Constant motivation for improvement and a hands-on approach has seen Northland’s Kaycee Farms consistently emerge as one of the top-performing dairy farms in the region.
Owned by Kevin and Christine Tucker, the couple run 600 Jersey cows on a 324 hectare property in Wellsford, on the eastern side of the Kaipara Harbour. The farm is in the top 10% for milk production in Northland.
This coming season the Tuckers are targeting 450 milk solids per cow, compared to the Northland average of between 335 to 340.
Having farmed the Wellsford property for around 30 years, the Tuckers are continually looking for ways to improve their systems and have concluded that the best place to start is at the very beginning – with their calves.
Around six years ago, the Tuckers decided they needed to focus on improving the health of the 350 calves (on-average) they rear every season, after seeing a lapse in early health and development. Striving to improve calf health, and better transitioning them from milk to grass, saw some dramatic changes.
The Tuckers’ daughter Katherine, who manages the calf rearing and who also has an equity share in the farm, says every year she noticed that calf health and development went backwards once animals were weaned off milk at about 10 weeks of age. As a result, they decided something needed to change.
“Because calves are susceptible to cold and wet weather conditions, we decided the first step was to keep them inside for as long as possible, to make sure they kept growing without the step backwards.
“We built a large plastic tunnel house with wooden grating over a concrete floor, with good air flow and plenty of light. We also started using different products to help avoid the check in growth we had been seeing, trialling fibre-based products and other alternative feeds.
“We eventually settled on fibre based feeds from Fiber Fresh, as they were more beneficial for the calves and seemed to help them mature much quicker. We have been using the fibre-based products for five years now.”
Fiber Fresh products are proven to encourage natural digestive development and support the laying down of primary enzymes, improving gut wall integrity and papillae development. This enables greater efficiency and absorption of nutrients, meaning healthier and higher milk producing animals.
Katherine says the unique fibre products saw the animals noticeably bulk out and develop more substantially, with calves starting to chew their cud much earlier than traditionally seen. Calves also increased their health and weight levels throughout early development.
“Calves are now kept inside for much longer. They are weaned off milk at nine weeks and are then on a diet of fibre products and meal only, before going out into a paddock at about 15 weeks old, depending on weather conditions. Regular weighing has shown that over this 15 week period, they gain between 500 to 800 grams on average each day.”
The more robust animals that are coming through are testament to the attention and investment in early development. Katherine says there have been other benefits such as an immediate transition to grass from the more mature calves, and better grass quality because paddocks are not fouled by young milk-fed calves or the use of milk carts which can create muddy areas where the calves feed.
“The calves transition to grass a lot easier and are much better behaved – more like ‘mini cows’ rather than ‘babies’.”