DairyNZ's CalvingSmart workshops around the country over the past two months have been sellout events with more than 1500 farmers attending — and many farmers bringing along the entire farm team to look and learn.
The annual workshops help farmers and staff up to get up to speed for what is the most demanding time of the year in dairy farming when having the right knowledge and skills ensures calves get the best start in life.
CalvingSmart is led by DairyNZ's animal care team headed up by Helen Thoday, with local veterinarians brought in to address subjects such as facial eczema and lameness.
Helen credits the popularity of this year's events to word having got out to farmers and their staff in recent years that there is always some new knowledge to gain at the workshops where the atmosphere is relaxed and the experience hands-on.
"In several places we had to add extra CalvingSmart workshops to accommodate everyone," she said.
"CalvingSmart sets up farmers and their staff for a successful calving season.
"We give everyone the opportunity to improve, whether they're starting out in farming or have 20 years' experience."
"Absolutely fantastic" is how Canterbury farmer Rika West describes the Ashburton CalvingSmart workshop she attended.
Having worked in various dairy farming positions for a decade, she is now stepping back her farming role to embark on an agribusiness diploma, and says she especially appreciated the interactive learning experience provided in the workshop.
"Being able to see in the demonstration model exactly how the calf needs to move through the cow's birth canal was far better than simply seeing it on a slideshow.
"I wish I'd been able to attend such a valuable presentation when I started out dairy farming," she said.
For Irish potato farmer turned contract milker Eion Savage the learning, along with the camaraderie amongst the farmers attending the CalvingSmart workshop at Te Awamutu Golf Club were highlights.
"It was a fun learning atmosphere with separate sessions at the start for more experienced farmers and another for beginners. I didn't know anyone from Adam at the beginning of the day and I left having made good connections."
His partner, Imogen Bryan, who is also a contract milker on a separate farm, recommended he take part in the CalvingSmart workshop having attended one herself a couple of years ago.
The couple met when she was working on a dairy farm in Ireland, and when she decided to return to New Zealand, he followed.
Imogen said everyone in the dairy farm team can benefit from attending CalvingSmart events and there will be more to watch out for next year.
"Everyone has a part to play in ensuring all animals are treated with respect and cared for in a healthy and safe environment. Being prepared and staying healthy will make for an easier stress-free calvingtime."
She recommends farmers who were not able to attend a workshop this year head to DairyNZ's website for a calving season refresher.
Information there includes the Calf Care Toolkit recently launched by DairyNZ to help farmers take their calf care systems to the next level.
In designing the kit, DairyNZ talked with farmers to get an understanding of the 'how' and 'why' behind their calf care systems.
The online toolkit asks 12 questions and gives farmers instant, tailored feedback on ways to improve, providing web links for more advice and support.
Farmers are encouraged to also share the results with their team, veterinarian or consultant.