A new role as employers adds another variable to Kirsty & Nic Verhoek’s season.

December marks six months into our 50/50 position and a reflection of 2020, a year that has been entirely unpredictable. Even the farming seasons seem out of whack.

Our run of unprecedented pasture growth rates here in northern Waikato has continued through spring with our feed banks of grass silage now put away for summer. Chicory and maize silage are in the ground and flourishing so far – long may it last.

Managing grass quality has been a real challenge this spring, especially when it has come to keeping milk production buoyant. From what we are hearing, this seems to be a trend in the wider region. Alleviating this problem has been frequent pasture measuring and monitoring of residuals and average pasture cover. The surplus pasture has allowed us to look at options such as taking out more paddocks than usual for summer crop, keeping young stock on the dairy platform for longer (thanks to generous concessions of our farm owner), making additional grass silage, and deferred grazing.

The new farm is now starting to feel like a well-worn and favourite pair of overalls as we get more of a handle of the ins and outs. With the backside of the bulls almost gone from sight (yippee) this has been the time that we look forward to a break and focus on giving our staff some well-deserved time off.

After being the employee for a number of years and now being the employer, we aim to treat our staff the way we would like to be treated. Our focus is on a good roster all year round (8 and 2, 8 and 3) with good breaks off during the day (typically 3 h), well remunerated, good time off to spend with family over the holiday period, opportunities to learn and grow, and rewards for success/milestones. We like to keep the staff fridge full and baking on hand to keep morale up. When hiring new staff, while skills and experience are good these are something that can often be taught – but attitude not so much! With our recruitment we look for someone who has the right attitude and is the right fit for our existing team, a piece that fits our puzzle.

Looking forward, we are moving from mid to late lactation and preparing for the dry period. Our farm goals are to keep milk production profitable, monitor body condition score and set a plan for the rest of the season. Although this is seen as the “downtime” it is crucial for setting up next season. If mating has gone as well as we anticipate, this will mean accommodating a huge number of calves in a very tight timeframe (just the thought gives a slight tightening of the chest), so we need to make sure that infrastructure and staff are going to cope. We have also been fortunate to pick up a 110ha lease block 10 minutes up the road, with takeover on the 1st June. This block will give us full control of growing our young stock.

We intend to have some time off-farm ourselves and will use this opportunity to update our goals and where we are heading. We hope to get along to a few more local discussion groups and meet others in the farming community now that Covid-19 seems to be (temporarily?) dampened down. A highlight this year has been attending the DairyNZ FeedRight course. This has been great for making profitable and sustainable feed management and nutrition decisions onfarm. It also adds “more tools to your toolkit” in terms of an awareness of resources available and how to use them, networks and knowledge. See the DairyNZ website for more information.