With calving almost over, Jess Lea and husband Cam are grappling with the issue of bobby calves on the Opotiki farms where they are sharemilkers.

With 20 cows left to calve, there’s a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. It has been a busy last couple of months and with it all starting to slow down we can take a minute to breathe.

Unlike previous years, it has been busy, but calving two farms and nearly 600 cows in comparison to the 300 when we first started sharemilking, has made life a little more hectic than usual.

This season, unlike previous seasons, we have been sending more calves on the bobby truck, unfortunately we were also short on replacements due to faulty semen which was out of our control.

Dare I say it, in previous seasons we supplied the local pet food collector and the money received from the company was donated to a local charity. This made calf rearing for myself a simpler job, and allowed us to have plenty of calf milk to get us through the majority of the rearing, before having to dip into the main milk vat.

With our first herd being predominantly Jersey, we have smaller calves and within our location buyers are scarce, the ones who do buy calves usually already have farms that supply them. We tried tailing with breeds such as Angus. The first year we were able to sell all the Angus calves but the next year the buyer only wanted bulls and then none the third year. We also managed to sell the odd few Jersey bulls, but never secured a yearly buyer.

The herd next door on our other sharemilking job is also Jersey-based but there are breeds such as Ayrshire in the mix. The cows are a bit bigger in stature so we were able to get a few white faces out of them last season which we were able to sell. We also calved some Belgium Blue calves this season only doing about 30. Unfortunately one came out at 51kg and double-muscled, required the cow needing a caesarian which has made us reluctant to try again.

Thinking forward for next season, we have decided to turn our new herd into more Friesian-based, with the aim of having a more saleable calf at four days old. We are aware that for the foreseeable future our country is going to continue to have a surplus of calves born every year.

We have seen others successfully manage to send no bobby calves and have been able to make a niche market for their calves or they have reduced milking cow numbers to accommodate finishing these calves as two-year-olds. As others like us move to create more saleable calves, it does flood the calf market, and we’re seeing diminishing prices affecting others who have previously been able to easily sell their calves.

It has also created congestion for a lot of people being able to book and manage bobby collections, with some people holding on to calves for more than a week during the peak of calving. Unfortunately, there is not an industry-wide solution, everyone needs to find their own solution. It also makes us rethink the breeding of our main herd. We love the fact that our herd has remained on this farm and stayed Jersey for 80 years, but the smaller Jerseys cost us more in time and milk than they are worth on the truck.

With changes to our industry it will be interesting to see how in the near future we will all be impacted and what solutions we as an industry will look at.