Otago dairy farmers Paul and Kyllee Henton are firm believers in the idea that New Zealand farmers are innovators.
If something isn’t available, hasn’t been invented or can’t be done, there is always a farmer somewhere sourcing it, making it or doing it, says Kyllee, a registered veterinarian.
The couple, who run White River Holstein Friesians, did exactly that when they couldn’t find suitable flooring for their 600-cow wintering shed. They went into research and development mode and decided to manufacture their own.
It has resulted in them launching a company Agri-Tech Imports which they now run alongside their 580-cow herd operation, supplying Mataura Valley Milk. www.comfycow.co.nz
The couple have been on the farm for 15 years after entering an equity partnership with Kyllee’s parents to purchase the property. The Pomahaka River sits just two farms over from them and the Heriot Burn waterway runs through the middle of their farm. They have flooded in previous seasons and Kyllee says they get snow most winters.
The harsh climate was why they built the 600-cow wintering shed, they say the increased comfort for their animals equates to increased milk and ultimately increased profits.
The herd produces about 550 kgMS per cow, and they have access to the feed pad as they need. The Batt Latch gates are unlocked at 3am and the cows come in under their own steam ahead of morning milking.
As milking is finished, they go back onto the pasture until the gates are automatically unlocked again around lunchtime and the herd can head back onto the feedpad.
During the harshest winter weather Kyllee says they can keep the herd on the pad 24/7 and that is where they started looking for a compressible flooring.
“We wanted a product on the floor with a decent amount of cushioning and there was nothing on the market here.”
Paul’s brother David Henton has been based in China for 30 years and is involved in manufacuring. He eventually narrowed down companies that could produce what they needed.
The mats are made in a mould rather than being cut, and they have a specially designed compression layer on their base that makes them soft and comfortable.
“It gives the cows good confidence to walk around the pad and they don’t slip or fall. We knew it was a success when they started laying down and standing up just as they normally would in the paddock,” says Kyllee.
The lameness in their herd also dropped completely.
They use a gravity fed greenwash system to clean the pad and collect rainwater off the pad’s roof to wash out the feed troughs. Green water is taken from the effluent pond on the property fed into a tank and when it’s released, it washes like a tidal wave down the feed pad, says Kyllee.
“It’s really effective and it’s best way to manage the wash down environmentally too,” says Kyllee.
While the mats were designed for their own use, Kyllee says other farmers became interested and they are now manufacturing the mats to order, selling direct to their customers and keeping stock in Auckland and Otago to service both islands.
The mats are also being used by equine, pig and deer farmers, and Kyllee says dairy farmers have also found the mats useful for the entry and exit points on rotary milking sheds.
Born in Canterbury, Kyllee grew up in the North Island and spent most of the school holidays on the Taranaki dairy farms owned by her grandparents and extended family.
In 1997, Kyllee graduated from Massey University with a Bachelor of Veterinary Science and remains a registered veterinarian in New Zealand. Most of her time is spent farming although she does work off farm as a vet on a casual basis after calving
Paul has been dairy farming since he was first put behind the steering wheel of a tractor at age eight, and he says dairy farming is in his DNA. Born onto a dairy farm in Island Block, North Waikato, his family had a dairy farm which they converted to a maize cropping farm when Paul was young.
They couple employ three staff on the property and their children help with relief milking. Kate, 17, James, 14, and Emma, 8, all help on the farm in different ways.
“The dairy farm allows our family to have an outdoor lifestyle that they wouldn’t be able to have in the city. They are exposed to both technology and dirt in equal helpings,” says Kyllee.
The couple subscribed to the idea that a fully fed cow is a happy cow and they aim to fully feed their cows all year round to support body condition, production and reproductive functions.
Their cows are wintered at a 96- hectare run-off nearby and they use another 45-hectare support block for cut and carry feed including silage and fodder beet which, they feed ahead of mating.
They also grow turnips on the milking platform that are strip grazed, and feed imported soya bean meal, DDG and crushed barley on the feed pad, along with minerals.
The herd starts returning to the main farm around July 20, three weeks ahead of calving, says Kyllee.
The herd is about 60 percent Friesian, F12 with mainly CRV genetics. Telesis Euon Firenze and Top Deck KO Pierre feature strongly in their herd.
Kyllee says their breeding decisions are focussed on retaining the size and capacity in the herd along with udder strength. More recently they have been working on shifting their entire herd to A2.
Mataura Valley Milk have said they would like all of their suppliers to be supplying A2 within the next two years, so the couple have DNA profiled most their herd and are focussed on retaining only A2 heifers going forward.
“There is a lot of research around now about A2 and the benefits of that for people with allergies, the company has said that’s the direction they want to move in as it seems to be what more customers want,” says Kyllee.
She has been on her own journey with allergies with her eldest daughter and says they are trying lactose free and A2 milk as alternatives.
“Every day and every season we try to do better than we have done previously. That is the challenge that drives us each day,” says Paul.
|Owners||Paul & Kyllee Henton|
|Location||Kelso, West Otago|
|Farm size||171 hectares|
|Cows||580 cows 60 per cent Holstein Freisian|
|Production||550 kgMS per cow|
|Stud name||White River|