The herd’s diet at Matai Awa is primarily comprised of grass; however, 52 acres of corn are planted each year to make silage. 
The herd’s diet at Matai Awa is primarily comprised of grass; however, 52 acres of corn are planted each year to make silage. PHOTO SUBMITTED
    FEILDING, North Island, New Zealand – What began as a simple land purchase not intended for agriculture use has turned into a full-fledged pasture-based dairy farm with the farm’s owner being immersed in the dairy industry.
    Andrew Hoggard and his wife, Audra, along with their daughters, Payton and Michaela, own the Matai Awa dairy farm near the town of Feilding on the North Island of New Zealand. Hoggard’s brother, Chad Hoggard, also owns a portion of the farm.
    Hoggard milks 560 Holstein Friesians in a 44-stall rotary parlor; the cows are housed outside year-round.
    In addition to the farm, Hoggard is the national vice president of Federated Farmers of New Zealand, an independent rural advocacy organization whose aim is to add value to farming for their members and encourage sustainability through sound management practices.
    “My family has been farming since the 1930s,” Hoggard said. “My great-grandfather was a lawyer who was into hiking, and he was worried that the farmland that was opened up in front of his favorite forest park could be sold to someone who would block access. So, he brought it, and his oldest son, my grandfather, caught the farming bug.”
     After finishing a degree in economics, Hoggard returned to the home farm for one year. The family sold the original farm site and purchased the current farm, where they have been operating for the last 20 years. The Hoggards then purchased a neighboring farm, bringing their total acreage to 740 acres.
    Hoggard said 75 percent of the cows freshen in the spring with the rest coming due in autumn. The farm’s pasture-based system is possible because of the area’s weather.  
    The farm is located at the southwestern side of the island at 750 feet above sea level. The average winter temperature is 54 degrees Fahrenheit; the summer average is 77 degrees. Hoggard said winter temperatures rarely dip below 46 and scarcely climb over 86 in the summer. The area receives an average yearly rainfall of 39 to 47 inches.
    “We have had snow settle on the farm about four times in 20 years, so by and large the climate is ideal for pastoral farming,” Hoggard said.
    As such, the cows’ diet is comprised largely of grass.
    “During the spring flush, we will harvest surplus grass as silage for use generally in late summer for when it usually gets the driest and grass growth drops, and we need to supplement them,” Hoggard said. “We will grow [52 acres] a year of corn, which gets turned into silage and gets fed to the cows during late autumn, winter and early spring.”
    Further surplus grass is made into hay and a meal supplement blend – palm kernel, soybean hull pellets, dried distillers grain, biscuit meal, etc. – is purchased to feed in the parlor.
    Area farmers produce potatoes, carrots, peas, onions, turnips, kale and beets.
    “It is really good soil, and we could grow a range of things,” Hoggard said.
    Hoggard has been able to balance his duties on the farm with that of Federated Farmers with the help of staff and family.
    “Dairy farming has provided me and my family with an excellent life,” Hoggard said. “I do get some additional income from my role at Federated Farmers; however, that just covers the cost of additional staff to cover my absence from the farm. Truth be told, if I just stayed on the farm and focused on farming, I would be financially better off, but I am passionate about my industry and view this as more of a service to the dairy industry and get a lot of satisfaction from doing the role.”
    For Hoggard, days begin at 3:20 a.m. with coffee and reading followed by a herd check at 4 a.m. Milking and clean-up is finished by 8. Breakfast and morning tasks follow.
    “Three hours of tasks will be generally administrative stuff, Federated Farmers e-mails, urgent repairs that come up on the farm or farm improvement projects, unless I’m covering for a staff member in which case I’m doing their routine work,” Hoggard said. “… Then it is afternoon milking again, usually done and dusted by 5:30-6 p.m., that is if I’m on the farm that day. Several days a week, I will potentially be at Federated Farmers meetings, so that involves waking up at the same time, and then driving three hours to Wellington and various meetings with government officials.”
    Routine work on the farm includes feeding silage, depending on the time of year, putting up break fences, parlor maintenance and cleaning, weed spraying, pasture topping and miscellaneous tasks.
    Milking requires two people; one to gather the cows while the other person sets up the parlor. While one person gathers the second group of cows, the other individual cleans the parlor.
    “If needs be, I could do everything myself, but it wouldn’t be a very enjoyable day,” Hoggard said.
    The parlor is equipped with automatic teat cup removal, automatic cow sorting, in-parlor feeding, automatic teat spray and yield sensing.
    Hoggard said the Manawatu District in which he lives is home to around 300 dairy farms. In the wider region, there are 900 dairy farms. He said the area is teaming with industry professionals.
    “We have a good selection of contractors in our area who can do cultivation and harvesting work, along with spraying contractors and fertilizer spreaders,” Hoggard said. “So rather than do these tasks myself, I use these contractors. I can spend my days focusing on ensuring the cows are getting what they need. In Feilding, there are a range of rural support businesses, from rural supplies, to milk machine service agents, tractor dealerships, engineering workshops, vet clinic, livestock salesyard, stock transport firm. Basically, everything I could possibly need is a 15-minute drive from the farm.”
    While the area’s dairy industry is bountiful, Hoggard said price volatility, societal expectations in regard to water quality and climate change regulations are particular challenges to the New Zealand dairy market.
    “In my view, a lot of this volatility we experience is due to highly protected nature of dairy around the world,” Hoggard said. … “We don’t have subsidies or trade barriers to protect us. So, we are totally at the mercy of the market. This means you have to be a sound business person as well as a practical farmer.”
    Hoggard plans to continue his advocacy role, stating he could be appointed the president of Federated Farmers, which could also mean further appointments on various boards.
    “Then my time on the farm will be even more limited as thus I need good people and a good structure and systems in place to ensure everything runs well,” he said.
    Beyond, Hoggard plans to install a robotic milking system and a covered feed pad as well as remote sensors.
    No matter the industry appointment or the changing weather, Hoggard is thankful for his place in the dairy industry.
    “The mix of practical and theory [in dairy] stimulates my brain, but also keeps me active,” he said. “And, I like that I can be flexible with things, so if everything is done on the farm, I can just go inside and read a book on the sofa. It has provided me with great opportunities and a good life really. I had to work my backside off for it, but it has been worth it.”