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Hayden & Rachael Finch - 50:50 Sharemilkers - Mossburn - Mid Canterbury: 

from NZ Dairy Exporter October 2007

On-farm : Grass, cows, milk - and people

A couple who have high standards of respect on the farm are finding their methods paying off - for them and their staff.

By Anne Lee

Farm: Mossburn Holdings
Owners: Dairy Holdings
Sharemilkers: Rachael and Hayden Finch
Cows: 750 cross breed, breeding worth (BW) 127, production worth (PW) 140
Irrigation: Three rotorainers
Production: 1600kg milksolids (MS)/ha. Target 1700kg this season
Farm working expenses (FWE): $2.40/kg MS
Supplements/cow: 250kg dry matter (DM) maize silage, 250kg DM grass silage


Hayden and Rachael Finch want to develop and churn out dairy farm managers as fast as they can.
Growing people through education and training and helping them achieve their goals is a top priority for the ambitious young couple, in their fourth season sharemilking 750 cows for Dairy Holdings at Dorie, near Rakaia, South Canterbury.
After just three years sharemilking, one of their staff has gone on to management level and two will be progressing into management roles next season.
The Finchs have also been recognised as leaders in the human resource and health and safety fields.
Both grew up on dairy farms but met in the Australian outback working at a goldmine - Hayden driving road trains and Rachael the assistant manager for the 350-person camp. They invested their earnings in young stock back in New Zealand but did not initially consider going dairying themselves. It wasn't until their rosters (which could be six weeks on, one week off) made time together virtually impossible that they decided to look at the next move.
Dairying in New Zealand offered them the best opportunity to achieve their ultimate lifestyle goals. Hayden spent two years honing his dairying expertise on a farm in Canterbury before managing his parents' farm near Timaru for another two years, while Rachael worked for the BNZ and Work and Income.
In 2002 they were ready to take the plunge, and used their savings to buy cows to go sharemilking.
Two years later, having targeted Dairy Holdings as an organisation that could help them achieve their goals, they secured their present job on the Mossburn Holdings property.
Hayden concentrates on cows and grass with the aim to fully utilise pastures and graze to a consistently low residual to maximise pasture quality.
Their economic farm surplus (EFS) is generally around $2800/ha although it has exceeded $3000/ha. This year they are targeting 1700kg milksolids (MS)/ha using around 500kg dry matter (DM)/cow of grass and maize silage.
Rachael has spent hours setting up procedures, strategies and systems for human resources and health and safety. They are one of the first in New Zealand to achieve an advanced rating in the Quality Farm Employers of New Zealand system.
They invited Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) to review their procedures and were given a "One" rating - the highest, a level not given out by their assessor in 25 years.
They were also part of a study into 25 high-risk industries by Massey University and their property was singled out as best practice. A film crew has recently been on-farm shooting a video for Department of Labour training.
The Finchs' health and safety manual has a comprehensive list of all hazards, from electric fences and hoses to tractors, and ways to eliminate or mitigate the dangers of each. All contractors receive a list of hazards with accompanying maps and any accidents or near-misses must be recorded in the accident register.
They have three fulltime permanent staff: Brad Collins, the herd manager who has been with them since 2004, Rebecca Horsham and Helen Campbell. Josh Moodie has worked for them for the past three seasons, June to late October, when he returns to work at the local meat processing plant.
The staff are on a six-on two-off roster, averaging a 48-hour week. They are fed every night and have their South Island Dairy Event (SIDE) registration paid when it's held at Lincoln.
"We don't muck around with their roster," Rachael said.
"If something comes up Hayden or I will step in. We'll get a babysitter for the girls if we need to."
During their five years as employers they've had three workers who have changed career to enter dairying, and found them assets to the business.
"They've made a conscious decision to be involved in dairy farming and they'll often want to progress fast," Hayden said. But it's important to have the right attitude as an employer.
"You can't leave them to vegetate. You've got to be prepared to support them and make sure they've every opportunity to learn."
One of their career changers was Rhys Johansen, now manager on another Dairy Holdings property.
New staff receive an induction folder that includes Hayden's and Rachael's farm goals, a description of the farm with map, and an outline of the main management policies. It includes a condensed version of the farm's health and safety manual including a list of hazards and emergency contact numbers.
"We also sit down with them and go through their goals," Rachael said.
"What they want to achieve long-term and what they want to learn short-term. We go through the activities and skills required on the farm and talk through what skills they already have and where they think they could need some training.
"From that we draw up a training schedule and encourage them to do AgricultureITO," she said.
This year, staffer Rebecca Horsham was enthused by a SIDE workshop on controlling heifer mastitis through teat-spraying before calving.
"We gave her ownership of that," Hayden said.
"She set up the system and we've had about half the number of cases we'd normally have to treat and no three-quartered heifers this year at all."
The couple hire on attitude and willingness to learn, as skills can be taught.
The farm operations manual took two years to complete, and each staff member has their own copy, updated and added to as needed.
Staff have formal appraisals twice a year, including a self-appraisal form that asks what they like about the job, what they would like to modify, describing a successful achievement at work in the past few months, what training needs they have, and what could be changed on-farm to make them more effective.
The appraisal form lists tasks such as dairy hygiene, milk quality, calving, irrigation, effluent, pasture management and aspects of animal health. Other sections include organisational skills, problem solving, adaptability and interpersonal skills.
Staff receive a rating for each, noting progress in training for the particular skill. They are also given space to write their own comments.
Rachael and Hayden, who have two daughters - Georgia, 5, and Emily, 4 - use the appraisal to determine where they can best help the staff member develop, linking back to the training schedule and AgricultureITO.
But the couple are also big on making sure the informal things like "thank yous" and "well dones" are dished out at the appropriate times. They expect a high standard from their staff and through mutual respect between employer and employee they get it.
The couple are looking at land ownership through an equity partnership. Instead of the usual equity management position, they want to sharemilk the property in order to keep the cashflow. D


© Copyright NZ Dairy Exporter October 2007


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