Three years ago, Alister and Lyn Candy were producing 73,307kgMS on their Okaihau dairy farm and felt they were doing pretty well.

They had been milking cows for more than 40 years and thought they didn't have a lot to learn. Then their farm became a DairyNZ Farm Focus project, with everything from grass growth to cow health monitored.

Farm management was improved, milk production increased to 111,745kgMS last season and the farm surplus rose 280 per cent from $67,751 in 2010 to $256,930 in 2013/14 (at $6/kgMS).

In the same period, farm expenses of $372,093 or $5.09kgMS in 2010 moved to $413,540 or $3.70kgMS last season.

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Last week, around 170 people turned up for an open day at the Candys' farm to find out how the big increase in profitability was achieved.

Mr Candy told The Land the changes he and his wife had made to their pasture, financial and livestock management involved following advice which had been around for a long time but was ignored in the past.

"We were in a bit of a rut."

He was out in the rain last week enthusiastically measuring pasture, which he had not bothered doing in pre-Farm Focus times.

"Some farmers think a pasture reader is expensive at $700, but when you realise it can help grow the grass to produce 111,745kgMS it becomes an essential tool," Mr Candy said.

"Some say they haven't time to weigh cattle. Find the time. Weighing cattle, assessing their condition, growing better feed, these are the factors which combine to increase production.

"Someone told me 80 per cent of farmers think they are going good, but they're not. If they pulled their finger out, New Zealand wouldn't be able to handle all the milk."

The Candys milk 320 Jersey cows on 103ha and have 171ha fenced under a QE2 Trust covenant. They are involved with kiwi research and pest eradication. They also have an 80ha run-off formerly fenced into 15 paddocks.

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When they agreed to be a Focus Farm in September 2011, five mentor farmers -- David Gray (chairman), Harvey Oliver, Terence Brocx, Roger Hutchings and Peter Flood -- became a management committee, holding monthly meetings with the Candys, AgFirst consultant and Focus Farm facilitator Gareth Baynham and DairyNZ Northland leader Tafi Manjala.

Solar-powered electric fencing turned the run-off into 65 paddocks. The Candys bought 65 water troughs, two huge tanks, a new pump, rolls of Alkathene pipe and sorted out effective rotational grazing.

Young stock growth was monitored and cow body-condition scores (BCS) were assessed every four to six weeks.

In the past, low BCS had resulted in early dry-off. In 2013/14, feed deficits were addressed early, allowing most cows to be milked into May,

When the cows were weighed last December, the herd averaged 373kgLW, an increase of 29kgLW across all cows in the past year.

Milk production also increased, with increased liveweight, as it is believed the cows physically could not consume enough pasture to produce more milk.

The Farm Focus programme is to expand in Northland, with a Kaitaia farm lined up to replicate the Candys experience and another farm sought in Mangawhai.

Mr Baynham said Farm Focus aimed to improve the average farm and the Candys' "amazing" profit gains could be achieved on all Northland dairy farms.

For more information on the field day, call Abbey Cameron on (09) 433 7527 or Gareth Baynham on 027 442 0556 or email gareth.baynham@agfirst.co.nz