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Productive systems offer profit and lifestyle

Reawyn and David Bennett with sons Johnathan (left) and Jeremy (right).

Productive systems offer profit and lifestyle

2003/04 Season

Owners: David and Raewyn Bennett
Farm location: Matamata
Farm size: 182 hectares
Herd size: 860 cows


Having a life beyond the farm gate has motivated farming couple Raewyn and David Bennett to build a highly profitable, sustainable farm system. Farming in the fertile rolling country at Richmond Downs near Matamata, Raewyn and David have fine tuned their intensive system to the point where 860 cows on 182 hectares are pumping out 465 kilograms of milksolids a head or 2,197 kilograms of milksolids per hectare. It has allowed them to reap the benefits of a property almost twice the size, without the accompanying hassles of larger scale land ownership.

They make no apology for their intensively stocked system, knowing that the high capital cost of the land they are on demands a good return on their investment.

With the high stocking rate comes pressure to keep feed levels up and even over spring time there is never enough pasture to fully feed the herd. The Bennetts are sworn advocates of maize silage as their first supplementary feed choice. This low cost feed alternative is used at a rate of around 1.2 tonnes of drymatter a cow per season. The stocking rate is also supported with lucerne, palm kernel, and brewer's grain, all of which are fed out all year round.

Both say they love farming and are justifiably proud of the results their business is achieving, with the high milksolids figure translating directly into an excellent 12% return on equity and an EFS of around $3,300 a hectare in the 2002/2003 season.

"We manage to achieve this by watching all our costs carefully while being prepared to spend money if we feel we will get a return from it," says David. To keep feed expenses to a minimum the Bennetts now grow most of their own maize silage and this season planted 9 hectares of lucerne as a cost effective protein source. They currently use the Pioneer® brand maize hybrid 33G26.

Some industry commentators suggest higher input systems are less profitable but this often results from pasture not being fully utilised before feeding the other more expensive inputs. The Bennetts have not only fine tuned their pasture management, but they ensure minimal wastage occurs with their more expensive feeds. A feed pad guarantees full rations with minimal wastage and feed bunkers are located close to the pad to reduce time and fuel.

The system is proving its sustainability not only in terms of profit, but also environmentally. All water and manure from the dairy farm and the pad is spread back on to the farm, eliminating the need for solid fertiliser on 60 hectares of the property.

The Bennetts have had three seasons of winter milking which has given a lift in both production and profit. They say calving twice a year does have its problems, but brings two major advantages. Firstly it enables them to make better use of peak grass growth periods, capitalising on the excellent late autumn, early winter growth rates that can reach over 40 kilograms of drymatter per hectare a day in this part of the Waikato in April, May and even June. Secondly it enables a compact calving pattern and a flatter milk curve, eliminating the risk of being hit with more peak note payments in good springs. Premiums for winter milk and higher calf sales are simply the "icing on the cake" to this strategy, say the Bennetts.

The farm at Richmond Downs represents the result of over two decades of dedication and passion to the dairy industry, moving up in leaps and bounds from their first 37 hectare property 19 years ago. Then, as now, they realised anything they did needed to be sustainable, as well as profitable, if they were to progress. In 1992 they bought a bigger property, capitalising on the strong gains in land values that occurred between then and sale in 1994. Purchasing the 89 hectare home farm at Richmond Downs provided a platform to join the neighbouring farm in 2002, along with a nearby run-off of 48 hectares.

Recently the Bennetts have considered purchasing a bigger property, but have decided there are still greater returns to be made by intensifying their present business. They say there is still opportunity to grow the business without the outlay on a larger property or the hassle of moving.

The more productive system has not meant they are stuck on the farm constantly feeding animals. Raewyn and David, with their sons, Jeremy, Jonathon and Aaron, enjoy their involvement with their local church and club rugby. They are all keen Chiefs and Waikato rugby supporters. Raewyn also runs her own hairdressing business from home. For David, living close to the East Coast means fishing is always an option. The present size and profitability of his business means he can regularly get away to try his luck with the rod and reel.