By keeping the calves indoors for longer, we have achieved higher growth rates. The shed was a good investment as the calves are happy and so are the staff. As the demand for beef is growing, we want good quality calves to enter our beef operation and this setup supports this.”

Having completed their first autumn calving, Robbie says moving to calving twice a year was an obvious choice with the infrastructure available on-farm and offers additional income over winter. The move also gives Huirimu Farms’ beef operation greater flexibility and offers more certainty in understanding when stock will be finished throughout the year.

Next season, Robbie says they aim to have two-thirds of cows calving in spring and one-third in autumn. This means if the farm endures a tough summer, a portion of the cows will be dry, allowing for better management of feed allocation.

At Huirimu Farms, all the calves stay within the business, although not on the milking platform. Some dairy heifers move to the dry stock operation and beef calves to the finishing farms.

Helping Robbie and Shannan on farm are PGG Wrightson’s Technical Field Representative Mark Bulwer and trainee Technical Field Representative Bex Whitehead. With both based at the PGG Wrightson Te Awamutu store, the team supplies the Sherriff’s with calf rearing products including MaxCare Calf Milk Replacer and Gusto Calf Meal, along with the farm's animal health requirements and crop protection sprays.

“Mark and Bex’s expertise on farm helps me with making decisions around cropping and the best options for sprays. This takes a lot of work off me because they know what's coming and organise the product as required, with Bex taking care of my ordering. Their help contributes to me achieving the best outcomes possible.”

Robbie and his team also receive advice from Laura Pattie, PGG Wrightson Technical Expert – Animal Production, on cow and calf nutrition.

“Laura has been a godsend with the new calf shed. She has set up trials in our calf-rearing facility to examine the effectiveness of different feeding ratios, and the length of time feeding calves on calf milk replacer and meal. Her knowledge and experience has been vital for fine-tuning our calving operation.”