Acerna Pastures - New Zealand

Key statistics

  • Herd size: 700 Kiwi-cross
  • Location: Geraldine, New Zealand
  • Type of animals: Cows
  • Milking system: Rotary
  • Region: Oceania
"Research and development of new tools and systems will be key for the future"

Alvin Reid has been an active member of the New Zealand dairy industry for more than 30 years, as a dairy farmer and in a number of dairy organisations. He strongly believes that science and technology will bring the solution to the competitive and environmental challenges that the New Zealand dairy industry is facing.

Challenges for New Zealand dairy

Ninety five per cent of the milk produced in New Zealand is exported overseas and if the country’s dairy farmers want to continue doing this long term they need to keep costs at a level that will let them stay competitive, according to Alvin Reid, dairy farmer from Canterbury on the South Island of New Zealand. Another challenge, says Alvin, will be to protect our right to carry on with dairy farming, to demonstrate that we can manage the environmental impact.

“Science and technology hold a major key for our ability to continue to dairy farm in the future”, he says.

A sustainable dairy industry

New Zealand depends very heavily on agriculture for its existence in the world and dairy farming provides around 20 per cent of the country’s export earnings.

“Dairying and tourism are New Zealand’s largest earners, we have to find sustainable solutions to let these two co-exist in the same small country at the bottom of the world.”

Alvin Reid thinks dairy management in New Zealand is run in a sustainable way already today, but he adds that science and technology will deliver solutions that will further enhance their ability to add productivity gains and even further reduce the effect on the environment.

Technology is the solution

One example is enhanced environmental performance, where innovations like the nitrification inhibitor, EcoN, has helped reduce nitrogen leaching from dairy pastures into water ways. There is also new technology using GPS to monitor the application of waste streams back onto the pastures in real time, to ensure that the nutrient stream is spread as evenly as possible.

Milking plant technology is another example; the modern technology makes it possible to reliably milk a large number of cows per person. At Acerna Pastures one person can operate the 54 bail rotary, milking 700 cows. With a herd management system, like ALPRO which is used a Acerna, this type of one person milking operation can be adopted with confidence that the exception animals (e.g. those that loose cups during milking and sick animals) will be identified and dealt with appropriately.

Alvin Reid has been involved in dairy industry governance during the last twenty years, with organisations such as Alpine Dairy Products, Dexcel (farm research and extension center, now DairyNZ) and since ten years he is director of the Livestock Improvement Corporation LIC.

The dairy industry in New Zealand has offered Alvin and his wife Judith so much since they started share milking in 1977, that they think it would be great if they could add some value to helping and encouraging the next generation of New Zealand dairy farmers.

“You would have to go a long way to find another industry with such a vibrant, keen and motivated group of young people striving to get a real foot hold in a prospering industry. It is something we must strive to protect and enhance as our industry goes forward.”

Alvin who does a lot of computer programming, and he would like to spend more of his time developing technology for the automation and management of farming systems. He sees a lot of interesting things that he could add to their business in the way of technology and management information to help drive productivity even further.

“Research and development of tools and systems that increase productivity and reduce environmental effects to me is a real key for the future. The need to invest in science and technology has never been greater than now!”

Acerna Pastures facts:


Total milk yield produced:
2007/08: 260,000 kilograms milksolids (3,024,968 litres)
2008/09: 235,000 kilograms Milksolids (2,741,887 litres)

Per cent of fat and protein:
2007/08: Milksolids % = 8.83 Fat% = 5.05 Protein % = 3.78
2008/09 Milksolids % = 8.67 Fat% = 4.86 Protein % = 3.81

Somatic cell count, SCC:
2007/08 = 262,000 avg
2008/09 = 297,000 avg
2009/2010 season to date (Aug – Nov 09) = 258,000 avg

  • They milk 2 times/day in a turnstyle rotary – 54 bail with Alpro automation.
  • For cooling they use plate cooler & silo refrigeration
  • Milk is delivered once per day through most of season and every two days at shoulders of the season.

Milk price: Current end of season milk price forecast for end of 09/10 season is $5.70 per kilogram of milksolids. Advance price for December 09 is $4.00 per kilogram of milksolids.


