DECISION HAS BEEN A WEIGHT OFF
Southlanders Paul Hardegger and Dani Haller believe cow comfort is so closely linked to herd performance they made a number of “game-changing” decisions.
The energetic Isla-Bank dairy farmers – who both have Swiss heritage – are milking 550 cows on 190 hectares (175 effective), which they began converting in 2006. The property has grown incrementally as the former Taranaki residents have built cow numbers and bought more land. Today they are running an operation that produces 302,000kg milk solids (MS) a year. Through this season’s tough spring – when other herds in the region have struggled – their production has been up by 1000 to 1800 litres a day.
The couple put in a calving pad last season, which covers 1.1ha and capable of housing 850-900 cows; this allows 16 square metres of space per cow – double Dairy NZ’s recommendations.
Paul said, “We chose to make it bigger than we needed because when you haven’t got that pressure on numbers, the pad doesn’t get that dirty. The initial cost was higher, but in the long term, the animal welfare is better, and we believe we’ll get a better return down the track.”
Four years ago, they also made a decision to change the cups (clusters) on their 56-bail rotary. It’s a subject that still excites Paul as he reflects on the positive impact of that call.
The couple calves all their two-year-olds 10 days before their mixed-age cows to give the youngsters time to settle in and adjust to all the changes faced without the added pressure of dominant, mature cows. It has also extends the two-year-olds’ potential days in-milk to 305 days.
“I remember how unsettled the heifers were the year before we changed the cup,” Paul said. “Not all of them – but the majority – and the cowshed was a challenging place to come to.
“I thought, ‘There’s got to be another way’, and I was talking to a good friend of mine, Tony Miles, who runs a mint operation and he told me about these triangular liners he had been reading about that had an air vent at the top of the cup, rather than in the cluster.
“Tony had convinced his owners to put them in, and he had been amazed at the difference. He didn’t have to tell me twice. It didn’t take me long to follow him.”
THREE-POINT MILKING SYSTEM
Milkrite Impuls is the world’s only internally triangular moulded plastic shell with a mouthpiece-vented triangular liner. The gentle three-point milking action is now used by 40% of dairy farmers in the United States, and more than 600 Australian dairymen.
The design includes a revolutionary (and patented) air vent in the mouthpiece (at the teat entry point) of each shell. Importantly, that means the vent introduces air above the milk-flow, stopping splash-back (logically lowering the chance of cross contamination between cows and keeping teats dry). It also makes milking and cup removal gentle while improving teat health.
“When we put them in, we had 130 two-year-old heifers to calve down, and 70 of them were in the dairy within five days,” Paul said. “A platform of two-year-olds is not always great. But I remember that spring, none of us could hear a thing. There was no kicking, no cup slip, no suction and the heifers were so contented. When we took the cups off, their teats were dry, and they had milked out really nicely.
“Since then, I’ve told anyone that is having issues with unsettled heifers to just put in those Milkrite cups because they will change your life.
“In the summertime with the old cups we used to get sand stuck in the air vents. For some reason the Milkrite ones just don’t block up. That was my biggest worry with them, and it just hasn’t happened. For Dani and I, these cups have been a game changer.”
The weight of the old clusters and shells also used to be an issue.
“It feels like we are now lifting half a tonne less a day with these new cups,” Paul said. “I wouldn’t change from these, for all the tea in China. I’d put them in if they cost me three times the price.”
Teat-end damage is also in their past. It was one of the first things that Milkrite’s New Zealand distributor, Lars de Kruijf (of Milk R Us) noticed when he spent a milking in their dairy.
“What stands out greatly to me is that Lars likes cows,” Paul said. “He likes being in the dairy and I’ve never had a dairy technician come in during milking like Lars does. He is head and shoulders above the rest, because he has a passion for it and he notices animal behaviour, and he watches the staff work with the stock.
“He times how long it takes for a rotation and sees so much while he’s there. That’s the value you get from of his knowledge. He knows he’s selling a good product. Those triangular shells and liners are untouchable.”
HERD HEALTH VISIBLE IN PRE-SEASON HEATS
Such is their attention to detail during calving that Paul and Dani’s DNA parentage match-ups this season came in at 98.3% accurate – compared to the national average of 70%. Paul says he loses about 13kg every calving to achieve it, but he considers it a small price to pay.
Other recent changes for this herd include feeding probiotics through Probiotic Revolution, giving their herd Vitamin A, D and E shots when they were dry, feeding lead feed before calving to support transition, and fitting Allflex cow monitoring collars.
The collars have confirmed a number of things, including that the cows are ruminating 550 minutes a day – easily at the top end of industry averages. They recently individually condition-scored the herd for an average of 4.7. Paul said that would usually be closer to 4.4 at this time of the season. Their vet has also recently rung to report a noticeable jump in the strength of the herd’s heats pre-mating.
“She’s been doing our herd for five years and she said it was significantly better this season with all the effort and the products we’ve put in.”
EVERYTHING IS COMING TOGETHER
Paul said both he and Dani are passionate about their business, and it’s been heartening to see everything coming together.
“We like to get things right and that attitude has got to start from us at the top to encourage our staff to follow along with us,” Paul said.
“We’ve had some of our team here now for six years, so we’ve been very fortunate. Everything is falling into place nicely.”