Christine / A smaller herd perspective

Christine’s story

Christine Finnigan farms at Glen Oroua, near the coast in Manawatu. This location means her farm is made up of a versatile mix of sandy soils (25 ha) and clay (60 ha), offering management options when the weather is inclement.

She runs a system three operation; youngstock are grazed off and about 30 tonnes of maize silage is bought in for the herd each year. Christine milks once a day, and has done for several years now. She says, “We are focused on developing the herd and selecting cattle which are suited to OAD, as well as trying to maintain levels of production which are good for this area and our system, and being efficient with what we have got.”

“We also want to be able to survive when the payout is under $5, so we have some goals around debt repayment. And we need to have time to do the other things we want to do. Balance is important.”

Christine has spent her whole career in the dairy industry, initially sharemilking in the Manawatu and Waikato, then forming company structures with multiple herds milking up to 2000 cows, back when a herd over 300 cows was considered large. She came back to the family farm in 1995, and has been there since, either working full time on it, or combining it with off farm roles, including a stint as a consulting officer for DairyNZ.

Why a smaller herd?

Christine appreciates the benefits a small herd brings. As she points out, “Everything takes less time, jobs like vaccinating the calves don’t take long and they are less tedious. And there is definitely more variety in what you do on a day-to-day basis. Milking does take time with OAD – we have 10 to 12 minute rows at the moment (in spring) because of the volume of milk at this time of the year, but you are only doing it once daily.

“It would be a shame if small farms disappeared. It would take diversity and creativity out of the industry.”

What has she gained from SMASH events?

“I first heard about SMASH through DairyNZ and advertising – there was quite a bit written up about it when it first started,” says Christine.

“I think it has a key role, because there are plenty of people who talk about how big they are, but there are a whole lot more people who are small, and they do very well – you don’t have to be big to do well. While some people want to be big, have lots of people to look after, lots of cows and do the same thing all day, other people can work very efficiently and prefer to work on their own.”

“I usually come along to SMASH events if the program is interesting or applicable for me, and it doesn’t have to be the whole program, it can be two or three things out of a day that are really worthwhile. And I always learn something, it might be out of an area you didn’t expect to.

“It is a very non-threatening, supportive environment, where the topics take a perspective of smaller herds. It’s a different group of people that come to SMASH events to those you meet at other things, they are a group of people you wouldn’t normally get a chance to talk to. That’s really noticeable and really good. At a lot of dairy events some people are quite dominant in the group and portray themselves as high flyers, but there are different levels of high flyers, you can be a small high flyer too, and they don’t stick their heads up when the big guys are there.

“Often events have a large herd perspective, but the topics at SMASH events are geared towards small herds and they are interesting. For example, there are a lot of things that cost almost as much for small farmers as a big farm, like the issues around milk cooling at the moment, but you have less ability to cope with it as you don’t have the cash flow, so you have to be smart about it.

“You will be sure to learn something at the events, it doesn’t matter how long you have been in the industry.

“Plus it is a day off farm. When things are tough going to something can be quite supportive, because you realise everyone else really is in the same boat.”