Taupiri dairy farmer Balraj Singh jokes that when he married his wife Hardeep, he ‘converted’ her.
He’s not talking about sports teams or coffee brands, but cattle breeds.
“I’ve been milking cows since I was 14-years-old, and I was brought up with Holstein Friesians,” he says.
“Before we got married, Hardeep had a small herd of 75 pedigree Jersey cows, but I convinced her to start milking Holstein Friesians.”
Since then, the Singhs have created a strong Holstein Friesian-based dairy farm and stud, milking 185 cows on 72ha outside of Hamilton.
Their stud, Quinedale, does not breed for BW, instead focusing on using North American Holstein Friesian genetics to breed a “good, handy cow with good conformation, that will last”.
And last, they do; their ‘once in a lifetime’ cow, Quinedale Igniter Daisy EX5, passed away in May 2021 at age 18 – well after she joined the retirement paddock.
Although the family has been at their current property for 20 years, Balraj and Hardeep bought their first farm in 1995, a 40ha property located between Morrinsville and Tahuna on Quine Rd.
The farm was bought as a going concern with 100 crossbred cows, and Balraj and Hardeep went on to purchase 13 pedigree Holstein Friesian in-calf heifers and eight pedigree Holstein Friesian cows from Russell and Pat Wilson at Morrinsville.
Quinedale’s original herd had New Zealand bloodlines – including Bear-Path Fantastic and Pukeroro Norbert Lou – but from there Balraj decided to use Semex and World Wide Sires genetics from Canada and North America.
Quinedale is a family affair, with no outside staff. Balraj and Hardeep’s eldest son Shneil is now working fulltime on the farm, having returned to New Zealand in 2020 from Japan, where he was playing professional rugby for Toyota Verblitz.
Balraj rears the calves with Shneil’s help, and Hardeep milks and helps with all other farm work that needs doing.
Their younger sons, Jeevan and Jahan, are both working in the building industry, but are happy to help on the farm as required.
“You can get a lot more done with a third person on farm,” Balraj says. “With Shneil home, I am now able to get on top of the farm maintenance jobs I could rarely find time for.”
Three years ago, a covered feed pad was built on farm so they could grow more pasture with less damage, and fully utilise supplementary feed.
Cows go onto the feed pad 30-40 minutes before morning and afternoon milking in the 24-a-side herringbone dairy. In addition to pasture in the paddock and in-shed feeding, grass silage, maize, straw and minerals are combined in a mixer wagon and fed on the feed pad.
Cows sometimes get a little palm kernel, and when available, kiwifruit.
“They absolutely love the kiwifruit – they’ll dig through the feed to pull it out,” Balraj says.
Last year’s average production was 530kgMS/cow, and this season’s target is 550kgMS/cow – and hopefully more if the season goes well.
The herd at Quinedale split calves, with Planned Start of Calving (PSC) dates of March 20 and June 10; this allows them to make good use of the winter milking premium offered by their dairy company, Open Country Dairy.
They aim to rear 40-50 replacements annually, but last year they AB’d all autumn heifers and ended up with 50 replacement calves from autumn calvers alone.
This season, they will have 85 replacements in total; some will go to the export market, sold at 100kg weaned.
They also have 20 carryover cows.
Mating is usually completed in five-week blocks of AB but this autumn, Balraj says they will undertake six weeks of AB, with no bulls, to tighten up the calving season a little. They also use the Semex mating programme Optimate, a programme designed to improve the functional traits of cows.
Semex representative Bob Hammond has been a great help with this,” Balraj says. “Each year before mating season starts, he visits to identify the three worst faults on the two-year-old heifers.
“From there we select our bull team for the upcoming season. The whole herd is matched with the bulls selected giving them a first and second choice.”
Quinedale has had a number of cows that have performed well for them, including Quinedale Monday Wazi EX4 and Quinedale Aladdin Ruba EX2.
“Wazi was an outstanding cow for Quinedale,” Hardeep says.
“In 2012 she was the HFNZ-Semex NZ Ltd On-Farm Competition – Hanoverhill Raider -Five-Year-Old Reserve Champion.”
“Her best production was in the 2012/13 season, producing 11,954 litres and 749kgMS in 273 days. She has left quite the mark on the herd, with 25 family members currently in the herd. She may have left her best for last with a promising two-year-old daughter, Quinedale Uno Wazi, just entering the herd.”
Ruba, known as Snuggles to the Singh family, has been another standout animal from a very young age; she was Jahan’s Calf Club calf in 2008.
“Snuggles’ highlights include winning the 2019 HFNZ-Semex NZ Ltd Waikato On-Farm Competition – Veteran Cow class.” She went on to place third in the National Veteran Cow Class in 2019.
“Her best production was in the 2013/14 season where she produced 12,441 litres and 826kgMS in 305 days.”
However, Daisy remains a cow that is unlikely to be repeated, certainly in terms of longevity.
Daisy was named one of New Zealand’s top Holstein Friesian cows, achieving five Excellent scores in her TOP/Classification inspections.
Daisy was an outstanding cow from very early on, and in 2011 she was HFNZ-Semex NZ Ltd Waikato On-Farm Competititon – Mature Cow Reserve Champion.
“Her best production was as a 14-year-old, where she produced 9,632 litres of milk solids, 442kg fat and 272 kg protein in 299 days.
“She had great longevity and was always able to get back in calf.
“It was humbling to see an article about Daisy in the December 2020 Holstein International Journal in regards to classifying as EX5, and her life.”
Daisy had her last calf in March 2020, by Walnutlawn Sidekick, and spent her last season raising calves in the paddock; the family is excited to see if her last daughter will follow in her mother’s footsteps.
Quinedale was also mentioned in the August 2021 Holstein International Journal amongst herds worldwide with the most EX cows.
“We were fifth in New Zealand, and it was a surprise to us as Shneil spotted it in the issue,” Hardeep says. “To be mentioned with the likes of Waipiri, Cresslands and Belbrook, just to name a few, makes us feel we’re heading in the right direction.”
In the future, Balraj says they would like to achieve more production per cow. He would also like to lease a support block to graze-off their autumn cows, to ease the strain on the pasture.
“It’s a lot of pressure on the farm to have all the animals on at once,” he says.
Balraj is enjoying working with Shneil as he settles back into farming, and they are always looking to improve the herd with the addition of new genetics.
Shneil has purchased a good line of animals as part of the herd and has put some embryos in as well.
At the recent Busybrook sale Shneil bought three animals and at the Waipiri sale, Shneil and Balraj both bought an animal each.
Balraj says actively seeking genetic improvement is a welcome detour from the day-to-day routine of farming.
“When you’re milking cows 365 days of the year, we all agree we want to be seeing good looking cows in the shed and paddock,” he says.
“Life is too short to be milking ugly cows.”
|Owners||Balraj & Hardeep Singh|
|Farm size||72 hectares|
|Cows||185 Holstein Friesians|
|Production||530kgMS/cow - targeting 550kgMS/cow|