Andrew and Jenny Hayes
Andrew and Jenny Hayes' Horsham Downs dairy farm is a working example of optimal profit and minimal footprint, where practical changes can result in benefits for both the farm and the environment.
The farm borders two peat lakes, Kaituna and Komakorau. Waikato's peat lakes are a unique feature of the region. In their original condition, they provided habitat for specialised plants, animals and insects adapted to very low nutrient and acidic conditions. Today, the majority of the lakes are severely degraded.
By 1981, Kaituna and Komakorau were poster examples for lake degradation. They were choked with dense stands of grey and crack willow. During downpours, surface water ran straight through the willows and into the lake.
There was little undergrowth and what remained was trampled by stock. As well as pugging the soft peaty soil, wandering stock risked getting stuck – and when they did, rescue meant using a block and tackle to haul them out. Native wetland vegetation was sparse only surviving in small pockets.
Seeing the lake deteriorating spurred the Hayes family into action. A care group was formed, comprosing of the Hayes, Department of Conservation and Waikato Regional Council staff, duck shooters and friends.
Considerable work has been carried out by the group, including fencing, pest control as well as clearing 16ha of willow and a host of other weeds such as blackberry.
The fenced and restored wetland areas now provide food and shelter to increasing numbers of native and game birds. Enhancing the sponge-like function of the wetland area (by allowing native sedges, rushes and shrubs to naturally regenerate) has resulted in higher soil moisture levels in the adjacent paddocks over summer which has lead to higher productivity. By contrast in the winter, the paddocks are less wet due to the water retention abilities of the wetland vegetation.
The Hayes approach to farming incorporates a range of best practices to maximise production while taking care of the lakes.
The stocking rate of 300-320 dairy cows has remained the same despite retiring 5ha for wetland regeneration and restoration, and a run off was recently purchased. Milk solids are 1,500kg/ha.
Nitrogen fertiliser use has dropped from 150kg/ha N (2004) to 0-30kg/ha (2012) and Serpentine super phosphate use has dropped from 900kg/ha (2004) to 650kg/ha (2010).
A Whole Farm Management and Environment Plan takes into account the economic, environmental and social aspects of the farm. This also gives detailed figures on nutrients leaching into waterways.
Nitrogen leaching is minimised through irrigating effluent over the whole farm instead of 12ha, and keeping wide margins on drains and the lake. Effluent application depth is monitored
• Soil testing is carried out annually to maintain optimum nutrient levels
• Phosphorous and cadmium are monitored
• All paddocks are harrowed in the autumn
All drains and the lakes are fenced. Fencing off wet areas means no more bogged down stock and no nutrients wasted in areas of low productivity e.g. under willows. With areas of low productivity retired, nutrients are targeted on higher productivity areas.
• Drains are shallow and wide as opposed to narrow and deep to slow down rates of peat shrinkage
• A grass sward enables capture of nutrients and sediments before entering the drains
• Planting along drains shades the water, preventing nuisance aquatic weed growth
• Drains are cleared only when necessary - mostly with herbicide and only occasionally mechanically
• All drains have sediment traps and pass through vegetation “filters” (e.g sedges) before entering the lakes
• Stocking rates are moderate to avoid compaction and pugging