Insights from Young Dairy Network farming tour to NZ

Recently, LIC Tasmanian District Manager Rowan Priest had the pleasure of accompanying 19 young dairy farmers from Australia on a week-long study tour of New Zealand.

The Young Dairy Network (YDN) organised the tour with support from WestVic Dairy. They aimed to provide participants with a first-hand experience of diverse farming practices in New Zealand. While highlighting the innovative practices and technologies that have made New Zealand successful in dairy farming.

YDN Study Tour group outside LIC's head office, Newstead
YDN tour group outside LIC's head office, Newstead

Tour overview

The tour kicked off with a visit to a 480-cow farm using cow wearable technology. Followed by a visit to a sheep farm, milking up to 1,100 sheep at peak production and producing an average of 260 litres per ewe, per lactation.

On the second day the group spent the morning at LIC’s head office, based at Newstead in Hamilton. Here they learned about the development of KiwiCross® bulls and the significance of LIC genetics to the NZ dairy industry. The visit provided valuable insights into the latest advancements in genetic improvement and the future of dairy farming.

The group then travelled to Owl Farm, a 160-hectare demonstration dairy farm, which is a joint venture between St Peter’s School Cambridge and Lincoln University. Owl Farm’s commitment to environmental sustainability, including carbon measurement and emission reduction, sets a high standard for the industry.

It was then onto another dairy farm that has utilised cow wearable technology for the last three years. The farmer praised the system for its ability to maximise pasture usage and reduce labour requirements. The jam-packed second day finished with an evening dinner discussion with a NZ Dairy Farm Manager Award winner, Andrew Macky, who talked about once-a-day milking options.

Day three began with a visit to the Dairy Expo in Matamata, featuring over 80 exhibitors. Following this, they set off to a farming operation that managed both an autumn-calving herd and a more traditional spring-calving herd (350 cows each).

The young crew were then treated to a bygone era, with a special visit to a private tractor collection in Morrinsville before meeting with members of the Fonterra New Zealand team. This provided some great insight and discussion into the processing side of the New Zealand dairy industry and how Fonterra places a strong emphasis on environmental sustainability and animal welfare.

Day four began with a visit to the most intensive farm on the tour. The farmer milks 226 Jersey cows on 55 hectares, achieving an impressive stocking rate of 4.1 cows per hectare. The farm’s drainage and effluent management system utilises water from the nearby river.

The day’s final visit was to a farm operating on a slightly different 50:50 share farm business model. With 800 cows and machinery, the owners hire a contract milker to handle most of the labour. Additionally, they run a 650-strong herd of Herefords on a separate property.

The group concluded their tour with another 50:50 share farm dairy operation, with a strong focus on environmental improvement. This commitment drove them to plant hectares of native trees and significantly upgrade their effluent system, including adding a lined pond managed remotely via phone or laptop. An impressive effort which culminated in them winning the Supreme Award at the 2018 Balance Environment Awards.

Overall, the study tour was a resounding success, providing participants with valuable insights into the latest innovations and varied practices in dairy farming. The experiences shared and lessons learned will undoubtedly inspire the group to implement new ideas and technologies back on their own farms, in Western Victoria.

YDN study tour participants Billy Buckingham and Zoe Greenslade
Tour participants Billy Buckingham and Zoe Greenslade

Tour Q&A 

LIC Australia talked to two tour participants for insights into the benefits of studying different ways of dairying.

Billy Buckingham, Jancourt East, Victoria

Billy Buckingham grew up on his family’s dairy farm in Jancourt East, Southwest Victoria, and two and a half years ago began working alongside his father and uncle on the 400-cow farm. Billy is eager to learn about the practices and techniques used in New Zealand that could benefit his farm.

How did the tour contribute to your understanding of the challenges faced by the dairy industry and agriculture in New Zealand?

It was good to know that NZ are facing the same challenges in dairy farming and agriculture in general, and also that other tour participants are in the same boat.

Were there any interactions or discussions with farmers or industry experts that were particularly insightful or memorable?

Andrew Macky who is a NZ Dairy Farm Manager Award winner, gave an insightful talk about once-a-day milking, which is a totally foreign concept to me but something that may certainly be considered in the future. It highlighted for me that there is no right or wrong way to do something – every farmer can do what works for them.

In what ways do you think the Young Dairy Network of Australia could incorporate learnings from this tour to better support young people in the industry?

I am on the committee of West Vic YDN, and we are ready to help drive change and renew enthusiasm among young farmers. There are a few younger people returning to family farms and we need to engage with them. If more of these tours could happen to educate and engage young farmers, it would be worth every penny.

How did the tour highlight the importance of sustainability and environmental stewardship in dairy farming and agriculture?

NZ are far more advanced in sustainability education, especially in areas like effluent management.

What were your overall thoughts after the tour?

I really enjoyed networking with other young farmers from Australia, always talking on the bus, in the evenings, learning from each other, and sharing ideas. Also being given the opportunity to network with industry leaders during the tour and speaking with government and Fonterra representatives.

Our visit to LIC was so comfortable and relaxed, everyone just felt like a big family and we were welcomed with open arms. Everything was explained in a language we could understand, and no question was a silly one. Rowan Priest was an awesome LIC ambassador to have on the tour with us, and being an LIC breeder of elite bulls, and a current australian dairy farmer, he had a wealth of knowledge to share and was very easy to relate to.

This tour was the best experience ever – overall it was a brilliant tour.

I was impressed with the crossbred cows that I saw on the tour. I liked their robustness, being good for the conditions, less pugging, and were sturdy cows doing really good production. We are targeting fat and protein, which is why we like the Friesian Jersey cross. I also really liked the LIC Jerseys I saw, as they were big and robust – everything I want in a Jersey.

Zoe Greenslade – Peterborough, South Australia

Zoe is not a newbie to study tours, with this being her fourth tour and third time to New Zealand. She currently farms alongside her partner in Peterborough, milking 280 mixed crossbred cows, in a 50/50 share farming arrangement.

Were there any specific aspects of the New Zealand dairy industry that you found particularly inspiring or innovative?

Having visited New Zealand previously, we have implemented similar farming practices and have
a similar stocking rate.

Did the tour inspire any ideas or changes that you think could be implemented in your own work or industry?

Effluent management is a big thing now and it was great to see lots of options – we are looking at ways of doing it better and saw some great ideas from the farms we visited.

What were your overall thoughts after the tour?

Spending time with Rowan Priest on tour and visiting LIC, my impression is that they know where they’re going and have a great strategy in place. The tour’s are very well structured.

by Michelle Lamerton
International Marketing Coordinator
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