House cows – a case study

High producing house cows enjoy the Leeston lifestyle

image 2New Zealand Ayrshire show judge Cheryl Ford and her partner Geoff Chapman have proven on their 8 hectare lifestyle block in mid-Canterbury that you don’t need a large commercial farm to see huge rewards from milking cows. They currently milk 7 Ayrshire cows which include 4 first-time calvers but they still averaged 33 litres per cows at the last milk recording. Unusually for such a small herd, the cows are milk recorded because heifers are shown and sold at stud sales to farmers who value breeds milk production, temperament and ability to hold condition through the winter. Based on the milk recording, last season five cows averaged 7025 litres each over 278 day lactations at 4.97% butterfat and 3.45% protein and produced the milk to rear 33 Friesian heifer calves, 24 beef calves, 20 Friesian bull calves and 1 Ayrshire heifer calf – a little over 17 calves per cow!

The house, land and buildings were subdivided about 12 years ago from a larger dairy farm supplying town supply milk. The cows are milked in the original 4 -aside milking shed and calves are reared in what was a wintering barn with cow stalls.   Jeff artificially inseminates the cows himself – using semen which can be up to 40 years old and they feel they are making a real difference by maintaining genetic diversity – something which many lifestyle farmers are able to do by supporting breeds which have become rare on commercial farms but which may display many characteristics of value to small farmers such has temperament and longevity.

Image 2The farm grows a lot of grass but is not irrigated, Cheryl and Geoff will have silage made when there is a surplus and buy silage in to see them through the summer and winter.

Cheryl feeds a high quality compound feed produced by Reliance but was also encouraged by Farmlands to use straights – especially soy hulls and soya bean meal. Soy hulls are very low in protein but high in digestible fibre and are useful to supplement high protein spring grass whereas soya bean meal comes into its own when pasture protein levels fall in the summer.

“Farmlands have given me the knowledge to understand what my pastures are delivering and confidence to select supplements which complement it best through the seasons. Our block is not irrigated so it is really comforting to know we have a plan B if we hit a dry spell. Pre-calving pellets have helped the cows through calving and helped them to go straight onto the milking ration.  Animal health and production has increased which creates income but also give us a lot or personal satisfaction”.

Cheryl and Geoff have made calf rearing work around their building and paddocks and are not afraid to do things differently to the norm. The Ayrshires continue to milk well into the autumn which allows autumn born calves to be reared in addition to the main spring group.

Image 3Yearlings are given hard feed through the winter to keep them growing on so that beefies can be finished before their second winter and replacements are well grown.

Cheryl’s cows appear in the Farmlands Lifestyle Guide – anyone thinking about keeping a house cow or two are encouraged to ask for a copy from their local Farmlands. Now is a good time to think about buying weaned calves which can be halter trained whilst young with the intention of milking them in a couple of years.

Farmlands Nutrition are grateful to Cheryl and Geoff for allowing us to share their operation with shareholders.