Fodder beet is filling the feed gap for Chris and Jude Stacey as they move to a self-contained system on their Waikato farm. Sheryl Brown reports. Photos: Emma McCarthy.

Runners up for the Dairy Business of the Year Chris and Jude Stacey say nothing is off the table when they make decisions about their farming operation.

The couple won the Best Waikato Farm Performance and the award for the finalist with the lowest environmental footprint, as well as finishing runner up among all the national finalists.

Nothing is sacred onfarm or in their system. They’re open to everything, which is one of Chris’ key strengths, Jude says.

“He actually listens to other people, and he takes calculated risks which is quite brave.”

The couple decided to change direction a few years ago to try and achieve a more self-contained system.

The DairyNZ System 4 operation now grows fodder beet on their Waikato farm to get more drymatter.

They yield about 33 tonnes drymatter (DM)/ha of the fodder beet crop which has proved invaluable over the last three seasons, Chris says.

“We’ve always struggled in summer for feed, we’ve filled it with palm kernel and maize, but now we’ve started to grow fodder beet.”

They feed the fodder beet from the middle of February onwards, and use it as a cheap form of drymatter through into autumn.

Chris does a lot of the cropping work himself, including doing all the weed sprays for the fodder beet.

“It’s a lot of spraying to establish the crop. You’ve got to get your spraying right at critical times and every year I say I’m not going to do it again – but then it’s such a good crop.”

They also grow 13ha of maize, which averages 23t DM/ha and buy in another 150t maize silage.

They buy in about 1t/cow palm kernel which would be good to take out of the system eventually, but at the moment it’s a great cheap source of feed.

Pasture is their biggest issue onfarm.

Last year they trialled a Festalolium grass, which was booming in spring, but has completely fallen over during the dry summer months. The company is going to replace the grass seed, but it has still left them in a hole for going into the next season.

The farm is rolling to steep contour, with the young stock reared on the steeper hills. Their cropping is their pasture renovation programme, but they have struggled to get pasture persistence, Chris says.

The couple have entered the Dairy Business of the Year (DBOY) competition for the last few years as a tool to benchmark their performance against other dairy farmers.

Making changes in their farming operation was the biggest driver to entering the DBOY competition because they wanted to make sure they had made the right decision and were executing it well.

“We wanted to know how we were tracking financially,” Jude says.

“I highly recommend benchmarking yourself – you see where you are at.”

The networking of the DBOY competition is also a fantastic opportunity to meet other farmers who are all wanting to improve, she says.

“It’s like a big think tank. In other industries they’re not as open to sharing as much information as dairy farmers do.

“I’ve always found that interesting about the dairy industry.”

Unlike some discussion groups where farmers can inflate their actual performance, the DBOY finalists are all open and transparent with their figures on the table, which is invaluable to learning more and comparing it your own operation, Chris says.

“There is no BS. People are really humble and you can’t hide anything.”

Through benchmarking you have more thorough financial information and you can sit down and work out a plan for your future, Chris says.

“You can look at different scenarios and have confidence in mid long-term game, rather than just focusing on the short-term.”

Winning the environment award in the DBOY competition was an added bonus. The couple have undertaken several large planting projects in the last five years. They planted 5000 plants around their natural spring onfarm – which is the source for all their farm and house water. They have done the plant release themselves and the weed control.

“It’s never a small job, it’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it,” Jude says.

Each year they also plant poplars along the fences to provide more shade for the cows. The animals always come first and they we are always considering their welfare, she says.

Along with the planting they have also expanded their effluent irrigation to 110ha, which has not been an environmental win, but a win for growing more grass.

“I’ve always tried to farm environmentally friendly, but it’s not been our key focus,” Chris says.

Chris grew up on a 40ha dairy farm in Cambridge and studied a Bachelor of Agriculture Commerce at Lincoln before returning to farming. He bought into their current farm at Korakonui with his parents, Richard and Ann.

Ann passed away 11 years ago. Richard moved off the farm five years ago, but is still involved and is a director on the board.

Jude was born in South Africa before her parents emigrated to New Zealand, where she finished her schooling in Rotorua.

She studied physical education at Otago University and had a career in sports management before she met Chris. She loves the farming lifestyle and couldn’t imagine not living on the land.

“I love anything to do with the cows.”

Chris and Jude now own a significant share of the company, having bought Chris’ sister out of her shares. The couple are always considering diversity options, but don’t want to take on more debt unless it makes sense, Jude says.

“We are always open to opportunities and diversification whatever that looks like. But if you take on more debt, does that make you happier?”

For now, the couple are focused on spending time with their young children, Tom, 5, and Stella, 3, and having a quality lifestyle, Chris says.

They employ two fulltime staff and their relationship with their staff is really important to them. Having happy staff is important to retaining good people onfarm.

One of their staff members took on the responsibility of the young stock last year, which has helped keep the focus on rearing them.

“We’ve started weighing them more regularly and imputing the data into Minda. It keeps you honest. It’s paid off, this year the girls have been great.,” Jude says.

The calves are kept on the milking platform until May, when the heifers come down off the hills and the calves go up to the drystock block. The calves are run in groups of four or five while they’re on the milking platform and have adlib access to pasture.

When Chris and Jude decided to grow more crops onfarm they also refocused on genetics and decided they wanted to breed slightly larger cows and grow them better.

They have switched to using overseas genetics from Samen, but they are conscious of not letting the cows get too big.

Consequently, their breeding costs have gone up, but they hope they will get a return out of more efficient animals onfarm.

In the future the option might be to milk fewer, but more efficient cows, who produce more and have less of an environmental impact, Chris says.


DBOY 2018 Key Performance Indicators

  • Milk production: 395kg MS/cow, 1264kg MS/ha
  • Return on capital: 5.1%
  • Operating profit margin: 32.6%
  • Operating profit: $2968/ha
  • Cost of production: $4.17/kg MS
  • Operating expenses: $4.86/kg MS
  • Pasture harvested: 10.7t DM/ha
  • Pasture % of feed: 58%
  • Core cost per cow: $634
  • Labour efficiency cows/FTE: 133
  • Environment Score: 11/15
  • HR Score: 7.6/15


  • Owners: Riddings Farm, Chris and Jude Stacey and Richard Stacey
  • Location: Korakonui, Te Awamutu
  • Area: 240ha, 155ha milking platform, 40ha native bush, 45ha drystock
  • Cows: 420 Friesian crossbreds
  • 2016/2017 production: 174,000kg MS
  • 2017/18 production: 173,000kg MS
  • Effluent irrigation: 110ha
  • Pasture harvested: 11.6t DM/ha
  • Supplement grown onfarm: 8.5ha fodder beet, 13ha maize
  • Supplement bought in: 150t maize silage, 400t palm kernel