Words and photo by Chris Neill

Shifting from the high input dairy farms of the Middle East to New Zealand’s grass-based systems has been part of the journey for Sri Lankan dairy manager Ravindra Maddage Don.
Ravindra is the 2021 Northland Dairy Manager of the Year.
Arriving in New Zealand in 2011 from Sri Lanka via the Middle East, he has settled into Northland with dairy farming as his chosen career. While he worked on a high-input farm in the Middle East, his grass farming experience is solely in New Zealand.
He has developed his practical skills on Northland farms while also studying with Primary ITO to obtain his NZCA Dairy – Level 4 and Production Management – Level 5. Ravindra gratefully acknowledges the support his previous employers have provided in developing his practical skills alongside his studies.
These previous employers and his tutors have become Ravindra’s trusted advisors to help work through management challenges and progress his dairy farming career.
His immediate goal is to build experience and capital to be sharemilking in the 2023 season.
To help build capital for this, he has joined his brother and sister in a clothing business in Sri Lanka.
As a young man building a new career in a new country, he is happy with his progress to date. Ravindra received the Westpac Personal Planning & Financial Management Award with judges noting “Ravi had a great understanding of his personal finances and a plan in place.
He has built sound equity and has explored further growth opportunities for himself. He has also created a business with his brother to further diversify his income stream and wealth creation.”

Farm in transition

Ravindra is in his first season with owners Charlie and Emma Adair. They won Northland Share Farmers of the Year for 2020. The 211ha farm of which 130ha is currently effective is at Purua, west of Whangarei. This is a transition year for the farm which is undergoing significant redevelopment and upgrade of pasture and infrastructure. A further 30ha is currently being redeveloped and will be added to the platform this season. Currently milking 440 crossbred cows that are spring calved to produce 320kg milksolids (MS) per cow, this will change up to 500 cows, autumn calved, on system 4 targeting 185,000kg MS. Cows have been milked twice a day up until mating and are then changing to once a day milking. With 200 cows per labour unit and a relatively small shed, it takes pressure off the cows and farm team. Alongside this will be the upgrade of races and fences – the farm water supply has already been upgraded and is expected to meet the increased demands of a larger herd.
The herd is currently milked through a 25-aside herringbone shed with plans for a new shed in the future which will sit alongside the feed pad which is about to be constructed with capacity for 600 cows. This infrastructure will be essential as the farm also transitions to system 4. Also being upgraded are the 50 – 60 year old pastures with 70% of the farm scheduled for pasture renewal in the next 3 years. The transition through maize is returning good crop yields with pasture and crop eaten in the 2019/20 year at 11.9 t/ha which was supplemented with 220 kg/cow of palm kernel. Nitrogen is being strategically applied through the season to a total of 145 kg/ha. To date, cows have been wintered on the platform and the 81ha runoff is utilised for young stock and raising beef cattle.
Ravindra has responsibility for stock and pasture management, feeding the cows, production and record keeping. He has taken on a herd with 67% six week-in-calf rate and 14% not-in-calf after 10 weeks mating. This is an opportunity to affirm the judges remarks when awarding him the DeLaval Livestock Management Award that “Ravi demonstrated a good understanding and the importance of record keeping to make sound management decisions based on livestock performance and highlighted areas for improvement.”
The development work is being undertaken by contractors leaving Ravindra to manage the day to day operation. He has a farm assistant working with him to share the workload and Charlie and Emma maintain regular contact. The disruption of the redevelopment and pressure of a larger herd will no doubt make the coming season challenging – an opportunity to learn and endorse himself as a capable and adaptable dairy farmer.

Northland Dairy Manager Merit Awards:

Whitelaw Weber Employee Engagement Award – Baden Rudkin
Webb Ross McNab Kilpatrick Leadership Award – Daniel Richards
Northern Wairoa Vet Club Association Feed Management Award – Daniel Richards
DeLaval Livestock Management Award – Ravindra Maddage Don
Fonterra Dairy Management Award – Baden Rudkin
NZDIA Power Play Award – Jared Sione Lauaki
Westpac Personal Planning and Financial Management Award – Ravindra Maddage Don