May 25, 2023 at 4:46 p.m.
Farming far from home
“I wanted to go abroad and work on a farm,” Seitzer said. “I thought that would be a cool experience.”
Seitzer grew up on his family’s dairy farm near St. Peter where his parents, Peter and Ann Seitzer, milk 65 cows in a tiestall barn and farm 625 acres.
After looking into various options in several countries, Seitzer eventually found the program called Rural Exchange New Zealand.
“I chose New Zealand because it has a totally different way of farming from what I am used to,” Seitzer said. “The natural beauty of New Zealand was also part of my decision.”
Another reason Seitzer was interested in New Zealand is because grazing is so essential there. He wants to incorporate a hybrid form of New Zealand grazing into the management style of his family’s farm.
“Being able to get some hands-on experience and learning more about grazing was beneficial,” Seitzer said.
Seitzer’s experience lasted from July 2022 through January. He lived with a host family, Peter and Lisa Scott, who milk 1,000 KiwiCross cows in a 54-cow rotary parlor in Methven, Canterbury, New Zealand. KiwiCross cows are a mix of Holstein and Jersey.
“It was a very special cultural experience to be able to live with (the Scotts), and they treated me like family,” Seitzer said. “We still update each other regularly.”
The Scotts’ farm, like most dairy farms in New Zealand, uses grazing as the main feed source. Cows are not fed corn silage like many cows in the U.S. The dairy has 44 paddocks that are used to graze the cows, each one averaging 25 acres of rye grass and some clover. All yearlings, milk cows and dry cows are put in the paddocks to graze.
“The cows calve in the paddocks,” Seitzer said. “Several times a day during calving season, a couple of us would drive around on four-wheelers with a trailer and pick up the calves. The hardest part was matching the calf with the mom. Attention to detail is crucial.”
Besides grass, the cows are fed crushed wheat, palm kernel, molasses and a pellet mix as they are milked on the platform. Palm kernel is a byproduct of palm oil manufacturing.
Because the Scotts do not feed silage, they do not need the equipment and storage space that would otherwise be required. In fact, most fieldwork is hired out.
While Seitzer was there, his responsibilities included milking, managing dry and fresh cows and eventually the milking cows, helping with calving and setting up fences for grazing.
“I got there in the middle of July, and that was right when calving started,” Seitzer said. “Most farms calve seasonally from July through September. After calving, a 12-week mating period will begin which will end around the beginning of January, and by late May, cows are getting dried off before the cycle repeats itself.”
Even though farming strategies are handled differently there, it did not take long for Seitzer to settle into his new routine.
“They are so efficient over there,” Seitzer said. “They don’t do any prep work when milking the cows. (The cows) walk into the carousel and we attach a milker. Then they get a spray as they leave the parlor. Many farms are able to achieve somatic cell counts under 100,000 throughout the season.”
One of Seitzer’s favorite memories of his time abroad was tidying up a section of the cow yard with his host father, Peter.
“When I got there, I noticed there was this section of cattle yard along the creek that was run down and had lots of trees in it,” Seitzer said. “I said I would help clean that up.”
Together, the two totally transformed the section, Seitzer said.
“(Peter) told me that it was because of me that he wanted to transform that area,” he said. “It made me really feel like I made a difference. I was able to plant a pin oak as a way for them to remember me.”
The region of Canterbury where Seitzer stayed is an agriculturally dense area with a heavy population of dairy farms that average 1,000 cows. There are many farms other than dairies in the region that also host young people from other countries to work on their farms.
“I didn’t expect to meet and make so many friends,” Seitzer said. “I thought I was just going there to work, but it didn’t take long to realize that the other people there were a big part of the experience. Now, I have a lot of strong connections with people from other countries.”
Seitzer talks with his new friends and his host family often, and they share farming and life ideas and goals. He hopes to visit several of his new friends in their home countries someday, which include Denmark, Sweden, Germany, France and the Netherlands.
“It was such an amazing experience that I will never forget,” Seitzer said. “It is definitely an experience I would do again and an experience I would encourage others to do.”