Tuesday, 21 July 2020 09:55

Bells keep ringing in top quality milk

Written by  Sudesh Kissun
Farmers Graham and Glenys Bell have supplied top quality milk to Fonterra for 10 straight seasons. Farmers Graham and Glenys Bell have supplied top quality milk to Fonterra for 10 straight seasons.

The walls in the office of Waitoa farmers Graham and Glenys Bell have been steadily filling up with accolades over the years.

Gold grade certificates from the last 10 consecutive seasons adorn the office, together with other milk quality accolades.

When it comes to supplying safe and quality milk, no one beats the Bells. Milk from the 114ha Milldale Farm is the highest quality Fonterra gets from its 10,000-strong shareholder base in NZ. 

Graham and Glenys say they are proud of their achievements. But they don’t it to be number one.

“A lot of work goes into it, but we wouldn’t do it any other way,” Glenys told Dairy News. “We do it for our cows and the awards just come with it.”

Graham says there’s no secret to the farm’s track record for producing grade-free low cell count milk.

“It’s hard work, passion, good management practices and a personal connection with cows,” he told Dairy News.

The Bells have been milking cows for most of their life. Married for 45 years they run 350 cows on the family farm and also have a sharemilking job on a neighbouring 170-cow farm with their daughter.

The Bells did the LIC AI run for 30 years. Not only do they breed bulls for genetic companies, Graham says he looks through catalogues to choose the right bulls for mating the herd.

“There is definitely a role for genetics, we don’t use bulls with high cell counts,” he says. “I spend time looking through catalogues to pick out the ones right for us.”

Graham says the calving period is crucial. A lot of work goes into how cows are managed during that period by the Bells and their contract milkers Ashlee Cannons and Anna McNeil. 

“We actually put a heap of work in,” he says. 

“If a cow is prone to mastitis, we bring her in before calving to just check on her. The whole herd, as soon as soon they calve, the sooner they get into the dairy shed, the better.”

Dream team: from left, contract milkers Ashlee Cannons and Anna McNeil with farmers Glenys and Graham Bell.

The personal touch

Graham Bell says having a “personal touch” when it comes to managing cows is important to us.

He doesn’t rely on computer records and knows in his head the medical history of each cow.

“I remember any treatment any cow has throughout its whole life – it stays in my head.”

After calving, the cows remain in the colostrum mob for four days, where they are tested for mastitis. Any cow showing a big reaction is treated straight away. 

Cows with slight reaction are monitored over the next two milkings and go for treatment if the somatic cell count rises.

Hygiene is a top priority.

Care is taken to avoid cows being calved in mud. 

“We do a daily sort from the mobs and the cows are brought closer to cow shed to calve on grass,” Graham says.

“This helps to cut down on infection over this period and also helps with avoiding mismothering of calves.”

The Bells also adhere to excellent hygiene standards in the cow shed.

“We do teat spraying all year and when you do teat spray, you cover the bottom of the udder. It’s about doing the job properly…it’s all about attention to detail.”

Graham says he hates to have sick cows.

“We put the work in to have a nice, happy and healthy herd.”

Contract milker Ashlee Cannons has worked on farms with large herds. He told Dairy News that working for the Bells is “a lot different”.

“We had never focused on cows, we just milked them,’” he says. “On this farm we get to know each cow.”

Cannons and partner Anna McNeil joined the farm at the beginning of last season.

He says they are learning from the best on how to produce grade-free milk.

“We are very fortunate, it’s a great learning curve for us.”

More like this

Carbon zero milk

Fonterra has joined forces with a supermarket chain to deliver what it claims is NZ’s first carbon zero milk.

Winners committed to environment

It's not the first time Fonterra’s John Wilson Memorial Trophy recipients, Nick and Nicky Dawson have been recognised for their sustainability efforts.

Dairy champions

Hawke's Bay dairy farmers Nick and Nicky Dawson have been awarded Fonterra’s John Wilson Memorial Trophy for responsible dairying.

$10 payout!

A small but select group of Fonterra farmers are on the cusp of setting a new milk payout record.



Limited feed puts ewes at risk

Severe feed shortages in parts of the country mean many ewes are on a nutritional knife-edge heading into lambing and could be at risk of developing metabolic disorders.

Jack’s unique solution

Jason Jack was left with severe spinal injuries after a wakeboarding accident when he was 29, but that hasn’t stopped him getting out and about in difficult environments.


$10 payout!

A small but select group of Fonterra farmers are on the cusp of setting a new milk payout record.

The migrant workers dilemma

Dairy farmers want more Kiwi workers, but they also want relaxed immigration restrictions. So, what's the problem?

Producing milk, the Miraka way

The goal of Māori-owned dairy company Miraka, near Taupo, is to become the most sustainable dairy company in the world.

Machinery & Products

Landpower invests in cow central

One of Australasia’s largest, privately-owned farm machinery distributors, Landpower is building a new $10 million complex adjacent to Hamilton Airport.

Maize moisture in a moment

With forage maize playing such an important part of the New Zealand fodder supply chain, a useful hand-held moisture measuring…

» The RNG Weather Report

» Latest Print Issues Online

Milking It

A ticking timebomb?

There could be another dairy health scare brewing in China and this one starts in our backyard.

Please explain

Does anyone in the Government understand the essential role St John Ambulance has in our society?

» Connect with Dairy News

» eNewsletter

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter