Words by: Chris Neill

Profitable dairy farming is a priority for Keith and Jenny Trotter. Rye/clover pasture growing 14 tonnes DM/ha is the foundation of their production, supplemented annually with 300t of palm kernel and 400t of maize silage.
Their 150ha farm milks 400 cows to produce 175,000kg MS and is supported with lease blocks of 100ha and 30ha to raise replacements and run a small beef unit. The soils, which are predominantly Warkworth clay, have been extensively drained. It is the combination of these soils, wet winters, and the establishment of facilities for feeding cows off pasture that has encouraged and allowed the transition to autumn calving.
The 2019/20 drought has impacted cow condition in this their first season of autumn calving, which follows a 400+ day lactation to make the transition from spring calving. Through the drought, input costs have been held to budget, milk production is down by 10% and there is a small feed deficit carried forward. Considerable oversowing and undersowing have been required to restore pastures, and the farm water supply has shown itself to need upgrading to cope with such extreme dry conditions.
The facilities Keith and Jenny have established are key elements to their winning the DairyNZ Sustainability and Stewardship Award and WaterForce Wise with Water Award in the Auckland 2020 Ballance Farm Environment Awards.
Their 11-year-old 34-aside herringbone shed and the three-year-old feed pad, both designed to handle 400 cows, are connected to a two-year-old effluent management system. The effluent system features one lined pond with 90-day storage capacity, which receives effluent from both cowshed and feed pad through a twin weeping wall system. The pond water is irrigated to 35ha and is estimated to reduce the need for purchased N by 60kg/ha/yr on that area. In addition, the solids behind the weeping wall are spread 6 monthly – having twin walls allows for distribution to be timed with soil condition and other farm work. Positioning of the facilities means gravity is a primary mover of material and, to Jenny and Keith’s relief, the system has proved to be odourless at their family home. Keith attributes the system’s success to the good advisers and construction team who put it together.
Keith and Jenny have been on their farm for 27 years. Keith grew up on the farm next door and Jenny is a Warkworth girl. Farming, family, and community are the key focuses of their lives, and having their son David joining them to work on the farm is hugely satisfying. As proud dairy farmers and stewards of the land they have no grand conservation plan, rather a sense of wanting to do the right thing.
Social media gave Jenny a view of the negativity directed at farming, which she is unhappy about. Jenny and Keith’s response is to counter with positivity and open their farm to scrutiny of local, national, and international visitors and to tell them what they do in their business and why. School groups and Fonterra “Open Gate” days with 500 people have been some of the highlights and opportunities to share and encourage understanding of the systems and investment they have made to be economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable. Participating in the Ballance Farm Environment Awards reflects their desire to promote dairy farming positively. It also came from observing Keith’s brother who entered the previous year, and encouragement from their banker to showcase the effluent management system.
In the early years on their farm Keith planted poplar poles to slow down ground movement and minimise soil erosion on steep sidlings. This advanced to fencing waterways then planting low-production gullies and wetland. Enthusiasm to do more has grown along with these early plants, helped in one year by access to free plants from Te Arai nursery. Jenny and Keith like what the planting contributes to their property and to Jenny’s aspiration for it to be beautiful, with the increase in native bird numbers adding to their enjoyment. Keith collected manuka seeds and surprised himself by growing seedlings that were planted on the farm but suffered heavy losses due to drought stress. However, it was sufficiently rewarding that he plans to grow more and include them in the 1ha gully identified for the next round of planting. After that it will be strategic shade planting around the farm, while recognising pasture production as the key driver of their business.
Keith and Jenny farm for profit and achieve this by adding value to their property with facilities that protect their environment, planting that protects soil and enhances the farm’s aesthetic value, finding personal satisfaction in doing the right thing, and generating positive financial returns. This encourages them to present themselves proudly as dairy farmers making a worthwhile contribution to their family and community.


• Farm owners: Jenny and Keith Trotter, Matakana
• 400 cows, 175,000kg MS, transitioning to autumn calving
• Milking platform: 150ha, two lease blocks 100ha, 30ha
• Pasture: 14t DM/ha
• Supplement: 300t palm kernel, 400t maize silage