The New Zealand agritech industry has worked hard to develop an environment which stimulates and encourages the growth of technology solutions, while at the same time staying true to core values.
New Zealand farmers believe in ‘working smarter not harder’ and Pilkington Farms in the Midlands is embracing the same ethos and showing how it can be done.
The Pilkington family, who run more than 1,200 cows and 650 heifers across three units in Northamptonshire and Warwickshire, have used system changes to promote sustainability, profitability and ease of management. Mark Pilkington, his wife Hilary and son Matthew, all see the value of easy-care cows which are bred for milk solids, utilising a carefully managed grass-based system.
The operation comprises one owned and two tenanted farms and the farm system is replicated across all three units. It focuses on:
Matt Roberts, who is herd manager at one of the tenanted units, Church Farm, Sherbourne, explains: “The advantages it brings is a simple feeding system across the farms. It allows the cows to be managed as one group, helps people movement in peaks and troughs, improves natural health status and attempts to shorten the winter and associated costs.”
For the past 15 years, the farm has been working with New Zealand company LIC using crossbred semen to improve solids production. The size and weight of cows is coming down as a result and the aim is for a 20 per cent replacement rate.
Fertility is vital and Mr Roberts says with herd size at the optimum level, they are now culling harder to improve fertility. The target is for the six-week in-calf rate across the three units to be above 80 per cent with less than 10 per cent empty. In spring 2019, the business trialled sexed semen for the first time putting sexed semen onto 10-15 per cent of the herd. This year, they increased that figure to 30-40 per cent and are just about to start analysing the results.
Grassland targets across the farms are for the production of 12 tonnes DM/hectare. They aim to utilise 10 tonnes DM/ha, accepting that there is waste from grass trodden and silage-making.
Mr Roberts says: “Management of the grazing platform at the start of the season is key. Everything comes second to grass. It’s about getting the rotation right, having high opening covers and managing your residuals.”
Another area of priority is the water supply. The family invested in drilling boreholes across all three units to achieve massive water bill savings. Mr Roberts says with a big herd it is vital there is plenty of trough space and that filling is speedy.
It is not just the technical side of running the business which is of importance to the Pilkington family. They have worked hard to ensure the business operates harmoniously within the community.
Responding to local concerns about the farm’s size, they set about working positively with the village, setting up a Parish Council meeting to discuss plans and using Facebook to communicate activities and ensure continued interaction.
Similarly, when labour shortages within the industry presented a problem, the family recruited and trained staff from a non-farming background who had the right aptitude and enthusiasm for the job and lifestyle.
Mr Roberts concludes that the family’s mantra is they are ‘passionate’ about everything they do. The net result is a strong and resilient business.
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