A well-travelled youth gathering industry experience has led Canterbury dairy farmer Josh Norton back to where he started out – with his sights firmly set on career progression.
Josh and wife Chelsea, a nurse, are currently lower order sharemilking for Dean and Jo Geddes of Tahora Farms, milking 320 cows on 110ha effective. The full pedigree Holstein Friesian herd produces an average of 195,000kgMS.
The couple is breeding their own herd within the Tahora herd; they currently have 40 in-milk cows and 30 heifers to calve next year, under their own stud Springoaks.
Josh was born in Springston, Canterbury, on a lifestyle block. However, his maternal grandfather was Gordon Stewart, well-known Holstein Friesian breeder and father of HFNZ Board Member Graham Stewart (Cresslands Holstein Friesians).
“I grew up staying with them in the school holidays, and helping out at shows,” Josh says.
Josh studied Agricultural Science at Lincoln University, during which time he did some showing around the Canterbury area.
Chelsea grew up on the West Coast, moving to Canterbury when she started high school. She too was brought up on a lifestyle block and had an interest in show jumping.
Josh and Chelsea met while Josh was working for a contractor over the summer. “I stacked hay bales in the shed for her,” Josh laughs.
Chelsea studied nursing and worked at a Christchurch Hospital for one year before the couple moved to Australia in 2016.Josh worked at Avonlea Holsteins in Victoria as a herd manager for three years, while Chelsea was nursing full time.
Then the couple went to the US and Canada for seven months, during which Josh worked on a dairy farm for five months, before heading home in October 2019.
Josh worked for Cresslands for three years, while Chelsea worked full time at St George’s Hospital until their son Charlie (18 months) was born.
In June 2022 Josh and Chelsea moved to a lower-order sharemilking position with the Geddes’.
The Tahora herd split calves, with calving from March to May and then August to October. Mating occurs from June to August, and then again from Labour Weekend, when they AI until a week out from Christmas. The week before Christmas the bulls go out.
Only overseas genetics are used over the herd.
Josh says they are aiming to breed for show-type to an extent, but are after functional cows with good dairy strength, good legs and feet and good udders that are able to perform on the farm in a pasture and barn situation.
“Tahora cows are well-known in show circles, but a cow still has to make milk,” he says.
Josh says Holstein Friesian bulls that have impressed him recently include Duckett Crush Tatoo-ET and Oh-River-Syc Crushabull-ET.
“They are the best two year olds at the moment, particularly for show type,” he says. “Woodcrest King Docs seem to be milking well, although they are not quite as fancy. The Stantons Chief-ETs are looking good; and we are still using Farnear Delta Lambda-ET, Siemers Rengd Parfect-ET and S-S-I Pr Renegade-ET.”
When it comes to replacements, Josh says they rear everything.
“This year Tahora had a sale so we sold a lot,” he says. “We’ve been bringing in our own cows as well, topping up the Tahora herd. We have 30 autumn calves and 60 spring calves that we keep between us.”
Josh is working hard to establish a herd that is worth talking about.
“A couple of key families that I am establishing are the Figes and the Paradises,” he says.
“I purchased Avonlea Golden Fay-ET off the Gardiners as a heifer; she goes back to Frans from Quality Holsteins. We have since sold her to Gorbro Holsteins.
“We imported some embryos from her into New Zealand so we can carry on the family here. She had one daughter win South Island Junior Champion in 2021 – Springoaks King Figsie-ET – and another win Junior Champion in the NZ Online Christmas Show 2021.”
Josh says they have had a couple of lines of the Paradise family do well at home and at show.
“Springoaks Beemr Pearl-ET VG88 did 820kgMS in her third lactation,” he says. “And Springoaks OB Paradise-ET has been Reserve Junior Champion at Christchurch Show for the last two years, as well as first in the 2023 NZ Dairy Event Autumn Yearling Heifer Class. Paradise sells in the Canterbury Collection Sale in April; she’s due in August to Sexed Chief.
“Other families we have imported are the Roxys and Lydias, whilst also having members of Cresslands D family, among others.”
When it comes to Holstein Friesians, Josh says his passion for the breed was ‘bred into him’ as he grew up surrounded by them.
He also likes the breed’s ability to consume a lot of feed and convert it to milk.
“We feed wheat and soy in the shed over winter and spring, adding in barley and DDG in the spring,” he says. “We have a barn on the property, and feed grass silage, maize silage and lucerne silage. With Holstein Friesians you get the most out of the barn.”
Josh says he has been lucky enough to be mentored by some of the best of the business.
“It has been great learning from Graham and Dean,” he says. “They have taught me a lot, particularly on the breeding side of things. Both of them have top herds in New Zealand and they have been very good to learn from.
“I also learnt a lot from John Gardiner of Avonlea Holsteins in Australia, particularly a lot more of the show side of things, which were on another level to what we do here in New Zealand. I attended International Dairy Week while I worked for him and it blew me away.”
Josh and Chelsea’s family is growing – they have another baby on the way – and their goal over the next few years is to go 50/50 sharemilking.
Josh says he still enjoys showing very much and tries to make the time to do it.
“It’s a good way to get off farm and spend time with others, and meet new people,” he says.
|Owners||Dean and Jo Geddes|
|Sharemilkers||Josh and Chelsea Norton|
|Farm size||110ha effective|
|Cows||320 Holstein Friesian cows (300 registered Holstein Friesians)|