Rangiora dairy farmers William and Louise Bailey believe they have a pretty special view from their property in North Canterbury.
“There’s nothing better than looking out the window and seeing a paddock full of black and white cows,” Will and Lou say.
Will and Lou are in their fifth season as contract milkers and co-owners of Knightlea Farm Ltd, in conjunction with Will’s grandparents Alan and Marion Crowe (Karalea Holsteins) and the Winter family – Lou’s parents, brothers and uncle. The farm is a semi self-contained dairy and cropping operation growing maize, barley whole crop and kale to winter their cows on.
They split calve 640 Holstein Friesian cows on 225ha; last season, the herd produced 607kgMS/cow, their best year yet and a goal the couple has been striving for.
Will and Lou were both brought up locally. Will’s parents, Stephen and Jo Bailey, sharemilked Holstein Friesian cows in Rangiora.
“I loved the farm and having to go to school was a real inconvenience to me,” Will laughs. “I spent all of my time outside of school helping Dad and Granddad on the farm milking, shifting sprinklers, and carting silage.”
Unfortunately, when Will was eight he lost his father. The herd and all the farm gear was sold, and Will spent all of his spare time with his Granddad Alan.
“A neighbouring dairy farming couple, Donald and Julie Smith, also took me under their wing to give me the farming experience that I needed,” Will says. “I spent weekends and holidays there, which led to my first farming job.”
After this Will worked for a local silage contractor for a few years before going back to dairy farming.
Lou was brought up on her family’s beef and cropping farm, Knighton, in Kaiapoi. After high school, Lou studied at Lincoln University, completing a Diploma in Agriculture.
“I had a love for cows so in my spare time I would go to the Wakelins’ (Belbrook Holstein Friesians, my second cousins) where I first learnt to milk cows,” Lou says.
“While studying I milked at the Wakelins’ every second weekend and worked on my family’s cropping farm. After I did my year of study I carried on working on my parent’s farm and relief milked on a farm in Swannanoa.”
Lou was then offered a full-time farm assistant job, and that was where she met Will; he was starting work there as 2IC.
Will went on to work for the Stewarts (Cresslands Holstein Friesians) full time for one season, while Lou relief milked there and worked on her parent’s farm.
Will was then offered a job at Karalea Holsteins in Bankside, while Lou got a job on a Jersey farm next door.
“This was just for a season, as we had a contract milking job lined up for the next season back in Rangiora,” Lou says. “We contract milked this 400-cow farm for four seasons. In our first year contract milking, we also purchased 24ha of land in Clarkville, which we use as dairy support.”
Towards the end of the last season contract milking, Will and Lou were told that Alan and Marion Crowe’s farm was going to be sold.
“We were given the opportunity to be part of this farm but we turned it down as we didn’t want to move away from our families,” Will says. “Ironically, we heard the farm in Swannanoa where we met was coming up for sale, so we had a look over the farm and managed to buy it in partnership with my grandparents and Lou’s family (her parents, two brothers and uncle).”
The couple’s Knightlea stud (named after Knighton and Karalea) started with 20 heifer calves: 10 crossbred calves from the farm they previously worked on in Swannanoa, and 10 pedigree Holstein Friesian animals from the Wakelins.
“These heifers were grazed at Will’s lease block in Cust, until their first year in milk when they were leased out, as we had nowhere to milk them,” Lou says.
“But we started milking these 20 heifers ourselves as part of the 400-cow herd in our first year contract milking. From then on, our herd grew and when we bought the farm in Swannanoa we had 40 cows of our own to join the 600-cow herd.”
The couple also bought some of the Karalea/Annalea herd at the dispersal sale in May 2018; and everything that wasn’t up for sale came to them as well. The following year, they also bought all the rising one-year-old heifers that hadn’t been in the sale.
“The herd has been around a long time,” Will says. “It has 60+ years of breeding in it; Granddad first registered an animal in 1965. I’d like to carry that herd on for another generation; there’s so much history and breeding already.”
When it comes to mating, it’s all AI, no bulls, thanks to the business investing in Allflex collars for the herd.
During the spring, Will and Lou undertake 12 weeks of AI. They are focusing more and more on using sexed semen on their carefully-selected, top-performing cows. They follow up with beef at the other end.
In autumn, they do six weeks of AI, again focusing on using more sexed semen.
Calving starts on March 1, and then again on August 1.
“We generally keep 100 replacements in the spring, and 20 in the autumn,” Lou says.
When they are choosing semen, they select for the following mating objectives: a cow with good stature, that is not too big; good conformation, production, fertility and an all-round dairy cow.
“We have used some Westcoast Alcove and Benner Bardo in recent years that produced some great animals,” Lou says.
When it comes to the Holstein Friesian breed, Will says they are great to milk, with excellent production capability behind them.
“I did grow up on a farm with Holstein Friesians so I don’t know any different, but they’re definitely worth milking all the same,” he says.
Everything is kept in-house; Will and Lou graze the calves on grass and maize silage until their first winter, and Lou’s family takes calves from May until calving, supplying all the wheat and growing maize and grass silage for the dairy farm.
“It works out well for everyone, as the dairy farm has a great supplier and Will, I and my family have a sale and there is somewhere for crops to go,” Lou says.
With three-year-old Stella and another baby on the way, Will and Louise have their hands full, with the aim of doing more production, breeding more efficient cows, and installing a feed pad.
Stella recently chose her first calf to take to the Rangiora A&P Show and some closer investigation revealed the calf wasn’t just a cutie: Knightlea Alcove Pixie is a grand-daughter of Belallen Goldwyn Pet-ET, one of the most well-known cows to have been milked in the Karalea/Annalea herd. Sons of Pet have been marketed previously in New Zealand by artificial breeding companies.
Alan was also chuffed, discovering where she was from after helping pick this calf.
With this pedigree, the Bailey family look forward to seeing what the future holds for Stella’s first show calf; it definitely looks bright, following Stella’s first selection.
Growing up, Will helped the Stewarts and Lou helped the Wakelins at shows, but since having their own herd they haven’t shown any of their own cows. However, they aim to get Stella into showing to have the experience they did.
They do, however, enjoy participating in Semex On-Farm competitions: they have enjoyed success in recent Canterbury Regional Semex On-Farm Competitions, particularly with two Benner Bardo daughters, Annalea Bardo Hally and Annalea Bardo Oval, both of whom have multiple Karalea/Annalea generations behind them.
|Owners||Winter & Crowe families|
|Contract milkers||William & Louise Bailey trading as Knightlea Ltd|
|Farm size||225ha effective|
|Cows||640 registered Holstein Friesian cows|