Looking on track for best season yet on the Taieri

Taieri dairy farmers James and Celia Aitken, with their sons Carlos (left) and Harvey, are on...
Taieri dairy farmers James and Celia Aitken, with their sons Carlos (left) and Harvey, are on track to having their best season. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Taieri dairy farmer James Aitken is continuing his quest to breed a ‘‘perfect cow’’.

He classifies his heifers to identify faults in his herd, which helps him make better breeding decisions.

“I know I have a problem with rump angle and wide front teats, so that’s something we’re focusing on, along with fertility and production.

“I guess you do it to try and get the perfect cow — that’s what everyone wants, isn’t it?’’

He and wife Celia run 240 cows on their 90ha dairy farm, about 30 minutes from Dunedin.

Holstein Friesian bulls he wanted to use for the breeding had become harder to find in New Zealand.

“With rump angles becoming a trait I’m working on improving, I’m finding it increasingly difficult to find New Zealand bulls with positive rump traits.’’

He had started to use a small amount of overseas bull semen to introduce new genetics.

An inspector for the Traits other than Production (TOP) classification system — his father, Denis Aitken — classified his 3-year-old cows every year.

The herd was milked twice a day but transitioned to a three-times-in-two-days milking regime around March.

By May, cows were milked once a day and dried off in mid-to-late May.

The herd usually produces 430kg of milk solids per cow but was on track to deliver 460kg of milk solids per cow this season.

The difference to being on track for the best season ever was because of better weather.

“I’d love to be able to say it’s the cows but after the last two seasons it really is the weather.’’

The farm had flooded in the past two seasons.

‘‘It’s an ongoing battle to keep the drains clear and pumped out but it’s just part of where we farm.”

The farm got a good soaking in early January this year but had remained mostly dry since.

Calving started in late July and was expected to finish by the first week of October.

All of the replacement heifers were reared on farm.

Bull calves were reared to 100kg for the beef market.

The couple had been running the farm for 10 years.

Mr Aitken left hospitality work in Australia to return home to Otago to give dairy farming a go.

From the farm, Mrs Aitken runs an online women’s fashion store.

The couple have two boys, Harvey (9) and Carlos (6).

On their return to New Zealand, Mr Aitken worked at Busybrook Holsteins with Nathan Bayne, who reignited a passion for dairy farming, breeding and herd improvement.

Mr Aitken said he had not looked back.

“It’s nice to be getting up at 5am now to go milking instead of going to bed at 6am when I was working nightclubs on the Gold Coast.”

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