Shaun Murray is at the coalface of New Zealand’s $1 billion export infant formula industry.
The 40ha family-run farm at Karaka was “just too small and milking 160 cows just wasn’t working”.
“I was always chasing my tail; I had a lot of leased blocks so I was always running around between leased blocks and running this farm,” Hamish told Rural News.
The family looked at goat farms in the Waikato, a similar-sized operation with “a balance sheet much better” than the cow dairy business.
“The family did a lot of thinking and researching and decided to make the switch; the environmental aspects of goat farming particularly suited this farm on the Manukau Harbour.” Of the 750 goats, 80% are Saanen breed and the rest mixed herd.
But goat farming presented a new challenge. The old 16-bail rotary was converted into a 34-bail goat rotary platform – a ‘goatary’. Milking the 750 goats took up to nine hours daily.
The huge workload prompted the family to build the new milking shed they had planned for, and two weeks ago Noakes, the family and staff started milking the goats on an 80-bail fully automatic ‘goatary’ from GEA Farm Technologies. The European milking platform is the first of its kind in New Zealand.
Milking time has been cut in half and Noakes expects this to reduce further as the goats become familiar with the new shed. The time saved will improve the quality of life and allow for farm improvements. He hopes to take on a more managerial role and have more time and energy to develop a high producing herd.
The farm employs two full time and two part time staff, however this is a hands on family business. He is also planning to increase goat numbers to 1000.
He says converting to goat farming has been a huge challenge for him and the family but they have no regrets.
He describes goats as “phantoms” that need special attention.
“For us it was a good move but you’ve got to be on the ball; things can change very quickly. You need to have your finger on the pulse 24/7.”
“For one day they might go off grass; they just won’t eat that grass, so you have to feed them something else. They are cool animals but they are phantoms… you’re always trying to work them out”.
A year ago Noakes built a barn for the goats, having grazed them on pasture for three years while resource consent was sought for the building; it was a difficult time.
The goats are fed pasture grown on the farm; some brewers’ grain and pellets are bought in. The pellets are used to entice goats to the milking parlour.
Getting the goats adjusted to automatic milking wasn’t hard; after three days of “hard training” they were “flying through”.
“The goats come in and their heads are locked in a head clamp; every goat is tagged and is identified by the GEA milking machine; if the goat is still milking the head remains locked on and they travel round again,” says Noakes.
The Milkabit farm produces high quality milk daily and supplies to New Image Group Nutritionals; all milk is turned into infant formula for China and Southeast Asia markets.
Milk is collected once every two or three days by NIG Nutritional tankers, depending on factory schedule.
Milk is stored in a 15,000L Packo milk vat from Dairy Cooling Solutions Ltd.
The Packo vat keeps the temperature constant even with milk flow fluctuations; it’s horizontal shape provides greater area for cooling.
Dairy Cooling Solutions Ltd’s refrigeration sales engineer Kelly Larritt says the Packo vat is built to European standards, and “unlike what you can buy in NZ it is fully insulated”.
It comes with 100mm Eurothane insulation and even in a power cut up to 12 hours the milk temperature in the vat won’t exceed 3oC.
“If the farm has a power cut the milk’s at 3.5oC and in 12 hours it won’t go any higher than 6.5oC. Hopefully in that time the power outage would be fixed.”
Noakes says he likes the new technology; now comes the challenge of learning it.
The plan to build a new shed was there right from ‘day one’ but he “decided to do it sooner and enjoy it rather than waiting another 10 years. I’m hoping this new shed will reduce the time spent milking and assist me in my goal of producing top quality milk.”