In 2008 the Pollocks invested in automation, with a new 60 bail rotary, automatic take-offs, automatic cleaning and an automatic sorting gate.
Craig Pollock’s father bought the farm in 1957, when Craig was 8 years old. In his twenties Craig traveled for a while, and when he came back he started share-milking with his father. Later on he leased some land where he milked 500 cows, and this became a stepping-stone, enabling him to buy his own farm in 1989. In 1996 they bought a neighboring farm that became available, but only after evaluating the situation to see whether the best alternative was to consolidate or grow at that point. In 2006 they bought a third farm.
In 2008 they decided to bring two of the three farms together, and replace two of the Herringbones they were using with a new rotary. Craig and Robert milk at this new farm, while Robert’s brother Andrew is milking his cows at the other farm.
They milk in a 60 bail rotary with automatic take-offs, automatic cleaning and automatic teat spray. They use the ALPRO herd management system to keep track of milk yields, breeding and health status of the cows. Robert really appreciates the herd management system, and the possibilities it gives him to keep track of his herd. At one point two herds got mixed together, and instead of a long and strenuous ordeal of separating the two herds, they ran all the cows through the sorting gate and the two groups were easily sorted again.
They milk twice a day, with an average of two hours milking time, except at the end of the season when milk yields go down and milking can be done in an hour.
Two people work in the shed, one gets the three groups of cows in, and one puts on the cups. A third person helps out with other things as needed. They also try to make sure that the shed stays as clean as possible, as they prefer a clean and orderly work place, and as a result the shed is still looking quite new, even two years after they put the new rotary in.
They are considering amalgamating the three herds into one or maybe two, but this would require that they join up the laneways and restructure. If they did this Rob thinks one person would be able to operate the shed on his own.
They pre-cool the milk through plate coolers, pumping water from the ground. The water is then re-cycled and used for washing. The Waikato basin, where the farm is located, is good for farming, with rain every week, and fertile soil, which means that the land can cope with more cows than in other less favorable places, and the Pollock’s farm has 3,8 cows per hectare, as compared to the 2,76 average of the North Island and the 2,91 average in the South Island. The national average is 2,81 cows/hectare.
Milk is collected every day, and the current milk price on milk solids this season is 6.50 NZD per kg. They produce a total of 125 000 kg milksolids (MS) per year. 320 kg MS/cow (NZ average: 318)
The somatic cell count, SCC (cells/ml) is 253 000 (NZ average: 246 000). If the SCC is higher than 400 000 there is a penalty, but there are no incentives for low SCCs. There are incentives for fat and protein. To keep the SCC low they select cows when breeding and they make sure to change liners in time.
They make sure to keep the herd calm when fetching them and not to stress them. They spend a lot of time with the young stock, getting them used to being handled, which has shown good results, the vet has commented on how quiet and calm their cows are. The platform where the cows enter the rotary is covered with a surface that gives a good grip for the hooves to avoid slipping, and is softer to walk on than concrete. The same surface is used where the milker operates.
They keep the cows on pasture all year round, using 30 paddocks per herd. The paddocks are located up to 1-1,5 km from the shed. The cows are moved from one paddock to the next after milking, making a round of 20 days when growth is high, and 30 days when it is lower. Some of the excess spring grass is harvested and fed to the cows as silage in the winter when grass growth is down. The grass management is extremely important, when to harvest, how many cows to have in a paddock, when to move them to the next.
They do not use in-place feeding on the platform, but give the cows three kg palm kernel per day. The palm kernel is a by-product from the palm oil production, a dry crushed husk that contains carbohydrates, fat and minerals, and if fed to the cows it increases the milk fat. The cows love it, even though it’s quite difficult for them to eat, since it resembles dry sawdust. To make it easier for them to eat the palm kernel they are planning to moisten it a bit before feeding it to the cows. The palm kernel is cheaper than grain, and has a good effect not only on the milk fat (which goes down 0,5% if they stop feeding the palm kernel) but it also improves the condition of the cows, which is beneficial when it’s time for insemination. Craig says that they probably break even with the higher fat content vs the cost of the kernel, but with the benefit of cows in better condition. But Craig emphasizes how important it is to keep your eyes on the grass, and not get too mixed up with the supplements.
Crops and forages
They grow 118 hectares of rye-grass and clover. Thanks to the favorable climate, with a lot of rain, they don’t need to irrigate. Craig says that the grass in New Zealand is not what it used to be, even the scientist conclude that even if they relate the lower dry matter content of the rye grass of today to a dry summer, cold soil temperature, insects or over-grazing in the fields, there is still something that they can’t put their finger on. Hopefully they will find an answer to this, and find ways to restore the quality of the important grass.
They use the ALPRO herd management system, for milking yields, breeding and health records, following up on cow treatments and mastitis checks.They use tail painting for pre-mating detection. This year they started inseminations on October 10th, and the first six weeks of the breeding season they use AI, with selected semen. After this, they use three bulls for the cows that are not pregnant yet. They have a maximum of 2% empty cows, which is low, and they think this is related to the good health and condition of their cows and the good soil they graze on. The high number of bulls used can also have an effect. They keep the female calves from the first six weeks of breeding, and sell the others. 110 replacement heifers are kept.
Average age at first calving is 2 years and average lactation length 270-280 days.
The average no. of lactations is seven, and the most common reasons for culling are high SCC, low production, age and reproduction problems. They are very proud of their black crossbreds, and rightly so, since they rank in the top 7% in the National Ranking on their cows.
They have a 2 day holding tank for the effluents from the farm. Since these cows spend the largest part of their time in the paddocks, there is less manure to handle than from cows in a barn. They irrigate the effluents, but not when it’s raining, as the regulations say.
They are three people working on the farms, and they use Standard Operation Procedures.
The main challenge in the future will be to produce milk economically, and concentrate on that. Producing milk has to remain economically viable and sustainable. The concrete plan is for the brother Andrew to come down and that the brothers would work more like a team, making it possible for their father to step back and take it a little easier. He will always be involved in the farm, but maybe not at the same level as now. Andrew and Robert might consider expanding in the future, and improving their operations. Maybe even venture into other things further down the road. Says Robert: “We are the third generation, and we want to keep it going. When I was traveling I enjoyed it, but I was also looking forward to getting back home. When you’re away you really appreciate what you have got.”
The public debate on climate change and agriculture sometimes makes it feel like they are in a goldfish bowl, that they are being scrutinized. Craig says that they are probably already doing things in a sustainable way, that they have been operating for 30 years, and that this requires certain management skills. “We want to be proud of things, and do things right – even if no one is watching” he concludes.