A willingness to embrace new technology has led to production gains for the Brier family, the winners of the Massey University Discovery Award at the Waikato Ballance Farm Environment Awards.
John and Anne Brier farm 510ha at Ngaponga, near Te Awamutu, raising sheep and beef.
The Briers use Farmax computer software extensively as a decision tool. “It is good for tactics and keeping track of how we are going when we set targets,” Mr Brier says. For example, they know that in 2004 the farm produced 250kg of meat and wool per hectare, and last year it produced 380kg.
The Briers were part of a recently completed three year Innovation Waikato Rezare project exploring ways of applying existing technology to make farming more efficient. This included trials with electronic ear tags, integration of broadband technology, creep grazing, hill country regrassing and the use of satellite pictures to gauge pasture quality.
Already, the tag technology has created traceability that has allowed them to move into supply contracts for Marks & Spencer, a high-end United Kingdom chain store.
Mr Briers says there is a confirmed three kilogram per head lift in lamb weights attributed to the implementation of a trial rotational “creep” grazing for lambing and lactating ewes and their lambs. This creep grazing bypasses the traditional practise of set stocking the ewes after scanning until docking or weaning. Instead, the four large mobs of sheep are allowed to move on, the lambs tending to creep ahead of the ewes, benefiting from the extra grass. Initially the lambs mismothered too much with shifting, so were missing out on milk and mothering and weren’t thriving.
The installation and use of gate bat latches, which are set to open at a given time, allows the rotation to happen without the intrusion of humans to lambing and mothering ewes, and the gates keep the lambs closer to their mothers.
The Massey University Discovery Award is given in recognition of new discovery and implementation of economically and environmentally sustainable farming systems. It recognises farmers who have been proactive in discovering new knowledge and applying it so their farming business is more sustainable.
The Briers are heading to Vietnam soon to carry out volunteer work and son Dan, a Massey vet graduate, and his wife Bronwyn will manage the farm. Another son, farm consultant Brendon, completed a Bachelor of Applied Science at Massey.