Jersey cows are not normally synonymous with high input systems, but one farming couple are proving that Jerseys can hold their own under any system.
Paul and Christine Frecklington milk just over 1000 cows across two farms at Tangimoana in the Manawatu.
The herds average around 617 kilograms of milksolids per cow but the smaller herd has produced up to 670 kilograms in good seasons.
While the production figures are impressive in their own right, the numbers are even more remarkable when the herd liveweight is taken into account – around 500 kilograms per cow.
At that weight, the cows are producing more than 1.2 times their liveweight, with the top cows producing in excess of 900 kilograms of milksolids – more than 1.8 times their liveweight.
The couple said it had been a journey to achieve these results.
Early on in their farming career they found it frustrating being at the mercy of the weather and other variables beyond their control.
“We had good quality genetics that were capable of high production but they milked off their backs and it was a struggle to keep them in condition through wet winters or summer droughts.”
The lightbulb moment for the couple was at a conference in Bali back in 1993 when they heard Te Awamutu-based consultant Sue Macky present.
She talked about how better cow nutrition would improve production and cow health, and allow farmers to maximise the potential of good genetics.
“Sue told us that how you feed your cows two weeks before and two weeks after calving was critical to set the cow up for the season,” Paul said.
Since then, feeding their herd well, lifting weaning weights for calves, and growing young stock to target liveweights has become a focus of the Frecklington’s business.
“When we go on tours with Jersey groups, everyone looks at the cows. I look at the management systems and the way they are fed. I have learned a lot from Australian and American systems and taken the best of that and applied it to our own business,” Paul said.
The farm is run as a system 5 with around 70 hectares of maize grown on a support block, and a small amount of soya-PKE blend purchased in as well as some barley straw.
Paul said having the farm virtually self-contained in terms of feed insulated them from price fluctuations.
One farm has a herd home and the other a feed pad to maximise utilisation of feed, while also protecting pastures in wetter weather.
Despite using high levels of supplementary feeds, Paul said good pasture management was critical to their success.
“From September to December we mow paddocks pre-grazing to make it easier for the cows to consume more and maintain pasture quality. We also re-grass 10-15 per cent of the farm annually.”
Cartref Jerseys in the cow barn. Photo / Supplied
“We are fortunate to have a farm manager who is highly knowledgeable in this area and he is involved in trialling different pasture species on farm.”
Also vital to the herd’s success is the quality of their young stock. Calves are weaned at around 100kg and fed meal to support their continued growth.
“We manage all of our young stock ourselves and are very proud of how our heifers are grown out.”
Paul has farmed both Jerseys and crossbreds in his career and considered himself a commercial farmer.
“I don’t have any breed preference just whatever is profitable, but Christine loves Jerseys.”
“Christine grew up with parents who were Jersey breeders, and when we married she bought a purebred Jersey with her. That animal formed the foundation of our Cartref Jersey stud.”
The herd is mostly overseas genetics but Paul believed the production was also possible from quality New Zealand genetics.
“For years we have had a friendly rivalry with Bob and Margaret Morris of Roma Jerseys in the Waikato. Their Jersey herd, which dispersed last year, achieved similar production to us using mostly high breeding worth New Zealand genetics.”
The Frecklington’s purchased a number of cows at the Roma dispersal sale and were looking forward to seeing how they stack up against their overseas genetics.
Christine does most of the bull selection for mating, and looked at production breeding values, udders and how daughters of the bulls had performed under similar systems.
“Jerseys are a good fit for our system because of their production efficiency (production per kilogram of liveweight). They are such a low maintenance animal with superior calving ease, and lower levels of lameness and mastitis than other breeds.”
The couple’s surplus calves are in high demand with most being sold as natural mating sires or as heifer replacements in other herds.