Owners: Jeff and Fiona Graham
Location: Maungatautari, near Te Awamutu, Waikato
Type of Operation: Dairy goats, and Pukeatua Peak Cheese
"In five years, milk production has increased from 28,000kgMS from 600 goats (2010) to 55,000kgMS from 450 goats (2014). That’s a 96% improvement in total production and an improvement of 162% per goat."
When Fiona’s late father entered the Graham’s 600 milking-goat farm into the Ballance Environmental Awards, it heralded the start of a new direction for the farm. The goat droppings were recognised as a resource for compost and a compost turner was purchased. The first application was 9t/ha applied by muck spreader. A few years later, the Grahams, Ron McLean, and Craig Vincent began the company now known as Kiwi Fertiliser. Kiwi Fertiliser uses the services of Perry Agricultural Laboratories (PAL), and Kinsey Agricultural Services of Missouri, USA to conduct rigorous soil testing, and from there to make recommendations. These three companies absolutely nail soil fertility issues, leading to increased pasture production, better drought performance and superior animal health over time. Following this system requires investment and commitment, so to begin with 5 hectares of Pukeatua Peak Goat Farm were brought up to excellent soil fertility each year. Jeff attended one of Neal Kinsey’s soil fertility courses and became convinced that this was the way of the future.
Jeff subsequently found that when the calcium and magnesium reached base saturation of 68% and 12% on a PAL soil audit, pasture production went from 12,000 kgs/ha to over 20,000kgs. (68% calcium and 12% magnesium on a PAL test is the correct percentage for this and most soils. Other farms on certain soils may vary to 60% Ca and 20% Mg.) The Grahams average 23,000kgDM/Ha over their property (excluding sidlings). As Jeff often says, “You can’t grow 23 tonnes if you are fertilising for 12.” Jeff initially criticised the cost to improve each paddock, but, at the end of the day, that cost amounted to “chicken feed” when measured against the improvements in productivity and profit.
In five years, milk production has increased from 28,000kgMS from 600 goats (2010) to 55,000 from 450 goats (2014). That’s a 96% improvement in total production and an improvement of 162% per goat.The goat industry currently pays $18.50/kgMS, and the price paid has increased steadily along with production. The average live weight of the goats has increased from 64kg to 89kg (+72%). At $18.50 per kg, in 2010, each goat produced $860 worth of milk. In 2014, that had increased to $2,260. Each goat was producing its body-weight in milk. Now it is 137% of body-weight with the top goats producing twice to three times their body-weight. This is well above industry average.
In contrast to improvements via soil fertility, genetic improvement amounts to $13/goat/yr. First kidders produce 155kg on average and the best mature goats between 180 and 200kgMS. Kidding has dramatically increased with the increased soil fertility. Quads and quins are now common-place. Progeny sales are an important part of the operation with sales now being worth $200-250,000 per annum. The Dairy Goat Co-op has managed goat milk production in a very controlled fashion. As the Graham’s production increased, surplus milk above quota was paid for at lower rate. This opened the door for cheese making and Pukeatua Peak Cheese was born.
In their first year, 2010, five Pukeatua cheeses won six medals; two bronze, two silver and two gold; one gold being for the Artisan Cheese of the Year.
All feed grown on the farm is cut and carried. The harvesting round is about 16-18 days to maximise protein. Each load of herbal ley weighs in at 405kgDM, rain hail or shine. It is nutritionally balanced with grain and baleage. If the mass exceeds 2,600kgDM, it is likely end up as baleage, and much does. In some instances, the growth has caught them by surprise and the mass has increased to 3,000kgDM/ha, in which case it has been added to the compost. Feed quality is of paramount importance. The amount grown is just a bonus. While the Grahams are no longer owners of Kiwi Fertiliser Company, they have remained very loyal customers.
Since purchasing a Keenan mixer wagon, production has increased further. The Keenan nutritionists have told Jeff his pasture quality is in the top 2% in the world, and Keenan have 31,000 customers around the globe.
Goats inspecting visitors