A Canterbury couple had to make compromises to ensure their herd was all-A2, but it was key to them owning their first farm. Brad Markham reports.

A lucrative contract supplying sought-after A2 milk to Synlait has helped Daniel and Amanda Schat buy their first dairy farm.

The Canterbury couple is in their second season milking 385 mainly Holstein Friesian cows on 103-hectares (effective) at Darfield.

Before buying the irrigated property in June 2018, they were 50:50 sharemilkers on an 800-cow farm owned by Daniel’s parents at Te Pirita.

The previous owners supplied A2/A2 milk to Dunsandel-based milk processor Synlait, but there was no guarantee the Schats would get a contract.

“We knew we had to supply Synlait here. A2 milk is taking off, so we took an intelligent gamble,” Daniel said.

“We had our 800-cow herd tested to find out which cows had the A2/A2 gene. We sold any that didn’t, which was about half the herd. We were 50 cows short of what we needed.”

“We had to sell some amazing, high-producing cows. But it got us into a great financial position to buy our first farm,” he said.

The couple were fortunate to secure a contract to supply A2 milk to Synlait just before the start of the 2018-19 season.

The Schats are paid a premium of 20 cents per kilogram of milksolids (MS).

They’re on target to produce 180,000kg MS this season, meaning their special milk is worth an extra $36,000.

“That extra money has been greatly appreciated, especially in our first year of farm ownership,” he said.

The Schats are one of about 80 Synlait farms providing milk free from the A1 protein in the South Island.

The milk is said to have health benefits for people who have trouble drinking regular milk.

Going all-A2 meant the Schats were limited in which cows they could cull when they downsized their herd.

“We couldn’t cull late-calving cows, older animals, low producers or cows with a high somatic cell count (SCC), which was frustrating,” he said.

“It will take time to get the herd back to the standard we’d like.”

During mating the couple only use semen from A2/A2 bulls, which are increasing in availability.

“We used a lot of sires from CRV Ambreed’s progeny testing team last spring. It helped bring down our semen costs. We also use overseas sires from Holland, Denmark, Canada and the United States,” he said.

milksolids components in the herd’s milk.

“Our history of using overseas genetics means the percentage of milksolids in our milk is too low.

“We’re working hard to lift that. I’ve gone through catalogues and found the best Holstein Friesian bulls with the highest fat percentages.”

“We mate our pedigree cows with the lowest fat tests to those bulls, with the aim of improving their offspring,” he said.

Bulls they’ve used include Carsons FM Cairo S3F, Zimmerview Lucky-PP-Red-ET, Badger S-S-I Curry Sport-ET and Arkan Pollisher P-ET S2F.

Calving starts on August 1 and the herd is dried off in late May.

“The property is about 250 metres above sea level, so we don’t really have the option of milking into winter,” he said.

The Schats winter 400 cows and keep 100 replacement heifer calves. The number was slightly higher at 122 last spring.

“In our first season the empty (not in calf) rate was 22%. It meant a lot of cows on the cull list had to be kept,” he said.

“We were really proactive last spring. We condition scored the herd twice prior to mating. Any cows under target weight were only milked once a day.”

They’ll find out at pregnancy testing if their efforts have paid off.

Amanda, who has a background in cosmetics and worked for Christian Dior in Melbourne, rears the calves, ensuring the next generation of heifers get off to the best start in life.

The Schats milk through a 40-aside herringbone with an in-shed feed system. The property doesn’t have a feed pad.

“We try to run a simple system. Cows are fed pasture, grass silage, maize silage and grain,” he said.

“Maize silage is grown where we graze our young stock and it’s fed out in the paddock during the autumn and spring.”

“It’s used to help extend our lactation and put weight on the cows prior to dry-off. In the spring, it’s fed to cows just before they calve,” he said.

The Schats switch to three milkings every two days (3-in-2) in late February when production drops below 1.7kg MS/cow.

Four of the couple’s rising two-year-old heifers were contract mated this season. One of the animals is both polled and A2/A2.

“We’re trying to breed a few polled cows. That heifer was also flushed. We only got one viable embryo, but it has held in the recipient cow,” he said.

“We also have a cow in the herd, which we jointly own with several other people, that has been contract mated.

“Producing a bull that’s picked up by a genetics company is a long-term goal for us. It’s a bit of a hobby I guess, but also has the potential to deliver financially,” he said.

The same syndicate bought Tronnoco B Sulana-ET S3F at the HFNZ Canterbury Branch sale in 2014. The cow is the from the same family as a recent addition to LIC’s daughter-proven premier sires team Tronnoco GI Spike-ET S3F.

She was also contract mated. The Schats took full ownership of the cow last winter.

They had a 2015-born heifer, Pukerimu EST Sasha-ET S2F, that was flushed as part of the Discovery Project, a joint initiative between LIC and Holstein Friesian NZ.

The project’s aim is to undertake embryo work on elite Holstein Friesian heifers to develop top cow families and breed bulls for the AI industry.

The Schats prioritise cows to be assessed and scored for traits other than production (TOP). They did 15 animals last spring.

“I’m of the belief that TOP assessments should be subsidised by genetics companies,” he said.

“The information contributes to bull proofs, which benefit those companies. It would provide more of an incentive for breeders to get their two-year-olds assessed and scored.”

Daniel and Amanda employ a full-time staff member Harry Singh who has been with them for five seasons.

“Harry’s a really valuable part of our team. He played a big role in helping us get to where we are today,” Daniel said.

The couple also employed an exchange worker from Switzerland from July through until January.

Daniel first joined Holstein Friesian NZ in 1997 as a junior member.

Farm facts

Owners: Daniel and Amanda Schat

Location: Darfield, Canterbury

Farm size: 103 hectares (effective)

Cows: 385 cows (70% Holstein Friesian)

Production: 168,338 kg MS 2018-19

Stud name: Haglea Holsteins.