Dannevirke dairy farmer Rod Southgate has never been afraid to challenge the status quo.
A developing interest in biological farming led him down the path of trying products and approaches a little different to the traditional way of farming in New Zealand – but unfortunately, he says, “we are still waiting for those things to work”.
However, in April 2020 Rod started on a path that has produced outstanding results within 12 months.
Rod and wife Dorothy milk 160 cows on 80ha effective near the ranges southwest of Dannevirke.
A runoff next door provides extra land to graze young stock, cut baleage and winter some animals.
The Southgates’ stocking rate is low, but the cows are a good size, and the herd produces 80,000kgMS.
At 1,100 feet above sea level, the farm experiences a cool, wet and windy winter and spring.
“Most years the wind is a predominant feature of the landscape here, and it can spoil good grass in the summer,” Rod says.
“Only one mile down the road, the difference in pasture growth is vast.”
In a quest to improve pasture growth and animal health, Rod began the Total Replacement Therapy programme in April 2020 by having Terragen Great Land applied to 50ha of the farm.
“The idea of supporting biology in the soil really appealed to me,” Rod says.
“I had heard people talk about the value of worms and their interaction within the soil.
“I think what goes on underground is greatly underestimated; the saying ‘when we stand on the ground we are standing on the roof of another world’ really got me thinking.
“’You are what you eat’ is another one… good quality food is obviously better for you.”
After just one month on the programme, observable results started emerging on the Southgates’ farm.
“The clover just came from out of nowhere,” Rod says. “The growth was just phenomenal.
“Something else I noticed was that the cows grazed the pasture more evenly.
“They walk into the paddock and start eating; when they put their heads down straight away, you know you’re onto something.”
Rod says after a dry spell the pasture usually has a boost of growth, but often the feed is soft.
However, after starting Total Replacement Therapy he found the cows’ manure was a lot firmer, which to him indicated that there was either improved levels of dry matter in the feed, or the cows’ digestion had improved.
And with such a strong focus on reducing nitrate leaching, Rod was impressed to find that he needed only half the amount of fertiliser this spring.
“We use ammonium sulphate instead of urea, but we have been able to reduce our fertiliser application rate to half that of the regional council’s limit of 60 units N/ha,” he says.
Going forward, Rod will be extending the area of the farm under the Total Replacement Therapy programme.
He is grateful for the team providing assistance as and when required as he embarks on a new farming journey.
“When you do something the majority of people are not doing, you need a bit of assurance as you go along,” he says.
“But the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and all I can say is that if you do step out and give it a try, the results will confirm you’re onto something.”