Judith and Alvin have been dairy farming since 1978, when they started as share milkers (they owned the dairy cows and received 50% of farm income and operated the farm). In 1981 they bought their first dairy farm and since then they have grown their dairy business to four dairy farms (two owned by themselves and two owned in a partnership with another family) plus two dry stock properties. They now run a total of 2700 cows plus associated young stock. Their home farm has grown over the past 25 years from the amalgamation of seven parcels of land, growing from 54 hectares in 1981 to 250 hectares today run as two separate dairy units.

The farm in this article (Acerna Pastures) is one of the partnership properties which was converted to dairying three seasons ago.

Farm management

Acerna Pastures has a staff of three full time people with approximately another .25 person used in spring to help with calf rearing. After calving and artificial breeding has finished one person is able to milk the 700 cows through the 54 bail rotary dairy.

They endeavor to produce reference manuals for many of the common operations on the dairy farm. Effluent management is one example where they have best practice guides available on the farm for staff to learn from. There is a farm manual (Best on Farm Practice Manual) that has a number of procedures and practices outlined, e.g. the handling of treatment cows. This Best on Farm Practice manual is operated as part of their supply conditions to their co-operative milk company, Fonterra.

Pasture management

165 hectares of grazing pasture, all ryegrass and white clover with some silage spring and autumn. All cows are fed on a dry stock farm during winter (dry period) and fed Kale, Silage Grass and straw. They are off the milking farm for two months, during June and July. All cows calve in August and September, with the last in October. No cows are milked in the winter months.

Approx 150 hectares of the farm are irrigated with two centre pivot irrigators and the corners are covered with 15 small sprinklers.

Approx 40 kg per ha of Phosphorous (in the form of DAP or Superphosphate) plus approx 200 kg Nitrate in the form of Urea. Eco-N (nitrification inhibitor) is applied 2 times per year to reduce Nitrate leaching and this gives an additional 15-20 per cent grass growth response over the season.

Herd management

At Acerna Pastures they rear approx 175 – 200 heifer calves each year and bring in around 165 – 180 fresh heifer into the herd each year. This is slightly higher than their other herds. As this herd has only been on this farm for 3 seasons, they still have some heavy culling to complete to end up with a herd that we would like to have on this farm.

  • They keep around 25%- 28% heifers with 22.5 – 25% coming into the herd each year.
  • The average age of the cows is approx six years as they have 22.5 – 25 % replacements each year.
  • The average lactation length is approx 260 – 280 days per cow.
  • The first cows calve 1st August and they have the entire herd dry by around the 20th May the following year.

Manure Management

All waste from farm dairy and yards is directed into a concrete holding tank called a stone trap, where any stones or heavy objects settle out and the manure and wash water runs through a pipe to a concrete saucer where it is pumped each day through a travelling irrigator onto the paddocks. The storage of effluent is minimal, they would have approx 2 -3 days storage in their holding tanks.

Environmental regulations are in place for all farm dairy waste. Resource consents must be obtained for the disposal of dairy effluent onto the soils. Resource consents state that there shall be no ponding of effluent on the soil and there are maximum quantities of effluent that can be applied each year. Their resource consent allows for a maximum application depth per pass of 25 mm. They would normally spread at a lot less than that and in time of wet weather would reduce the application to as low as 5 mm of effluent.

To ensure that their travelling irrigator application is always compliant, they have developed a GPS tracking system for the effluent irrigator. When the effluent is being pumped they are recording a GPS position on the irrigator, this is continually checked against its last known position and if there is no travel, then a text is sent to the farm manager to tell him that the irrigator has stopped travelling. They are further developing this type of technology for all their farm operations. Compliance of resource consents is a very important part of the operation and they are trying to introduce automated systems to enable their compliance to be monitored.

Besides effluent management all their farms have irrigation consents that let them use water to irrigate pasture. They are spending a lot of time and money with technology in order to accurately monitor these activities to help with efficient management of the operation and also to ensure that they are compliant with their resource consents.

Cow comfort

Animal welfare practices that place minimal stress and hardship on the animals are also important at Acerna Pastures’. One example is to make sure that the time cows are held in yards and on concrete is kept to a minimum.