Farm interactive learning platform

Chris and Desiree Giles, of Waimumu Downs, are keen to spread the environmental enhancement...
Chris and Desiree Giles, of Waimumu Downs, are keen to spread the environmental enhancement message to as many school pupils as possible. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Chris and Desiree Giles, of Waimumu Downs, use their property as a giant interactive learning platform for children from the 16 eastern Southland schools.

"We are in the process of putting a classroom down on the farm. Getting the kids involved is a means of bringing in their parents and getting their buy-in," Mr Giles said.

The couple, who have two children — Danielle (9) and Andrew (7) — have a 306ha dairy property (206ha effective), which was converted in 2014.

The family bought the original property six years ago and since then had almost doubled the acreage.

They milk between 550 and 600 cows and have a milk solid target of 260,000kgMS.

The property has 7ha of naturally occurring wetlands, which also form part of the learning platform.

School groups regularly visit as part of the Enviroschools programme, and pupils carry out riparian planting using locally sourced native species.

"The pupils learn about creeks and ponds, and each school has its own area to look after."

They also learn about building sediment traps, seed sourcing, insect and biodiversity surveys, habitats, building a duck pond and creating walkways.

Mrs Giles takes care of the business side of the operation while Mr Giles’ father Alan helps on the farm when needed and mother Debbie helps with calf rearing.

The effluent from the dairy shed and feed pad flows into a 7.5million litre effluent storage pond and is spread by a Cobra low-rate effluent gun.

"We also created a runoff and do frequent monitoring and we have had a 47% drop in total nutrients leaving our property."

They regrass 15% of their property every year.

The feed pad allows each cow 14sqm of space, and there is a self-feed silage stack next to it.

They built a calf shed two years ago, which uses solar power.

They are also experimenting with regenerative farming to enhance the soil structure on one small area that had been cropped continuously for 30-plus years.

The couple are members of the Gore Catchment Group.

Mr and Mrs Giles won three awards in this year’s Southland Ballance Farm Environment Awards: the Ballance Agri-Nutrients Soil Management Award; the DairyNZ Sustainability and Stewardship Award and the Norwood Agri-Business Management Award.

They entered the awards partly as a challenge but more to get expert feedback about their operation.

"We have been saying we were going to enter for years.

"What has been really good was to sit down and have a good yarn with the judges."

As a result of feedback they plan to plant more shelterbelts.

They were pleased with the first round of judging for the competition but the second time was stressful as it took place when 20ha of their property was under water during the February floods.

In addition, the couple also have 28 garages on their property and rent out the storage space.


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