Article - Water Quality Enhancement Award and Supreme Winner 2013

Exemplary dairy farm management and care for the environment in a location very visible to members of the public have won the Supreme Award for brother and sister Shayne and
Charmaine O’Shea in the 2013 Ballance Farm Environment Awards in Northland.

Shayne told the judges “every day is show day” as the busy Kokopu Road bisects the dairy farm, which is some 12km to the north-west of Whangarei. He is very concerned how good the farm looks and very mindful of the visual impact of dairying to non-farmers, and how that can affect the whole dairy industry. That attitude is a big driver of farm policies, the judges said.

The dairy platform is 93ha on a property of 233ha, plus two runoffs of 44ha and 96ha respectively. The dairy herd of 380 cows is stocked at 4.1 cows/ha on the dairy platform, a high stocking rate which is made possible by the support land.

Production is also supported by maize and grass silage grown off the farm and palm kernel bought in. Milk production was described by the judges in one word – “impressive”. The average for the past three years has been 1565kgMS/ha with a peak of 1698kg/ha in 2011-12. The average per cow production from the Jersey herd is 382kgMS/cow and a record of 410kg, when cows slightly exceeded their own average live weights in seasonal milk solids production.

Very good pasture and grazing management has resulted in 12.6 tonnes of dry matter per hectare eaten. However this top flight productivity by Northland standards is not at the expense of the environment. The BFEA judges said that all aspects of the business
are sustainable and profitable and there is an obvious balance of the financial, environmental and social aspects.

The effluent management system was very noteworthy, being a three pond system to achieve water from the third pond to be used to flood-wash the feed pad. Despite
having consent to discharge into a waterway, there is a management imperative NOT to use this.

In 2012 a new effluent land application and reticulation system was installed. The system is through the use of pods and is designed to address any future expansions.

Shayne has a zero pugging policy and no signs of heavy treading were noted by the judges. Extensive sub-soil drainage has provided one of the main tools for managing the soil structure, along with the feed pad and very good raceways.

The water requirements of the farm are provided by a volcanic spring (75%) and a local river (25%), inter-linked in the event of failure. Livestock are excluded from all waterways by riparian fences and crossings have been built to exceed standards.
Extensive planting in stream banks and wetlands has used flaxes, cabbage trees, poplars, manuka and willows.

Any pasture weeds are spot-sprayed rather than blanket coverage, and Shayne observed that a collateral benefit has been a reduction in cow lameness, as cows can walk at their own pace to the milking parlour while the staff member is spraying.

The judges identified staff and financial management as praiseworthy. Shayne is a very good manager of staff and passionate about seeing them excel. He promotes off-farm training and is happy to give advice when asked.

Charmaine is a chartered accountant specialising in farm accounting and is responsible for the majority of planning and management of farm finances. All farm financial data is input to Dairybase, of which Charmaine is a champion, and good use is made of the benchmarking KPIs which result.

These show that the O’Shea farm has a high cost structure on a per kilogram basis, but that milk production is very good, complemented by a relatively low level of debt. The animal health cost at $137/cow is high, but indicative of high intensity farm where stock health is paramount. Each cow gets daily mineral supplements based on blood tests, rather than micronutrients applied to pasture, for the benefit of cows.

Shayne removes himself from the farm during time off so as to maintain a work-life balance. He is involved in activities for Jersey breeders, judging at shows and calf clubs, and participates in farm discussion groups.

“Shayne and Charmaine are both passionate about dairy farming, having established their business partnership on a very professional basis, with each having clearly defined roles within the business,” said the judges. “Both partners make a point of having a life beyond the business, having set up their management systems and delegated responsibilities to staff, so enabling them to escape, confident the business will carry on without them.” 

Judges comments

  • Overall a very aesthetically pleasing, extremely well presented property.
  • Strong focus on sustainable staffing and bringing young people into the business.
  • Excellent overall livestock management practises and feeding systems.
  • Despite having consent to discharge into a waterway, the strong endeavour to NOT use this.