In a little over ten years, Christine and Fraser Macbeth have gone from having their first contract cow, to getting five bulls into sire proving schemes this year, and becoming the highest production worth herd in the country.
The couple, who milk 260 Jersey and crossbred cows under the Cawdor Jerseys brand, average 390 kilograms of milksolids per cow from a 270 day lactation, in a full season once-a-day (OAD) system.
The couple are aiming to increase this to 400 kilograms of milksolids this season, and say at that level, the cows would be achieving just over 90 per cent of their liveweight in production.
Now, as they prepare to step back from dairy farming, the couple are reflecting on their 32 years in the industry and the benefits that a focus on genetics and breeding has delivered.
The Macbeth's pathway to farm ownership started with the conversion of Fraser's brother's farm at Maruia in 1998 where they 50/50 sharemilked 580 cows.
"The cows were nothing special. They were around an F12J4 which was pretty typical of Canterbury at that time, but we had aspirations of breeding towards a more Jersey herd" Fraser said.
After seven years on the conversion, the couple relocated to their current property of sixteen years at Korere, just off the Nelson-Murchison state highway.
"The property is high altitude and we have long dry summers. Jerseys are ideal as they are more heat tolerant than Friesians, and aggressive grazers, even when covers are low. They perform well in pasture-based systems and hold steady production even in dry conditions."
Macbeth said that from the beginning, the couple were focused on Breeding Worth (BW) and breeding profitable, efficient female lines.
The herd has a current BW of 222 and PW of 284, making even the surplus stock well above the national average.
"In stepping out on our own, we were able to apply more focus to the breeding and genetics side of our business, which we are both passionate about," Macbeth said.
"We rear all our heifer calves and bring through about 30 per cent replacements, selling the rest as in-calf heifers. Each year we sell our surplus mixed-aged in-calf stock, many of which are very good cows, but may be better suited to a twice-a-day herd or a different system."
"In bringing through a high replacement rate, we are applying immense selection pressure, and that has helped drive our genetic gain, while ensuring the animals we milk are the most suited, and therefore most profitable, for our operation."
"In our environment, large animals struggle. A jersey or a low liveweight cross is ideal because they can graze lower and harvest pasture better. For profitability, our focus is to always harvest pasture first, and use supplement only when we need to, in order to keep the cows fully fed through the shoulders of the season."
In addition, the Macbeth's also sell a lot of bulls for use as natural mating sires.
"Our high indexes and self-contained operation make our bulls attractive to buyers, and because they are DNA profiled, the offspring can be kept as replacements. We have had a lot of success doing that in our own herd, and have several cows with PW's of 400-plus by our own natural mating sires."
Stock sales have been good for cash flow and helped drive strong profitability in the Macbeth's business, but they say there are also other non-financial rewards.
"We find it immensely rewarding seeing our stock and genetics go into other herds and perform well."
Part of the Macbeth's success is also their herd's reproductive performance, averaging an around 80 per cent six-week-in-calf rate (6WIC) with approximately 10 per cent empty rate from just 8.5 weeks mating.
The majority of the 75 per cent Jersey herd is mated to high BW nominated Jersey sires for four weeks of AB, followed by 4.5 weeks with ex-contract bulls. Offspring is DNA profiled to determine parentage.
"The combination of once-a-day and high Jersey content means that we have consistently good reproduction. It allows us to do more discretionary culling and have higher stock sales," Macbeth said.
"We're selecting high BW, predominantly daughter-proven bulls, targeting breeding values (BVs) of 0.5 or better for udder overall and dairy conformation."
"We are fixated on efficiency, which is particularly important in a grass-based system, where Jerseys really come into their own. We have believed in BW from the start, and we see the benefit of that focus in practice in our herd."
It's that focus, that has seen the Cawdor herd go from strength-to-strength in such a short space of time.
"In 2007, we had our first contract mating and did our first embryo transplant (ET) work with Nigel Juby of Ova Achievers. This year, we have had four bulls taken by LIC and one by CRV. The ET work has helped drive the genetic gain at the top end of our herd, but, with a focus on breeding and herd improvement, most herds can make immense gains."
But it's that same success that will make it hard for the Macbeth's at the end of this season, when they reduce their herd size.
"Christine and I have been running the farm by ourselves for 16 years, as well as overseeing the run-off with all of our young stock. It is a big commitment and we are at the point where we would like to have more time with family and to pursue other interests."
The couple plan to cut herd numbers by around 20 per cent at the end of this season, and will be holding a reduction sale online via Bidr, in conjunction with Link Livestock, on the April 7 and 8.
They plan to have a full dispersal in the next couple of years, but intend to stay on the farm and run drystock.
"It will be very hard to say goodbye to our stock. Our animals have been our passion, but we know they will go on to do well in other herds."