|Owners:||David & Raewyn, Jeremy & Lucy Bennett|
|Farm location:||Richmond Downs, Waikato|
|Farm size:||405 ha (eff.)|
Over twenty years ago David & Raewyn Bennett purchased 90 ha of fertile rolling land at Richmond Downs, near Matamata.
Today the couple, along with son Jeremy and his wife Lucy, are equity partners in a highly productive, profitable and sustainable family farming venture which milks 1,450 cows on 405 ha (eff.). In the 2013-14 season their Friesian and Friesian cross herd produced 796,000 kgMS (549 kgMS/cow and 1,965 kgMS/ha).
Son Jeremy manages day-to-day farm operations. The 255 ha “home-farm” milks 1,150 cows in four herds. Around 800 cows calve in the autumn (10 March) while the balance calve in the spring (1 September). High producers peak at close to 40 litres per cow and are preferentially fed. The bulk of the cows are in two medium producing herds. Low producers, including end-of-lactation cows, are used to clean-up after the other herds and are given access to fresh grass only once each day. The second farm milks 300 autumn-calving cows.
“Calving in the autumn allows us to make better use of peak grass growth periods and we’re less affected by dry summers” says David. “It also means we can take advantage of winter milk and shoulder premiums.”
Pasture is the cornerstone of the farm system and Jeremy carefully monitors growth rates and quality. The Bennetts are strong advocates of home-grown maize silage as their first supplementary feed choice. They have been feeding it in increasing amounts for the past 20 years.
In the 2013-14 season they fed 1.3 tDM/cow which they estimate cost around 16–17 c/kgDM in the stack. In spring 2014, they have planted 140 ha of Pioneer® brand 34P88 and P0791 including 38 ha on a recently purchased 62 ha block which is currently under development.
The farm’s high stocking rate is also supported with 30 ha of Pioneer® brand lucerne for summer protein, along with potatoes, palm kernel and small amounts of higher cost concentrates including soymeal and canola.
Season after season the Bennett’s farm has generated one of the top EFS in the Waikato. David attributes their success to paying attention to detail and ensuring they have good systems in place. Farm accounts are carefully monitored by Raewyn, and while they have a policy of watching costs, they are prepared to spend money if they feel they can get an acceptable return from it. This, says David, is even more important in a low payout environment.
“Providing we keep control of costs, running over 3.5 cows/ha and producing 500 kgMS/ cow from mainly home-grown feeds is hard to beat in a tough season” says David. “But the beauty of this system is that we have the flexibility to buy in extra feed and ramp up production if the forecast is high.”
Being profitable and investing in infrastructure in the high payout years has allowed the farm to become more sustainable. A 6 million litre lined pond on the home farm and a 2 million litre lined pond on the second farm were added to their effluent system in 2013, and five 300-cow Herd Homes® have been commissioned over the last two seasons.
“When we started we always used to make do with the equipment and facilities we had” says David. “The higher payout years allowed us to invest in better infrastructure, and this has made it easier for everyone which in turn helps us attract and keep good staff.”
As well as minimising feed-out losses, providing shelter for the cows and minimising pugging and over-grazing, the Herd Homes® have enabled easier and more environmentally sustainable effluent management, an important advantage for a highly stocked farm with rolling contour.
“We collect effluent over the winter and spread it onto the maize paddocks” says David. “It allows us to utilise nutrients in the effluent more efficiently and reduces our maize growing costs.”
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