Regional Supreme Winners

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2012 Northland BFEA Winners
1 March 2012

Murray and Liz Walden (owners), Clive and Jorja Walden (sharemilkers) ‘Walden Farms Oruaiti Ltd’

A previously non-compliant dairy farm has been reconverted to dairying after several years of dry-stock only, and has quickly won the Supreme Award in the 2012 Ballance Farm Environment Awards for Northland.

The Waldens have very impressive all-round farm development, management and environmental skills, the judges commented. In its third year of dairy farm redevelopment, the Oruaiti farm (near Mangonui) is milking 425 Holstein Friesian cows and obtaining excellent per cow and per hectare production.

It is a well-planned developing property with evidence of capital well spent on re-engineering the farm dairy, updating the effluent system and putting in feed pad, stand-off and feed bunkers and good stock handling facilities.

Soil structure is carefully maintained with no evidence of pugging seen. Fencing and planting aims to minimise the risk of erosion of the Mangonui clay hills and livestock have been excluded from native bush areas.

Any potential soil loss would be captured by fenced and retired areas and wetlands. As the farm has half of its boundary on the Oruaiti stream, which flows into Doubtless Bay, the protection of this waterway is critical.

The judges all appreciated how much time, effort and cost has gone into this aspect and how the work on this farm is considered a model for the rest of the Doubtless Bay catchment.

Stock exclusion from all waterways and wetlands has been achieved over the short time the property has been owned by the Waldens.

The judges commented on the cohesive family unit with three generations on the farm providing mutual business and social support. The family has a good understanding with the local iwi, providing help both ways in the relationship.

A succession plan is in place and this family has the potential to showcase dairying and become leaders in the industry. “Any weaknesses in the business have been identified and measures put in place to reduce risk,” the judges said.

Careful management on a dairy farm can reduce its impact on the environment below that of an intensive beef farm, the Walden family believes.

The 420ha farm at Oruaiti, near Mangonui, had been dairyed but was an intensive beef production unit from 2005, when the Waldens purchased it, until 2008 when a dairy re-conversion was begun.

They told the Ballance Farm Environment Awards judges that in comparison to intensive beef cattle, dairying provides financial returns which allow farm improvements such as fencing and water reticulation.

The higher standard of dairy infrastructure enables quick removal of livestock easily during critical times to reduce pugging and soil loss.

The property contains the dairy unit of 175ha, on which 425 cows are fed and milked, and a support dry farm of 125ha. It also has 70ha of native bush, 20ha of forestry and 30ha of wetlands. All waterways and wetlands were fenced during dairy conversion and planted within some of the riparian margins.

Because the access road is frequently flooded, the milk vats are twice the usual size (four milkings) and the Waldens keep in close contact with Fonterra to ensure the vat is emptied before the road is blocked.

The judges said a comprehensive farm manual has been compiled and the Waldens place a great emphasis on staff training and improvement.

Rural professionals were used during the development period and a Mark and Measure course has been completed.

Protrack is used for herd management and the cows appear to be in excellent health, backed up by a vaccination programme. The appropriate calving date is still under discussion and the incalf rate is being worked upon.

The Waldens demonstrated a very good grasp of pasture monitoring and the feed wedge presented was exceptional.

Kiwitech (Technosystem providers) principles and equipment have been adapted for use in grazing the milking cows, allowing the block sizes to be increased according to the size of the herd and the available pasture.

The presentation to the judges was lively, with plenty of questions going both ways.

“Enthusiasm, energy and hunger for knowledge was evident and has gone a long way in the development to date,” the judges reported.

Click here to download the 2012 Northland Winners Brochure.


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