Their focus on their cows
has never since wavered. Here’s their remarkable herd improvement story.
This spring, with no intervention, and within
22 days of planned start of mating, Waikato based sharemilkers Simon and Aimee
Player want 100% of their herd submitted to
From that, they’re aiming for
a 90% six-week in calf rate.
“If we miss that, I’ll be
happy with 87%,” Simon says.
According to their Fertility
Focus Report, in the spring of 2018 the Players achieved an 82% 6-week incalf rate;
in 2017 it was 81%; in 2016 it was 70%, and; in 2015 it was 72%.
Their herd’s calving spread
during the same period has more than halved, from a tad more than 15 weeks to
just 7 weeks. They’re targeting a calving spread of 6 weeks next season.
Meanwhile, per-cow production
figures in year one (2015) of their job began at 400kg milksolids, followed by
420kg, 450kg, 470kg, and 500kg in 2018. This year the Players are targeting
550kg milksolids per cow.
Shell-shocker for novices
The couple arrived on their
current farm in 2015 with a real mix of animals they had purchased (having
borrowed from family, as well as a bank that was willing to back their first
foray into dairy cow ownership).
Simon wasn’t brought up on a dairy
farm, but he had done a fair apprenticeship in the rural sector, having worked
in dairying in both Ireland and England, as well as on a Waikato dry stock
farm, followed by two years contract milking in 2013 and 2014.
“So, in 2015 I purchased five
mobs comprising of a core herd of 180, plus 35 heifers, and three other smaller
lots I could find that looked good for the right price,” Simon says.
That took him up to the
required 270 cows he needed for the system 3 farm.
“We had a mix of big Holsteins
and tiny little Jerseys. Because we’re sharemilking there’s always a need to keep
the BW (Breeding Worth) up, but once we had the cows, the focus was on improving
But a sudden ‘payout crash’ –
that saw dairy farmer cashflows almost halve from the heady heights of more
than $8 in the previous year – forced Simon to act with immediate urgency.
“You can’t make too much money
in your first season at that kind of payout.
“Because we were struggling immediately
culled all the later (calving) cows. I got $1200 on-the hook … that high beef
price got us through. But it dropped us down to 250 cow herd. The last cow that
year calved on 26 October.”
Focus on repro pays dividends
The tough start to their
sharemilking career was down to unlucky timing, but Simon and Aimee believed in
the fundamentals for medium- to long-term success.
Sticking to a 250-cow herd,
rather than the 270-cows that had traditionally grazed the farm, an aggressive
herd improvement strategy was pursued that combined stock sales, culls, and a
major focus on repro, health, and selective genetics.
“In the first two years we
culled and sold on calving date, and we brought the calving period shorter by
two or three weeks each year,” Simon says. “I try not to cull; I prefer to sell
– and to get a good price I’ll sell early.”
After the Player’s artificial
insemination period, they turn to the natural mate bull for 24 days, before
finishing off with short gestation length dairy for 10 days (these later cows
are thereby able to recover about 10+ days-in-milk; this has helped
progressively condense the calving pattern).
The heavy emphasis on a high submission
rate and a high six week in-calf rate means the calving period is progressively
tighter, but Simon says this is key to his production gains.