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Profitable farming the Kiwi way

Profitable farming the Kiwi way

2011/12 Season

Owners: Bill & Michelle Burgess
Farm location: Waikato

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Dissatisfied with confinement farming in the USA, Bill Burgess came to NZ to embark on studies in veterinary medicine. Romance and the realisation he could make money farming the Kiwi way has kept him here ever since.

Bill left a small family dairy farm in Massachusetts and came to Massey University in 2004. In his first year he met wife Michelle who was studying agriculture and, after many passionate debates on farming practises, discovered it was possible to make a great living dairy farming in New Zealand.

After two years managing Kiwi-owned dairy conversions in Missouri, USA and one season contract milking in Te Awamutu, the couple tendered for and won the right to lease an area which includes the old Ruakura No 2 Dairy, now owned by Tainui Group Holdings and earmarked to eventually become an inland port and commercial hub.

In the 2011-12 season, the farm milked 600 Friesian x Jersey cows on 200 ha and produced 307,000 kgMS. In 2012-13 the herd increased to 720 cows which are on track to produce 360,000 kgMS (1,800 kgMS/ha and 500 kgMS/cow) despite very dry summer conditions.

When the couple took over the farm it was milking a smaller number of cows on 120 ha and produced 90,000 kgMS. Poor farm infrastructure, including rundown fences, a dilapidated water reticulation system and a 20-a-side herringbone shed, created their share of challenges to increasing production. However, those obstacles have been largely overcome by hard work and an ability to think outside the square.

“We solved the shed problem by employing plenty of staff and milking the cows in 2 hour shifts”, says Bill.

Bill and Michelle are fanatical about avoiding pugging during winter, so minimising pasture damage while still feeding the cows properly was another challenge. In their second season on the farm, the Burgesses replaced the 200 cow yard with a new 400 cow round yard to accommodate the increase in herd size and also allow them to stand off half the herd in winter. Last year they built a 400- cow feed pad which has allowed them to feed a range of lower cost supplements without wastage, including maize silage.

“We already had an in-shed feeding system and so at first it seemed crazy to consider building a feed pad on a farm we didn’t own. But when we did the analysis it paid for itself in 18-24 months”, says Bill.

“We kept the design simple and did some of the work ourselves so the total cost was $80,000. There is no question it was worth it.”

Last season, 19 ha of Pioneer® brand 34P88 was grown on-farm with an average yield of 25 tDM/ha. This year the maize area has been increased to 24 ha.

“It seemed crazy to consider building a feed pad on a farm we didn’t own. But when we did the analysis it paid for itself in 18-24 months.”

“Even taking into consideration the pasture we lose when the maize crop is in the ground, we can grow maize silage cheaper than the cost of buying in palm kernel extract”, says Bill. “We use it in the autumn to put weight on the cows and in the spring, it provides starch which helps us balance the high protein pasture. It is a great feed!”

Bill had grown Pioneer maize hybrids in the USA and chose to plant the brand in New Zealand. “It was an easy decision to plant Pioneer”, says Bill. “Pioneer has the best range of maize hybrids, has spent the most money on hybrid research, and the local Pioneer representatives are knowledgeable and easily accessible.”

Over the past three seasons, 50% of the farm area has been regrassed using maize silage or chicory as a break crop. New higher-yielding pastures have enabled cow numbers to be increased while at the same time reducing the cost of supplements fed.

“Our personal goal is to produce 400,000 kgMS without increasing cow numbers, but it has to be profitable and environmentally sustainable”, says Bill. “There is no question the feed pad will continue to generate a return because it allows us to protect our pastures and feed low cost maize.”

“It was an easy decision to plant Pioneer”, says Bill. “Pioneer has the best range of maize hybrids, has spent the most money on hybrid research.”