In The Country Magazine
In The Country

Farming Friday: UK to NZ and back again.

Following on from last week’s Farming Friday about #Februdairy which actually resulted in me getting featured in The Telegraph online, I have decided to dedicate each remaining February Friday to dairy farming in support of the #Februdairy campaign.

This week, I wanted to share with you a feature I wrote last year which was featured in FarmLand Magazine. The magazine has very sadly, since closed. 

Having spent 7 months working on a few dairy farms within the beautiful Canterbury district of New Zealand’s breath taking South Island, I learnt a thing or two about the kiwi way of dairy farming. This prompted me to consider the difference between the New Zealand and British approach after I arrived home and whether or not us, British farmers could take a thing or two from this and apply it to our own diary farming practice here.

The most obvious differences are the sheer number of dairy farms and milking cows in New Zealand compared to here in the UK. Then there is also the land space. People often describe NZ as England about 50-60 years ago, before all this mass house building and road expansion that we have seen here which unfortunately has resulted in some farmers being forced to sell up, or diversify into livery yards or arable land just to survive and keep the farm afloat. Just like James’ family farm in Sussex which diversified from a traditional dairy farm into a large livery yard, retail and office space with a delicious café! Each year they make hay, haylage and grow a variety of crops on rotation which are managed by local contractors. This allowed them to keep farming but on a smaller more manageable scale.

We are also faced with a different climate, which has a huge impact on the way we manage our cows and farmland. Most British farmers will graze their cows as much as they can to take advantage of the natural nutrients within the Spring/Summer months, before housing them in large ventilated barns during the colder, harsher Winter months when the grass stops growing. They then feed subsequent concentrates to help promote higher yields of milk.

An increasing number of dairy farms in the UK are beginning to house their cattle all year round and control their diet extensively, monitoring milk yields and cell counts in a much more intensive way. Whereas in New Zealand about 98% of herds are housed outside all year round, due to the extensive use of irrigation; a method of applying water and effluent to grass paddocks or crops to promote growth. This is an expensive method of paddock management and requires a large amount of work and space to set up and utilise effectively. However, perhaps this is something which could benefit British farmers as the irrigation systems can be tailored toe fit paddock sizes and roll over fencing without breaking it to cover the entire paddock space. In some cases, the entire grass land on a farm is covered by irrigation systems, often you will see farms with 3 or 4 irrigators working to ensure that each and every corner of their paddocks are watered.

One hugely important factor for me, and one which I think requires attention, is the amount of support for British dairy farmers compared to the support available in NZ, in terms of organisations, apps for your phone, events/seminars and even the general attitude of the wider community. Ours is dismal in comparison.

During my time in NZ, I took advantage of a number of apps available to download onto my phone, which were a godsend to help with the day to day life on the farm. A couple that I found particularly useful were ‘On Farm’ which allows you to monitor milk production data and view detailed information on individual cell counts etc. There are also loads of brilliant apps for herd management such as ‘Minda’ which is great for monitoring cows during breeding season and calving but also comes in handy when herd testing or drafting cows for various reasons. 

Over all, I feel New Zealand is ahead of the game with dairy farming and although we farm on a smaller scale here there are a number of methods, concepts and tools we could benefit from utilising in this country. Not forgetting the increasing need to support our farmers, not just in the dairy industry but across the board.

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