An award-winning South Taranaki couple has doubled the size of their dairy herd in less than four years.

Hollie Wham, 26, and Owen Clegg, 27, 50:50 sharemilk 400 cows across two properties at Manutahi, south of Hawera.

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The couple bought their first 180-cow herd in 2016. Condensing the long calving spread was a priority.

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"In our first spring, calving dragged on for 12.5 weeks," recalls Hollie. "Now it's all over within seven and a half weeks."

The herd starts calving in early July and the last calf is born at the end of August.

"Having a condensed calving pattern means cows have more time to cycle between calving and mating," said Hollie.

"There's at least a month between our last cow calving and mating kicking off on October 1st."

Focusing on the lifting herd's reproductive performance has had huge financial benefits.

"In our first season we used 40 CIDR (Controlled Internal Drug Release) cattle inserts to help shorten mating and get cows cycling earlier," said Owen.

"Last year 25 cows received CIDRs and this spring only 14 were given them. At a cost of $50 per cow, that's a massive saving."

Hollie Wham with 297, one of her pet cows. Photo / Supplied
Hollie Wham with 297, one of her pet cows. Photo / Supplied

The 54-hectare (effective) coastal farm is prone to being summer dry. It's vital the couple gets as much milk as possible in the vat prior to Christmas.

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"I worked it out that condensing calving has put $9,000 a year in extra income in our back pocket, and that's just our half," said Owen.

In June, the young couple, who are members of South Taranaki Young Farmers, took on a second 50:50 sharemilking job.

The farm, which overlooks Fonterra's Whareroa dairy factory, has a milking platform of 67 hectares (effective).

A second-in-charge is employed to milk a herd of 220 mainly Holstein Friesian cows.

Smart collars provide information on the reproductive and health status of each cow. Photo / Supplied
Smart collars provide information on the reproductive and health status of each cow. Photo / Supplied

The farm has a feedpad where maize is fed from June through until when there is a surplus of grass in late spring.

"We use an automated gate opener, which saves time, and means the cows can walk to the feedpad at milking time at their own pace," said Hollie.

The herd has been fitted with smart collars from Allflex, which provide information on the reproductive and health status of cows.

"Cows are our asset. Because we're not in the milking shed every day at the second farm, the collars help give us piece of mind," said Hollie.

The monitoring technology send alerts to the couple's smartphones if there's a change is a cow's eating patterns or she's cycling.

The couple's second herd of 220 cows is mainly Holstein Friesians. Photo / Supplied
The couple's second herd of 220 cows is mainly Holstein Friesians. Photo / Supplied

"It alerts you to potential health problems, such as mastitis or lameness, before there are any visible signs, meaning a cow can be treated earlier," said Owen.

"It will be really helpful at mating. It's recommended that cows fitted with collars are not tail painted to detect heats."

"So, every milking the app produces a list of cows which should be drafted for artificial insemination," said Owen.

The herd is mated to Holstein Friesian and Hereford genetics. This allows the couple to take advantage of the strong bull beef market for calves and weaners.

Hollie and Owen credit entering the NZ Dairy Industry Awards with giving them the confidence to grow their business.

The number of cows owned by the couple has more than doubled in size since 2016. Photo / Supplied
The number of cows owned by the couple has more than doubled in size since 2016. Photo / Supplied

The couple was named Taranaki Share Farmers of the Year in 2018 and took out the coveted financial performance merit award.

"We learned a lot about ourselves and our business by entering the awards. It gave us the confidence to expand," said Hollie.

"Setting KPIs, knowing how to budget, writing goals and having a plan for the tough times are all a vital part of running a business."

"Having those awards behind us was extremely beneficial when we approached the bank to take on a second sharemilking job," she said.

Entries for the NZ Dairy Industry Awards are now open and close in mid-November.