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Christmas calving key to success

The Bassett’s Carterton dairy farm has been in the family for more than 100 years, with Lachie,10, and Campbell, 12, likely to carry on the work of grandfather Don Bassett. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

GIANINA SCHWANECKE
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A Carterton dairying couple attribute their increased milk production and livestock income to their Christmas calving.

Rob and Nicola Bassett run 410 spring-calving Holstein Friesian cows and up to 50 cows which calve in December, on a 100-hectare irrigated property which has been in the family for more than 100 years.

It’s something they only started doing about seven years ago and which they feel is totally unique.

“No other farms in our area calve in December,” Rob said

Milk production jumped by 18,000 kilograms of milksolids the first season alone.

The move to Christmas calving was driven by the farm’s soil type – it sits on a drained swamp, he said.

“We have a completely different type of soil to our neighbours. The property is wet in the winter, but it grows grass in the summer.”

Instead of empty cows being culled when livestock prices are low, they are kept milking and run with Hereford bulls in March.

Cows that get in-calf are dried off with the rest of the herd in late May. They follow the milking herd in the spring and tidy up uneaten grass.

“Having a higher stocking rate at that time of the year is extremely beneficial,” Rob said. “Those dry cows help us hit residuals and maintain pasture quality and it means we don’t have to top paddocks with a mower.”

While pasture growth was supported with an irrigation system, he said it didn’t take much to keep the soil wet and in the past decade, the family has only used about half of their yearly allocation.

The farm is also well-equipped to combat weather extremes such as a drought, with a 40-bale rotary milking shed with in-shed feeding and a 450-cow feed pad.

The herd is fed crushed barley, which is grown on a 129-hectare support block a few kilometres down the road.

Growing their own barley, offers the Bassett’s more control over feed costs.

“We can grow it for a third of the cost of what we could buy in straight barley for. It’s a huge saving.”

The straw left behind also finds use after the crop is harvested – it is baled and used to hold the cows’ gut capacity and give them fibre while they are on a winter kale crop at the runoff block.

Rob hoped the changes on farm and ability to expand would help sons, Campbell, 12, and Lachie, 10, break into the industry.

“Both boys are really interested in showing calves and the farm,” he said. “It’s a driving factor behind how we operate. We’d like to do further expansion in the future to help both of them get into farming.”

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