31 Aug 2018

Rearing to go: the West Coast dairy farm in full swing

From Country Life, 9:45 pm on 31 August 2018

The busy calving season is in full swing at Mark and Debbie Van Beek's dairy farm near Hokitika on the West Coast. The 50/50 sharemilkers run 500 cows on a 3km strip of fertile land beside the Arahura River.

Mark Van Beek

Mark Van Beek Photo: RNZ/Cosmo Kentish-Barnes

Several times a day, rain or shine,  Mark walks through the calving paddocks to make sure cows and newborn calves are okay. 

He also pays them a visit at night – "not too late... 'cause I need my sleep!"

Debbie looks after the calves in a large shed with a cosy carpet of sawdust and hay.

Most of them take to the milk feeder teats quickly but there is always one that needs a bit of encouragement.

The bobby calves are moved to another shed across the farmyard before the calf truck arrives to pick up them up.

"We don't want the truck driver walking through this shed because they're visiting a lot farms, so it's bio-security, and after they've left we'll actually spray that area as well," Mark says.

In between the calving and milking, Mark is doing some spring cultivation.

Paddocks that were in winter planted with swedes are now being sown with oats; a high-energy feed for the cows as they approach the time for mating.

The 280-hectare property the Van Beeks farm is owned by Mawhera Incorporation.

Mark Van Beek

Mark Van Beek Photo: RNZ/Cosmo Kentish-Barnes

The couple started out as farm managers in 2005 but within six months they were asked if they wanted to take on the share-milking contract.

"Previous to that we'd bought into Mum and Dad's farm but there wasn't enough income up there for two families... so when the share-milking opportunity came up it was absolutely ideal."

Mawhera Incorporation is owned by more than 1,500 shareholders who are descendants of Poutini Ngāi Tahu Māori who were the original landowners of the West Coast region.

This year, the couple – in collaboration with Mawhera – were finalists for the Ahuwhenua Trophy; BNZ's Excellence in Māori Farming award.

For Mark, taking part in the competition was a rewarding experience.

"It was a really good opportunity for us to sit down with the board and see more about where they're heading and what their goals are."