Daniel and Rachel Simons have been farming for eleven years and just three years ago bought their first Ayrshires. In that time, they have built up the numbers impressively, with a definite goal in mind.
Daniel’s parents were farmers until he was about three years old, when they packed the family into a house-bus and travelled around the North Island for a few years. When his mother eventually returned to farming in Hawkes Bay, Daniel’s father bought a sawmill there. When Daniel was 14 the family moved to a farm near Okato on the Taranaki coast, and that is where he first met Rachel. Rachel grew up on a dairy farm where her parents milked predominately Jerseys, with a few Ayrshires included in the herd.
When the family relocated again, this time to Bay of Plenty, Daniel began working for the Animal Health Board doing Tb control, which involved trapping, and working out how far and fast Tb was spreading. He took on the job full-time when he was 15.
In 2010, he and Rachel took on a farming job near Toko, east of Stratford. After three seasons they moved to a system 5 job a few kilometres away, milking 380 cows; different farm but same farm owner. For just two people it was full on, up at 3.30 am and non-stop all day until 7pm, and because they wanted to start a family, they decided to move on. Daniel points out ‘We can still claim the farm production record from that job.’
In 2015 the couple moved to their present location on Denbigh Road, initially as lower order sharemilkers. The payout that year was $3.90 and in Daniel’s words, ‘ We got hammered, and really went backwards. We were going to have to leave because we couldn’t afford to stay, and then our bosses, Rex and Janice Carroll, offered us a contract milking option. We are very grateful to them for letting us build up our own cow numbers within the herd.’
Daniel first became aware of Ayrshires when he did his Level 3 Animal Husbandry Course. The tutor, a Scottish woman, always talked about the Ayrshires ‘back home’ up on the hills, which ate moss off the rocks and were just strong, hardy cows. Later on when Daniel was doing an AB run, he noticed a Jersey herd which included about 20 Ayrshires. On a wet day all of the Jersey cows were huddled together, sheltering from the rain, while the Ayrshires were out foraging, eating the rushes in the puddles and pushing under the fences to reach watercress. Daniel decided there and then he wanted Ayrshires.
The first Ayrshires Daniel and Rachel purchased were three calves at the 2018 Futurity sale, two from Premier and one from Brookview. They took them along to the Taranaki Club’s junior show, and by then they were well and truly hooked. They returned to Brookview and Premier and bought some more, and also purchased two calves at the 2019 Southwind dispersal. By the end of the season they had 13 young Ayrshires.
The couple’s chosen prefix, ‘Mossy’ relates to the farm they are on. Denbigh Road was where the author of the ‘Me and Gus’ books lived and farmed, in the 1920s. The character Gus was based on Rex Carroll’s father, and his neighbour (the author Frank Anthony) was Mark, the ‘me’ in the title. These likeable characters lived on ‘Mossy Road’, and in fact, the Carroll farm is called Mossy Road Trust.
As Daniel explains, ‘Because this is where we started getting into Ayrshires, and moss grows everywhere here, we thought it was appropriate for a prefix. It’s also nice and short, so we can give the cows good, longer names if necessary, and the kids easily remember it.’
The children are as keen on the Ayrshires as their parents. Violet (5) led her calf at the club show in January and can’t wait to do it again. Stanley (4) and Lachlan (2) scrap over ownership of the cows so Daniel said they’ve had to designate individual cows to each child to save arguments. When little April was born in May this year, Stanley asked if the baby was going to be called ‘Mossy April’.
Daniel and Rachel have slowly been purchasing their own cows and will have 80 in the herd of 410 this season. They hope to purchase the herd in the near future, and to build up Ayrshire numbers to around 100. They’d like to breed the best 100 possible, while keeping cross-breeds to keep the bank happy with BW. Daniel points out the high BW cows don’t produce any more than the lower BW cows. The herd has 50 years’ breeding behind it so they are good producing cross-breeds.
Daniel doesn’t necessarily stick to the highest BW bulls, and puts a lot of thought into the selection for individual cows. He starts thinking about mating choices as soon as calving starts, and when mating is finished he starts ordering semen for the next year! He quite likes the older bulls that are well proven, but they are generally unobtainable. Daniel and Rachel want to stick with bulls that are as close as possible to 100% Ayrshire, and with strong female lines.
Their preference is for at least an Excellent dam with good production, if not two in a 3-generation pedigree. ‘Ideally, if they can produce 100% of their bodyweight in solids, then I’m pretty happy. I’d rather they be consistent over 12 years than be high flyers in fewer years,’ he explains.
Daniel goes on to say ‘My favourites in the herd are between 12-14 years old, they calve every year with no nonsense, and still produce their bodyweight. We held over an 11 year old a couple of years ago and when she calved again she produced well over her bodyweight.’
The farm, 170ha, is probably a System-3, with in-shed feeding of 3kg per day of PK and a little bit of tapioca included, and otherwise just grass and silage which is made on-farm. The terrain is flat to rolling and is well drained now, but still gets wet due to an annual rainfall of between 4-4.8 metres.
Rachel is in charge of rearing the calves, even with three little ‘helpers’, four this year! Calving began early August and with 24 Ayrshires to calve, plus another 25 Ayrshire embryos from cross breed heifers, Daniel and Rachel were really looking forward to Spring. They are delighted with the ET results, a total of 13 heifers including 11 from a Southwind cow which had never produced any daughters. She also produced a natural born daughter.
The couple decided to do ET work to build up cow families. The female embryos include those eleven by Brookview Casanova out of Southwind Queenas James, one by Palmyra Tri-Star Burdette out of Brookview Sweet Spark (purchased at Brookview sale last year) and one by Burdette out of Premier Gentle Sheba. Sheba is the couple’s favourite in the herd, she is super friendly and so is her calf.
Daniel’s brother Chris became interested in Ayrshires after seeing Daniel and Rachel’s purchases, and has purchased a few. Also, Rachel’s brother, Matthew Moffitt and his partner Issy Phipps, have a good number of Ayrshires in their herd. Daniel enjoys bouncing mating options and preferences off Chris and Matthew.
After purchasing their first Ayrshires in 2018, Daniel and Rachel proudly fronted up at the Taranaki Club’s junior show in January 2019, their first ever experience of exhibiting cattle. ‘Premier Gentle Sheba’ was placed 2nd in novice calf and won the novice breeders’ class. At the North Island Championships later that year, Sheba was 2nd in junior yearling, and ‘Premier LJ Emmanuel’ won junior Ayrshire calf, and 2nd in all-breeds.
The following year, Sheba was Supreme Champion at the club show, and a year later, five-year old Violet exhibited for the first time with a daughter of Sheba, ‘Mossy Reagan Sheba’. Although the calf may not be considered a top ‘show’ prospect, she is perfect for Violet to learn the ropes about handling show stock.
At the 2020 Royal Event, ‘Pukekaraka Distinct Memo’ won the 2 year old class and was Reserve Intermediate Champion. The couple was especially proud of their home-bred ‘Mossy Flaming Jessie’ winning the junior heifer calf.
Daniel’s off-farm interests include hunting, once calving and mating are finished, but generally the family just enjoys farm life to the max. The farm has an abundance of bush and creeks to be explored, with the added bonus of a prolific tui population. Daniel counted 36 of them in a Banksia tree one day. He and Rachel set stoat traps with the kids to help the bird life, and they check the 20 traps around the farm every weekend.
Daniel and Rachel concluded by saying ‘ We have really appreciated all the knowledge and opportunities given to us over the past three years from Ayrshire enthusiasts all around the country. We have learned so much, and have met so many great people who are willing to help the next generation.’