An ex-pat Kiwi farming in Fleurieu, South Australia is changing the concept of what ‘normal farming’ is as he adjusts his milking season to take care of the farm and the herd.
Rob Walmsley was born in the Bay of Plenty, before spending his school years living in the Far North where his parents were sharemilkers.
After he finished school at 15, he started working at Tahora Farms in Christchurch for Dean and Jo Geddes.
“Tahora is one of the biggest studs in the country, and I worked there for 2-3 years,” he says. “The Geddes family is so open and warm that I really felt part of the team, and not just an employee; that has stuck with me, and I try and do that with my own staff.
“I absolutely loved my time at Tahora, for both the cows and the people.”
At 18, Rob was offered an opportunity to move to Australia.
“I thought, why not?” he says. “I told Dean that I was going overseas and if I wasn’t back in two years, I wasn’t coming back.”
Rob started work on a dairy farm in Victoria and during that time he attended the Australian National All Breeds Youth Camp, held during International Dairy Week. He says it changed his life.
“I met a bunch of cool people and it really opened up my mind,” Rob says.
During IDW Rob was introduced to Bill and Jo Thompson, dairy farmers at Mount Gambier (Glenorleigh Holsteins).
“He was a bit of a grumpy old bugger, but there was something about him that I really liked,” Rob laughs.
Rob was offered a job at Glenorleigh to help out for a few months while the Thompsons’ son was in New Zealand, which he accepted with no expectations.
“It was a ‘no plans, no disappointment’ situation,” he says. “It wasn’t an official role. But Bill and Jo turned out to be incredible people with incredible cows. They taught me a lot, and I hold them both in very high regard.”
It was during his time at Glenorleigh that Rob was able to join the show circuit, to his delight.
“We went to many exciting shows in local Adelaide, and further afield in Melbourne,” he says. “We brought a few nice strings of cows to IDW.”
Bill and Jo’s son was keen to return to Glenorleigh, and with little room for growth there, Rob took stock of his next move. During this time he had met his wife Bec, who was working in an animal nutrition role for a local company.
Rob was offered an opportunity to work at Blackwood Park Holsteins (David and Karen Altman) in 2013, so the couple made the move to Murray Bridge.
Blackwood Park was a different experience altogether; the fully housed cows were milked three times a day, which led to increased milk production records.
“It was a really cool learning opportunity,” Rob says. “We learnt to really feed the cows and how to manage the feed.”
Rob and Bec took a small group of cows with them to Blackwood Park, where they worked and lived for five years, and continued on the show circuit.
“It was great fun showing cows again,” Rob says. “And it was a new challenge, especially on the TMR side of things: the cows were on a different programme to get them ready for the shows. There was also a new compost barn, which was a great experience to learn to manage, and a cool set-up to see. It was good learning how valuable cow comfort is.”
Rob says if he had been happy to stay a farm employee, he would still be there.
“That’s how much I loved that job,” he says. “But I had a burn and a desire to have a go myself; I didn’t want to regret not pursuing the opportunity to share farm.”
At their next job, share farming 300 cows back at Mount Gambier, Rob and Bec had planned to purchase the farm from the owner, and they had got the farm up and running to where they wanted to see it.
However, the farm owner told them a corporate company wanted to buy it, which didn’t align with Rob and Bec’s aspirations.
With the couple feeling a little discouraged, fate intervened again.
“The same day, we had a job offer on a farm on the Fleurieu Peninsula, near Adelaide,” Rob says. “The environment was close to New Zealand farming conditions: it rained, it wasn’t too cold, and you got a nice coastal breeze in the summertime.”
The job offer was working for sharefarmers Geoff and Louise Hutchinson at Windy Vale Holsteins, Myponga – a farm owned by Fleurieu Milk Company co-owners Chris and Karen Royans.
Rob and Bec worked for Geoff and Louise for nearly two years before Geoff decided to retire, allowing the couple to share farm again.
“Although it was a little step back to begin with, we felt it was a step in the right direction,” Rob says. “We also felt the milk company, which is owned by three dairy farming couples, had different values to the big companies; values that aligned with ours.”
The couple is now in their fourth season on the 120ha farm, of which approximately 80ha is irrigated, with support blocks.
The farm’s calving is not traditional in the sense that it’s not a short, intense calving period; rather, they calve the bulk of the herd in December/January to get the summer milk and calving continues until the beginning of June. They irrigate through summer to feed the herd continuously.
“It’s a bit different to normal, but it made sense,” Rob says. “We get really wet in the winter months, so calving outside of those wet periods is better for the farm and the environment.
“We are continually changing our concept of what is ‘normal farming’.
The herd dries off in around July, winding back to around 180 cows over the winter months. They build up to a peak of 360 cows in the summer, with an annual production goal of 10,000L/cow.
When it comes to mating objectives, the hilly terrain and long distance for the herd to walk means good feet are imperative. This year, they are chasing bulls with good production, as well as wanting to breed some chest width back into the herd.
“We went hard down the type line for the last few years so we are now adding production to that,” Rob says.
“When you’re trying to get the type and production balance right, using the right bull is so important.”
They are also focusing on building fertility back into the herd, which includes using a large percentage of sexed semen; using 100% sexed semen in the future “is a possibility.”
Rob uses a lot of overseas genetics, with one particular outstanding line of cows originating from multi All-American winner Butz-Butler Gold Barbara 3E96 GMD.
“She is an incredible cow, and one of our most influential cow families with around 30-40 direct descendants in our herd,” he says. “They are nice type and production cows.”
They are also developing a ‘P’ family from the ‘Pauline’ family of cows, and they have a nice line of SSI Doc Havenots coming through.
“This is really exciting,” Rob says.
The Walmsleys are also hitting the show circuit whenever they’re able to fit it into their schedule, with some great success in the last couple of years.
At International Dairy Week 2023, they won Intermediate Champion Holstein Cow with Lightning Ridge CMD Doc Bamba -ET, as well as first place in the Four-Year-Old In-Milk class in the National Holstein Show with Windy Vale Solomon Tina.
That followed an exciting 2022, when the Walmsley’s heifer, Eclipse Altitude J Princess – Red, cleaned up at IDW 2022.
Bought in conjunction with their New Zealand partners Busybrook Holsteins at the 2021 Eclipse Holsteins Dispersal Sale, Princess won Intermediate Best Udder, Intermediate Champion IDW 2022, Intermediate Champion IDW 2022 – Red Show, Reserve Champion Interbreed All Breeds, and Grand Champion of the Red Holstein Show IDW 2022.
She also placed first in the Junior Two-Year-Old In-Milk class and Junior Two-Year-Old In-Milk – Red Show classes, and Best Udder in both classes.
Rob and Bec have also done well with Robsvue Avalanche Penny EX90 – 2E, who placed first in the Four-Year-Old In-Milk class, and Best Udder in Class at the 2022 Victorian Winter Fair; she also placed first in the Five-Year-Old In-Milk, Senior Champion Cow and Best Udder at the 2022 Adelaide Royal, and was the winner of the Five-Year-Old Class in the 2023 Semex On Farm Competition for South Australia.
Penny is due to calve again in September and looks really well.
“We want to keep building on that now,” Rob says. “We would love to show more but there are some time and financial restraints. Now we have our little girl Tahlia, we would love to get a few calves and show them when she’s old enough.”
Rob says on hard days, his passion for dairy sustains him.
“On those bad days, talking about cows makes us feel better,” he says. “It is an industry with contacts all over the world, common goals and values. We love it.”
|Chris & Karen Royans
|Rob & Bec Walmsley
|Fleurieu, South Australia
|360 registered Holstein Friesians