Keeping it in the family

Blake Cameron - Taranaki Dairy Manager of the Year. By Jackie Harrigan.

Taranaki dairy manager award winner, 28-year-old Blake Cameron is enjoying managing his family farm and working with his father every day.

“My parents are really supportive and willing to let me try new things – plus Dad and I take turns having the weekend off – Mum and Dad are always encouraging me and Hanna to get away and not work so hard.

“That is one of the joys of working with your parents”.

After finishing a B Agri Science at Massey, Blake spent four years working for Wanganui Vets and the Vet Care heifer grazing team before taking the opportunity to step into a management role on Hugh and Christine Cameron’s 73-hectare Okaiawa farm.

His fiance Hanna Russell works in early childhood education in Eltham.

Blake milks the family’s 240 Jersey and Jersey cross cows and runs the system 4 operation, feeding grass silage and palm kernel as a supplement.

He says it is very much a grass first operation, and he has enjoyed using the Dairy NZ spring rotation planner and feed budgeting spreadsheets to manage the pasture as efficiently as he can.

He has even made his own spreadsheets to plan the rotations for separate mobs that he might be running in the spring.

“We will have the early and late calvers separated and a springer and main milking mob – so I can allocate areas and supplements very accurately and try to get the residuals right.”

This season was such a wet and growthy one, the palm kernel has largely stayed in the shed, and Blake has decided to take out plans for next summer’s turnip crop with so much silage on hand.

The wet season has meant he didn’t peak quite as high as he wished – teetering on 2kg milksolids (MS)/day rather than the usual 2.2kgMS but it has been a cheap year with lower supplements needed.

Maize and grass silage are usually brought in for an end of lactation supplement and winter feed and the cows were wintered last year on a fodder beet crop, but the family have bought a runoff this season so Blake plans to keep the heifers and half the cows on the platform and winter the later half of calvers on the runoff.

The herd is very efficient, with the Jersey cows weighing about 420kg live weight and producing 430kg MS/cow.

While he says his father is not particularly into genetics, the herd has BW in the top 5% of all LIC herds.

Blake plans to continue his father’s use of bull of the day Forward Pack but has nominated 20 straws of semen from bulls with longer teat/udder conformation genetics to tidy up some udder characteristics in a few cows.

His repro programme includes a pre-mate tail paint and LIC scratchies and a palm kernel mix post birth for the cows after calving fed in the trailers with added lime flour and causmag (as well as dusting pastures). This gets most of the cows cycling.

This year he tried out two straws of sexed semen each day, inseminated into nominated cows and was happy with the 75% conception rate of 21/28 cows in the first two weeks holding to the sexed semen.

Blake is working on the empty rate of the herd, keen to drive down from 12% and is planning to dry off the R3s a bit earlier (at the start of May) when the R2s come home and give them a bit more time before calving to carry more condition through. The heifers have also been mated 10 days earlier so they have more time to settle into the lactation before having to compete with the older cows.

Upping the ante on regrassing

The plan is usually to regrass 10% of the farm per year, but after problems with open pastures and poor persistence from the previous tetraploid ryegrasses Blake has decided to regrass 25% of the farm in a wee trial of his making. “We had so much silage this year that we decided to regrass the 6ha of turnip ground into Diploid/ tetraploid and clover mix, as well as direct drill a diploid and clover mix into 6ha of sprayed out tetraploid, and undersow some diploids into 6ha of existing tetraploid and clover.”

Work hard, work harder

Spring is Blake’s favourite time – he loves being busy, making plans, making changes and working.

“I love it when I have lots of problems to solve everyday – and the twice daily milking routine where I get to see the results in the vat.”

When he does get talked into a weekend off he loves road biking, surfing in summer and snowboarding in winter and has been enjoying holidays away with Hanna visiting his mates on dairy farms down south. He and Hanna are managing to fit in a month in Europe holidaying this autumn (another perk of working for his parents) and then plan to marry next year and start a family.

With three older non-farming brothers he has his sights firmly set on the prize of 50/50 sharemilking by 2031, after one more year on wages and then with lower order or contract milking, and long term owning the highly efficient Jersey herd on the productive Okaiawa soils will suit him very well.

Runner-up in the 2023 Taranaki Dairy Manager category was Elly Van der Laan and third placegetter was Ruth Connolly.