“There is no one thing I love most about my work,” says John Vosper, director of multi-award-winning organic dairy farm, Jersey Girl Organics, “but things that spring to mind include that sense of accomplishment at the end of every day; the joy of a sunrise or shower of rain; witnessing children’s reactions when we give them milk to drink at farmers’ markets; and the pride in producing New Zealand’s best milk!”
Another, perhaps more unexpected perk of the work, says the dairy boss is “being nuzzled by the cows” while strolling through their paddock. The cows (Jersey ones, obviously) are all named, and each one has their own quirks and personality. Take Ella, for instance, who refuses to advance to the rotary to be milked without first getting a scratch (“I have tried to reward her for months with a scratch once she’s already in place instead—we’re slowly getting there”), or Whir, who is “nearly always first in the shed and ducks under the bale gates to secure her number one spot”. “Then there is Gill,” John adds, “who waits until she is on the other side of the rotary before she kicks the cups off. She in not on the favourites list.”
Jersey cows not only produce milk with up to 18 percent more protein and 20 percent more calcium than other breeds, but, John says, are better looking, gentler, friendlier, and even have a reputation for sulking. Their milk is also high in omega 3s and A2 protein.
The Vospers have been working their Matamata land for more than a century, and Jersey Girl Organics marks their fifth generation in the industry.
“The most rewarding thing, definitely, is working with family,” says John, “and the most challenging thing, is also working with family! It can be difficult to separate business from family life.”
The family must, I suspect, feel a great connection—and responsibility—to the land.
“Yes, it is home,” John says. “There is family history that gives you a real sense of belonging. Some people see it as sentimentality that gets in the way of sound business judgement. Given the small size of our farm, the sensible business decision would have been to sell up and move to a bigger operation, but there is that sense of responsibility to be able to give the next generation the opportunity to live and work here.”
Being organic brings obvious satisfaction, but what are the biggest hurdles?
“Hours spent mulching blackberry knowing that there is a spray that would kill it once and for all can make you wonder about the decision to farm organically, but just a glance at the pasture is enough to reaffirm that we are on the right track. Because we rely on natural processes, we need to be proactive. For example, weed control starts with grazing management months before the weeds would appear and animal health starts before the animal is born.”
On average, each Kiwi gets through around two litres of milk per week, which amounts to more that 23,000 tonnes of plastic bottles each year. Jersey Girl Organics’ eco-credentials are shored up even further thanks to their facilities that allow for folk to top up their milk supply in reusable glass bottles.
Cattle and dairy farming have come under intense scrutiny in recent years owing to the likes of their contribution to climate change and water degradation, and I ask John if he feels enough is being done to tackle such pollution issues within the industry. He believes significant improvements have been made.
“Firstly, the focus was on managing dairy effluent, and in recent years it has been on nutrient management to improve water quality. Now farmers are having to adapt to climate change to not only reduce emissions but also build resilience in their farm system so they can withstand droughts, storms, pestilence and so on. There are those visionary farmers who have led the way but there are those few who wait until they are forced to change.”
John says that reluctance to change is often the result of economics rather than disdain for the environment, though does acknowledge that “there are farmers who deliberately abuse and neglect their responsibility as guardians of the land and only see it as a commodity to be used”. However, he does also lament prevailing attitudes to his profession, comments such as “he’s just a farmer” cut deep.
“Farming today requires that a diverse range of skills is used to manage a business,” he continues. “It is dependent on weather, exchange rates, and market prices, while navigating increased compliance requirements around employment, animal welfare, health and safety, and the environment. Farmers take pride in their livestock and the land that they farm.”
A Day in the Life of a Dairy Farmer
John says that a typical weekday begins with “5:30am espressos!”
Cows taken to be milked between 6am-8am
From 6am, the pasteurising plants must be warmed–up and prepped
Cows are shut away and fences put up for the next day
Calves are moved
Milk must be bottled and packaged and loaded into refrigerated trucks for distribution
Clean up and prepare for the next day
Cows are milked again between 3:30pm-5:30pm
Put the cows away, feed the dogs
And as for the weekends? “We juggle milking the cows and attending five farmers’ markets!”
Jersey Girl Organics are found at the following farmers’ markets: Parnell, Grey Lynn, Catalina Bay, Hamilton and Tauranga. For more information, visit jerseygirlorganics.co.nz