Producing top-of-the-line milk from 6000-plus dairy herd milkings over five years has earned Far North dairy farmers Terrence and Suzanne Brocx a dairy industry acknowledgement.
The Puketi couple have this year won a Fonterra award acknowledging their top-of-the-line milk production — for a fifth consecutive year.
Milk from the 2018-19 dairy season on their Puketi and Ohaeawai farms has this winter been awarded a Fonterra gold standard "grade-free" quality award, adding to four previous annual awards of the same type. This means all of the milk produced on their two farms since 2014 has reached the dairy co-operative's highest gold standard quality standards.
"We're really food producers, producing top-quality product to sell to the world," Suzanne Brocx said. "We need to be careful from grass to glass."
The award acknowledges the high quality of 1.25 million kg of milk solids produced by the Brocx operation since 2014. This has been harvested from 6600 milkings through their farms' two herringbone sheds over this time.
"It's about having good systems in place, sticking to those systems and having a team committed to producing a quality product to take to the world," Suzanne said.
Their four-person staff team works between both their properties — the Puketi farm running 500 spring-calving cows and producing 175,000 kg of milk solids per season, the Ohaeawai farm running 180 autumn-calving cows and producing 75,000 kg of milk solids per season.
"It's about doing all we can to make sure that when the cow goes into the paddock, everything's okay for her to be producing good quality milk on good quality pastures, that she goes to the shed on good quality races, we've good quality milking systems and good quality staff. Each one of these steps is really important."
The couple's two farms are among 18 in Northland this winter to have been acknowledged by Fonterra for milk production excellence with "grade-free" milk production for at least four consecutive years.
The achievements have been recognised at special Fonterra dinners in Dargaville, Paihia, Wellsford and Whangārei.
'Hard work, effort and pride'
Suzanne says quality doesn't come without hard work and focusing on the end goal.
"Being gold grade free for five years on both farms is recognition of the hard work, effort and pride by us and our team to produce quality milk that Fonterra takes to New Zealand and the world. We may put the systems and processes in place (on our farm), but our team are the ones that make it happen," she said.
The farm cowshed radio is among the often-simple tools used to achieve this quality. This plays throughout milkings but is turned off the minute there is a cow in the cowshed with milk that's not to go into the vat.
Reasons for this might include newly-calved cows producing colostrum or others that have mastitis in their udders. Putting this sort of milk into the general pool would instantly create quality problems.
"Everybody in the cowshed knows what it means when the radio's turned off — that milk from the particular cow or cows being milked must not go into the vat."
These cows — even if just one animal — are separated out from the general herd and put through the shed separately. That way milking staff don't have to worry about looking out for these animals amidst the general milking herd. A bright fluro orange cover on the cowshed tap controlling milk flow from the cows being milked into the milk storage vat is used to make it easy to visually reinforce what's going on at times such as when the radio is turned off.
A wide range of other tools is used in the Brocxs' multi-pronged approach to produce top milk quality results. These tools include paying attention to cleaning cowshed milking equipment with hot water and the right detergent after every milking. Milk vat management is important, too, with milk cooled to 10C or less within four hours of starting milking and 6C or less within two hours of completing milking. Farming to minimise mud is also part of the couple's approach — this reduces the chances of mud on cows' udders contaminating milk in the cowshed.
New Zealand's milk is tested for about a dozen different quality indicators after leaving the farm; bacteria (four tests), and one each for sediment, water quality, fat quality, detergent residue, inhibitory substances, temperature, freezing point and the milk's smell, look and sound.
Top-of-the-line gold standard milk must achieve a clean bill of health across all these tests, farmers penalised with a range of increasing demerits if their milk doesn't make the grade.
Suzanne said farmers should have good quality management systems in place and make sure these are repeatable.
Good as gold
The Northland farms this winter acknowledged with special gold standard awards for at least four consecutive years of grade-free milk production are:
Debbie Alexander, Marua, Hikurangi
Kevin Alexander, Waiotu Farms Hikurangi
Terry and Suzanne Brocx, Puketi (two farms)
Bryan and Pam Strang (sharemillkers for Preston Bulfin) Dargaville
Preston Bulfin, Rehia, Dargaville
Peter and Vicki Dawson, Hukerenui
Dennis and Shelley Deeming, Tangihua
Alexander and Narda Harvey, Redhill, Dargaville
Lloyd Harvey, Redhill, Dargaville
Barry and Karen Keller, Dargaville
Royce and Lorraine Kokich, Kokopu
Stephen McKenzie, Oturei, Dargaville
James Prictor, Wellsford
Marjorie Prictor, Wellsford
Andrew, Peter, Jennifer and Annette Randall, Tatararaki, Dargaville
Leslie and Lois Still, Mangapai
Kerry and Tracy Tristram, Helensville.