Finding value in their Jersey herd

Southland Jersey farmers Ross and Kristy Conder. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Southland Jersey farmers Ross and Kristy Conder. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Ross and Kristy Conder are not milking your typical Southland herd.

The couple 50/50 sharemilk an 840-cow herd, predominantly Jerseys,at Otapiri, near Winton.

The sight of a largely Jersey herd is less common in the area and the couple say they are "busting the myth" that a bigger, blacker cow is needed to be profitable in the South.

Originally from Auckland, Mr Conder found himself farming following a chance encounter with an enthusiastic Primary Industry Training Organisation tutor who encouraged him to consider dairying as a career.

His wife grew up on a farm and the two reversed roles for a short period while she studied in Auckland and he worked his way up the farming ladder in Ngatea, near Thames.

The couple moved south in 2016 to begin their sharemilking career for Dairy Farms NZ Ltd.

Five seasons on and they run a relatively low input system on the 274ha (235ha effective) mixed contour farm, feeding about 400kg of palm kernel and grain through in-shed feeding.

The herd produces about 380kg of milksolids per cow and about 1380kg of milksolids per hectare.

About 20-30% of the herd is milked once-a-day (OAD) in spring and summer. The full herd is on OAD from April-May onwards.

"We trade off a small amount of production with our milking regime but we make up for that in cow health, condition and fertility," Mr Conder said.

The herd was significantly above the industry average for its reproductive performance, averaging between 75% and 82% over the past five seasons.

The couple also averaged an empty rate of about 7% from 12 weeks of mating but it had been as low as 5%. No intervention was used to achieve those results.

"That’s one of the main advantages of Jerseys — they are highly fertile. We have found that by focusing on cow condition and using OAD as a tool to manage lighter cows or non-cyclers, we don’t need any hormonal intervention to achieve strong reproductive performance," he said.

The couple use 100% Jersey bulls for AB and say they are selecting genetics with a bigger framed Jersey in mind.

"It’s a combination that gives us the positive traits of a Jersey animal — such as higher milksolids percentage, superior fertility, easy calving, good feet, and mobility — with a little bit extra size."

Equity growth had been a big focus and stock sales had helped drive this.

"We have a real niche in Southland when it comes to Jersey bull calves. There is a strong demand and limited supply in our area so we have been able to capitalise on that," Mrs Conder said.

The couple also have an abundance of surplus mixed-age stock to sell annually.

Rearing 25% young stock, they aim to bring through 21-22% as in-calf heifers. That, coupled with their lower empty rate, meant there was surplus stock each season.

The couple have a strong focus on cost control and say that for them it is about getting the basics right, while keeping things simple so they can grow.

It is a goal that has allowed them to buy a 480-cow farm in equity partnership this year. The couple will contract milk the farm and play a management role across both properties.

The couple’s longer-term vision was to buy more land and eventually own their own farm outright.

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