It’s been a well worn path for many years in the dairy industry – and one that has helped thousands of sharemilkers into their first farm – trading cows and building equity – along with what could be described as the final push for the summit – selling down half the sharemilking herd for the first farm deposit.

But many factors have combined to put more obstacles in the well-worn path and in our Special Report this month we look at what’s happening to the price of cows and whether the end of live exports and shutting down of farm conversions has burst the growth in equity through cows.

Siobhan and Chris O’Malley have made it work this season, moving to their first farm on the West Coast after years of trading cows and scrimping and saving – something that was certainly not fast or easy. They suffered burnout on the way, and even exited the industry for a time, but their burning passion for dairy brought them back, and fired up their dream of farm ownership. They even had their children involved in money discussions and colouring in the savings chart. Read about their journey on page 44.

Experts we talked to say it’s definitely not impossible, but you need a longer time horizon to build equity as land prices have increased faster than cow prices – whereas in 1992 you used to need to sell 14 cows to buy a hectare of land, now it takes on average 30 cows.

Taking a step down the progression ladder we take a look at the premium contract milkers should be making over a managerial salary. They need to be rightly rewarded for the risk they are taking in setting up their own business, and they can now run some figures through the contract milker Premium Calculator to see if the reward is there. The calculations can also be used to start a conversation with the farm owner (pg 25).

Colostrum management and rotavirus are top of mind for our contributing vet Lisa Whitfield and with the latest research from the Poukawa OnFarm Research team (pg 64) and Jason Archer from Beef+Lamb gives some great advice on how to select the right beef bull to breed some valuable dairy beef calves (Pg 78).

Beef consultant Bob Thompson looks out to a time when it will be mandatory to make every calf a valued calf – and he puts forward a scheme to categorise non-replacement calves to give calf rearers assurance around the value and quality of those calves (Pg 52).

For something different, give our new podcast series a like and a listen. First up, the Young Country podcast team chat to a young Chatham Islander who built a great food business selling kai moana from the rich seas around the islands. There are lots of other great young people in the sector building businesses From The Ground Up – so watch out for them too.