“Whatever cow is producing well we breed from, regardless of the breed.”
Breeding cows is a real passion for Canterbury dairy farmer Michael Gilbert and the Gilbert family. They operate studs under the name Glenalla and Snowfed – Jersey, Holstein Friesian and Ayrshire. Their cows dominated at the 2022 Canterbury A & P Show taking out a number of titles including Senior Champion and Grand Champion Ayrshire and Supreme Champion All Breeds with Pukekaraka Elle Delilah – the rst Ayrshire to win the award for decades.
They are not the first awards she’s won – she has had success at shows up and down the country including taking out Supreme All Breeds New Zealand Champion at the Royal Agricultural Society (RAS) New Zealand Royal Dairy Show held during
the 2020 Stratford A&P Show and at the 2021 New Zealand Dairy Event in Feilding she won the supreme exhibit title and also Champion Ayrshire.
Glenalla and Snowfed Jerseys took out the Junior Champion, Intermediate Champion and Senior Champion awards and Junior Champion All Breeds at the 2022 Canterbury A & P Show. This was on the back of one of the family’s Jerseys taking out the Supreme Champion of the Dairy Show in 2021. The Jersey breed has been in Michael’s family for generations – his family has been showing at the Canterbury A & P Show for over 40 years – so he confesses it is “in their blood” to breed Jerseys. Michael’s great grandfather Reg Gilbert established the Glenalla Jersey Stud, which Michael looks after, back in the 1920’s and today it comprises 450 cows. Glenalla Holstein Friesians numbers 130 and Glenalla Ayrshires 20. These breeds came into the farming system when the family purchased more land and an additional herd. Michael says the family has a policy that any good cow can be good regardless of the breed: “We don’t aim for a set portion of the herd to be any specific breed,” he says. “Whatever cow is producing well we breed from, regardless of the breed,”
Michael is in his first season 50:50 share milking 174ha total/155ha effective in Rakaia for his parents Anne and Peter Gilbert. The family started farming in Canterbury in 1900 so has a long legacy in the region. Michael says the aim of all of his studs is the same: to breed high producing cows with good conformation, particularly udders and cows that can last the distance. All of the cows have TOP classification and Michael uses technology to fast track genetic gains, particularly Afimilk collars. He says it helps him to make better decisions as well as make things easier for himself and staff. He does his own AI so the collars have enabled him to do this for the whole mating season rather than bringing in the bull at the end.
Glenalla farm peak milks 600 cows through a 54 bail rotary shed with acrs, in-bail teat spray, in-shed feeding and Protrac, which are other ways technology is streamlining the operation. Michael has been running the farm since the family purchased it in 2016 and says that going 50:50 sharemilking has simply been more financial commitment. He has always had the freedom to run the farm as he likes.
The current production target is 1800-1850kgsMS per hectare this season. The aim is 2000kgsMS per hectare on a higher input system and this season Michael has started buying in maize silage and plans to introduce more protein and grain through the in-shed feeding system. The family is moving from roto rainer to centre pivot irrigation with an eye to this more high input system, perhaps milking year round. Peter and Anne also own another dairy farm in Mid Canterbury – the fourth generation 166ha effective home farm Snowfed Farm near Ashburton, which has a herd of just over 600 Jersey and Holstein Friesian cows. Michael’s brother Nick manages this. Another son Luke is a Livestock Representative for Carrfields in the North Island and also still owns cows in the family studs and is involved with the family in showing them across the country.
Credit: NZ Dairy Summer 2022 edition