Fran & Tom-195

Farming for capacity

Tom and Francesca Bennett were able to reduce their herd numbers and still increase production.

At the end of winter 2020, feed on Tom and Fran Bennett’s Waikato dairy farm was getting low. The couple decided to reduce herd numbers to address the feed gap and still manged to maintain milk production.

Tom puts it down to farming Holstein Friesian cows.

“Holstein Friesians are definitely a bigger cow, but their larger capacity means we can run less of them and instead feed them fully to keep our production up. Our breeding goals place a large focus on conformation, with particular focus on the udder which needs to meet large demands for milk production while still standing the test of time.”

Tom and Fran are lower order sharemilking on Fran’s parents farm in Tahuna, north of Morrinsville where they milk 280 autumn calving predominately Holstein Friesian cows.

The couple had been split calving, but with the arrival of their son Harrison, now nearly three, and their daughter Fearne, in June 2020, they decided to move to calving once a year. Tom says the Waikato’s recent hot dry summers also helped to seal it for them.

“We were hit pretty hard over the last few summers and grass growth basically stopped. Moving to autumn calving has helped us manage our feed better over those summer months.”

The family’s farm covers 140-hectares, which has about 124 hectares of effective land, and they operate it alongside a 11-hectare run-off down the road. This season they will use the run-off and the home farm to grow all their own maize and around 250 tonnes of grass silage, along with hay as well.

“With autumn calving you don’t want a big maize bill coming in at the wrong time of the year and being able to grow our own helps us balance things this way. You also know what you are getting particularly with the grass silage. There’s nothing worse than paying good money for feed that arrives and isn’t up to standard for milking cows,” says Tom.

The couple dry off their herd from round January 10 onwards, and continue milking a handful of empties. They stagger the dry off over about nine weeks before calving starts.

Tom says they have found they often end up with a bit of a fee d gap at the end of winter which led them to dropping their herd numbers back from 310 down to 280.

“We’ve found Holsteins tend to milk well all season.  Last season we dropped the stocking rate back around June due to the extended dry spell and we did not lose any production. In fact, production has continued to lift,” says Tom.

Their best season to date was 2018-2019 where they produced 153,000kg/MS from 280 cows.

They milk in a 30 a side herringbone shed with a De Laval plant with ACRs and use a feed pad and Keenen mixer wagon which Tom says has been a huge help in keeping the herd’s diet balanced with the different stages of grass growth throughout the year. We put all our minerals through the mixer wagon, it gives us peace of mind knowing every cow is getting exactly what they need, especially over calving.”

Our goal is to do around 600kg/MS per cow. We supply Open Country who have good winter premium with no cap on supply so we can increase production as we please. The Holsteins can eat as much as you put in front of them and will pay you back with plenty of milk.”

Getting more feed into their herd without increasing their feed bill drove the couple’s decision to nearly triple the amount of maize they are growing on the platform this season from 10 hectares to 28 hectares.

“We’ve normally always bought some maize in but this year we want to try and grow all our own.”

Tom has also recently been using P8, a whey product from Open Country Dairy, where all they must pay for is the delivery cost, which works out to be about 11 cents a kilogram.

“We’ve found it to be quite good helping us achieve 5% sugar intake in the diet very cheaply. It’s good energy for the cows but it can be quite volatile if you use too much of it, it’s a bit of a balancing act to get the mix right.”

Tom, who is originally English, comes from a sheep, beef and arable background and had rarely milked cows before arriving in New Zealand on his OE in 2011.

Tom and Fran met after a friend got him a job at David Fullerton’s Waipiri Stud, where Fran was also working at the time. After about five months working there, Fran won a Holstein Friesian NZ Scholarship to Canada and Tom went to Australia to work on a cattle station in WA. On completion of her Scholarship, Fran went to meet Tom in Australia and the couple then moved on to the United Kingdom.

“Farming over there (UK) is really living week by week, it’s very hard to get ahead unless you have a family farm,” says Tom.

He spent his time working for a sheep and beef farmer and Fran worked as a farm sales manager for a company, like Farmlands, before they came home in 2015 and settled on Fran’s parent’s farm.

“I think dairy farming is definitely more of a lifestyle decision, you have to love it, or you wouldn’t really do it, it doesn’t have set hours like a 9-5 job” says Tom.

Both Fran and Tom are keen on showing stock and headed to the Waikato Show, the Royal show and NZ Dairy Event in 2020 and early 2021.

Tom also placed second in the Holstein Friesian NZ, Pitcairns Trophy at the Waikato Show and won the WWS All Breeds dairy stock judging at Dairy Event.

“We like the camaraderie of showing and being around other breeders with similar interests, along with trying to get the animals to look as good as they can,” says Tom.

The farm use mainly Semex and World Wide Sires with bulls such as Alcove, Doorman, Solomon, Frazzled, Impression, Mogul and Pharo used heavily over the last couple of matings. Bulls such as Windbrook, Talent, O Man, Planet and Guthrie have proven their worth, producing standout mature cows in the herd with daughters doing in excess of 750kg/MS.

Tom says however they are mainly focused on producing healthy/functional cows that they like to milk. The herd has 4.5 weeks of AI from June 5 and tail of with Herefords for another 4.5 weeks.

The couple rear all their replacement heifer calves till October when they keep 20 or 30 on the farm and the rest go off for grazing. The Holstein bulls and any beef x calves get sold around 10 days.

“We tail mating off with Speckle Park’s and Herefords which we’ve found go well in the autumn calf market with good bull calves reaching up to $500 a calf in a good year,” says Tom.

The couple’s next goal is to move from lower order share milking to 50/50 sharemilking and eventually farm ownership.

“For now, I enjoy the flexibility dairy farming gives us. It allows me to take Harrison to his swimming lessons each week and to take time off the farm to when it suits us.”

Tom Bennett
Fran & Tom-195
Francesca and Tom on their wedding day.

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