A change of systems to wintering barns has proved a winner in Southland. Words and photos by Karen Trebilcock.

With the spotlight on wintering, especially in the south, it was timely a dairy wintering operation was the regional supreme winner in the Southland Ballance Farm Environmental Awards this year.

Kevin Hall’s Hollyvale Farm, in Waimahaka, winters his 670 mixed-age cows under cover and further 255 R2s and 245 R1s plus about 80 beefies on grass and balage.

“It was very special to win,” Kevin said, “and a real thrill to see what we’re doing recognised.

“After years of wintering on crop, we knew something had to be done to winter better. We knew change was inevitable so we thought it was better to go ahead and do it and then we would feel a lot more comfortable.”

When he bought the farm in 2008, the 400 hectares were running sheep and beef. He sold 150ha that was on the other side of the road and built two wintering barns.

“There were one or two Redpath sheds around then, but we were on our own designing a wintering and effluent system that worked for us.”

With two nearby dairy farms of cows and young stock to winter, the decision was made to build barns. Two were built the first year and three years later he built the third, making refinements along the way.

“It took a bit of capital, but the wintering barns mean we have a guaranteed cow condition in the spring, regardless of the winter weather, which flows into the rest of the season meaning better cow health and better milk production.”

As well, the farm’s soils are not damaged and the nutrients from the barns are stored in a clay-lined two million litre effluent pond ready to be spread on silage paddocks in December.

“It’s not just the barns you’re building, but the effluent ponds and the silage bunker so it’s a whole system.

“The barns were the easy bit, it was the effluent system to collect the nutrients that pushed us. We’ve done a weeping wall with the third barn and that’s worked a lot better.

“We’re trying not to lose anything. Everything we collect from the barns during the winter goes out during the summer on the grass. Our soil tests show we still have to put on phosphate and sulphur on the pasture but that’s it.”

The cows are kept content on a woodchip bedding which is spread on paddocks again when the weather is kinder, again returning nutrients from the winter to pastures.

The woodchips drain into the effluent system and the concrete area where the cows stand on the edges of the barns to eat the silage is scraped once a day with a tractor.

“I’ve seen some barns where the concrete the cows stand on to eat the feed is not covered but then the rain gets on it. It means even more effluent so I think we made the right choice covering it.”

Instead, the rainwater is collected from the roof and fed into tanks for drinking water for the cows.

The first two barns are three bays of 7.5 metres but the third barn he decided to make wider and is three 9m bays. There are no stalls so animals are free to socialise. And with no sides, except for some wind cloth, the plastic starts at 3m so there is plenty of ventilation.

“We’ve had snow on them and they were fine. The first two barns we’ve replaced the plastic because we had to replace the strop system which it’s attached to. The third barn, which is 10 years old now, the plastic on it is still fine.”

The cows were always happy to go in the barns at the end of May but were keen to stretch their legs when they left about July 20 to be trucked back to the two farms in time for calving.

The R3s are kept separately in the barns, the most at risk age group on the farm, so they get preferential feeding and with the silage tested, Kevin knows exactly how much his cows are getting.

“Through June, the mixed age cows are getting 11kg drymatter


(DM) per day which is 105 MJ ME, and allowing for some wastage, with that we’re hoping to put on half a condition score.

“We’ve got scales in the feed wagon and they get three loads in the morning and one load in the afternoon. As well there’s a bale of barley straw in the barns all the time.

Out on the paddocks, the R2s and R1s are moved daily on autumn-saved 3000 DM/ha covers with balage made from either grass, oats or barley.

The R2s have 7.5 sq m allocated each a day with the aim to reduce mud so a crop can be sown as soon as possible behind them.

It’s a two-year rotation for the paddocks with the young stock eating autumn saved grass then barley is planted under sown with an annual rye grass. The barley is harvested as wholecrop in the summer.

The follow year oats go in which is baled around Christmas and the paddock returned to permanent pasture.

The oats are planted in early September, if ground conditions are good enough although some years it’s not until mid-October.

“It gets challenging. By mid-October it’s almost too late to capture the nutrients from the wintering stock and then we have to apply 150kg/ha of DAP to get it growing.

“The September-sown oats don’t need any fert at sowing.”

The R2s are back fenced and portable water troughs are used, although they’re problematic to de-ice in a frost.

The 60ha of the farm in QEII National Trust provide plenty of shelter.

The predominantly matai bush was placed in one of the country’s first QEII National Trust covenants by then owner Bill Holms in 1982.

About four years ago regional council Environment Southland extensively trapped possums throughout it and now return every year for monitoring. Kevin has filled in gaps with natives of his own.

He’s also planted 5ha of radiata pines on the steeper, south-facing slopes on the farm hoping for an alternative income stream.

“I was a recent climate change ambassador and I gained a lot of knowledge about greenhouse gases.

“We have about 80 beef cattle on the farm and the trees could replace them in the future on the balance sheet. We’ll just see how it goes.”

Growing up on a town supply farm on the outskirts of Invercargill, he’s the only one of his three siblings who has gone farming. His own three children have chosen different paths as well.

“You have got to be passionate about farming, or you’d get sick of it pretty quickly. You’ve got to have farming in your DNA to enjoy it.”