Pleasure to show dairy cattle again

The Gilbert family celebrates success at the New Zealand Dairy Event 2021 in Feilding, winning...
The Gilbert family celebrates success at the New Zealand Dairy Event 2021 in Feilding, winning titles across three breeds; Ayrshire (champion), Jersey (champion) and Holstein (reserve intermediate champion). PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Showing dairy cattle is a family passion shared by Peter Gilbert and his sons, Nick, Michael and Luke.

But of late it has been a long time between shows.

Mycoplasma bovis hit the cattle industry in 2016 and saw cattle shows cancelled the length and breadth of the country and then came the Covid-19 global pandemic.

So late last year, when the Gilberts had the chance to start entering national competitions again, they were more than ready. And it has paid off.

At the recent New Zealand Dairy Event 2021 in Feilding, not only did their 6-year-old Ayrshire Pukekaraka Elle Delilah win the supreme exhibit title, but also their show string had great success.

Peter Gilbert (from left) with family members Michael, Anne, Lucy, Nick and Luke ahead of the...
Peter Gilbert (from left) with family members Michael, Anne, Lucy, Nick and Luke ahead of the Waikato Show where Michael, Nick and Peter were judging and Luke was a show fitter. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

They won titles across three breeds; Ayrshire (champion), Jersey (champion) and Holstein (reserve intermediate champion) for Pukekaraka Elle Delilah, Premier Tequila Sweet and Snowfed Unix Nelda, respectively.

They also had a Brown Swiss they prepared for show, but do not own, win junior champion. And their yearling Glenalla Hired Wendy won junior champion Jersey and reserve champion all breeds. Wendy will go up for sale at an Autumn Harvest Sale of all breeds at Cambridge in April.

The title was one of a few Delilah has achieved this show season. She also won Supreme All Breeds New Zealand Champion at the Royal Agricultural Society (RAS) New Zealand Royal Dairy Show held during the Stratford A&P Show in late November. In addition she won champion Ayrshire, and senior champion all breeds at the New Zealand Agricultural dairy section on-farm competition in November.

Her understated potential was picked up by Michael who bought her on looks from a Waikato dispersal sale two years ago.

“It was an exceptional show,” Peter said, of the recent wins.

They were the only breeders from the South Island to attend and sold Nelda to an interested buyer despite the annual sale component of the show not going ahead this year.

Peter, and wife Anne, have farmed in Mid Canterbury since 1988.

They moved to the Winchmore farm from Ellesmere. Back then, the farm milked 350 Jersey cows and used border dyke irrigation. It now uses centre pivot watering.

With the purchase of neighbouring land, the farm grew and so did cow numbers.

The couple own two dairy farms in Mid Canterbury after selling their run-off block to buy a farm at Rakaia, but it is more about succession planning than wanting to start a global dairy empire.

Nick and Michael, both national dairy stud judges, are keen on dairy farming but youngest son Luke has more interest in dairy stud genetics. He is a stock agent at Carrfields and is also a sought-after show fitter preparing cattle for dairy shows nationwide.

When the Rakaia property was purchased, the family farm herd was split 50/50 across both sites and now the older brothers have space to run their own farm operations, although all three get together with their parents for monthly family farm meetings.

The home farm at Winchmore is managed by eldest son Nick as Snowfed Farm. The Rakaia farm, known as Glenalla Farm, is managed by Michael.

Both farms milk 600 cows and are both about 180ha. They each milk on a 54-bale rotary.

Peter is a fourth generation dairy farmer dating back to his great-grandfather who farmed in the 1900s at Leeston. Peter’s grandfather, Reg, then farmed in the 1940s, and his father, Ivie (known as Tom), was the one who supported Peter’s foray into the world of Jersey stud farming and ultimately his own Glenalla Jersey Stud.

Peter was a registered member of the Jersey New Zealand as a 13-year-old. He is also a national judge, something he has passed on to his sons.

The stud started with 100 cows and over the years has slowly built up.

A new breed arrived on farm in 2008 with the purchase of a Jersey herd that included 10 registered Ayrshire cows. The cows had good temperament and required low upkeep, piquing the interest of Michael who eventually got more, as well as some Holstein Friesians.

Nick has since introduced Holstein Friesians which were found to have good resale value and produced strong, healthy calves.

The new breeds on farm have offered more diversity within the stud game, Peter said.

His interest in judging has meant his sons grew up with it.

As youngsters, the boys were often doing farm walks and judging the cows in the family herd.

At 8 years old, Luke was confidently competing against 12-year-olds in junior judging competitions and all three brothers have represented New Zealand in judging competitions in Australia.

Nick and Michael still judge but Luke has carved out a name for himself as a fitter. As well as in New Zealand he has worked in the United Kingdom, Germany, United States and Australia.

Judging competitions and shows get the Gilberts mixing with like-minded people.

Show day is a long day involving 3am starts and teams of people often working in four groups to help with animal preparation.

There is a roster with set times for exercise, milking, feeding and cleaning to get the best presentation for each cow in show.

Only cows looking better than 90% of their best make it into the ring, Peter said.

Ring presentations lasted a mere 5-10 minutes.

But the time put in by everyone was a huge credit to how cows looked on the day, he said.

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