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  • Rights: DairyNZ and The University of Waikato Te Whare Wānanga o Waikato
    Published 15 April 2021 Referencing Hub media

    Dairy farming research comes with some interesting challenges. In this video, we hear some of the challenges faced by farm manager Ben Fisher, along with the scientists who work with Ben.

    Questions for discussion:

    How do the dairy research experiences differ for:

    • farmers
      • research farm managers like Ben
      • liaison experts like Kieran
      • research scientists like Elena?
    • Ben talks about the need for accuracy. What measures are Ben and Elena taking to ensure the robustness of their data?


    Ben Fisher

    For any farmer who’s wanting to do well with farming and progress their business, I think it’s really important to be up to date with the research. The latest research is our latest understanding and knowledge of what farming practices work and also what doesn’t work. You can implement those strategies or even stop doing things on your farm that may be impacting on your performance and production and potentially animal health – all those factors.

    Kieran McCahon

    Farmers have a huge role in driving the questions that we want to answer within science. They are the ones on the ground doing the actual work, so it’s really important that the thoughts of farmers find their way into research so that we’re answering the questions that farmers need to know.

    I am the link between the scientists and the farmer, so you can’t just take pure science and tell a farmer to apply it. You need to be able to fit that within a system and see how it works.

    Dr Elena Minnée

    The extension service will often hold a discussion group with farmers, and I find that’s an absolute goldmine for information and there’s a lot of very forward-thinking farmers that try these things before we do.

    Ben Fisher

    We’re at Scott Farm. Being a research farm, we still do the same things as a commercial farm – so we still feed cows, we still milk cows, feed out – a lot of those same jobs. We also do a few extra things when it comes to doing the research. So we use the cows and the land to conduct research trials into farm management practices, feeds, that kind of stuff, and how that impacts milk production for farmers.

    Working on a research farm comes with different problems – the logistical side of it and also the data recording side of things. Accuracy is really important for us, because with research, we need to have accuracy to be credible. So there’s more paperwork and a bit more data recording that goes on. We have a large number of herds here rather than one or two large herds. We also have a lot of smaller paddocks, so that creates logistics around getting all the cows to the shed, not mixing herds, putting the cows in the correct paddock.

    That means we can manage them under different management practices and compare them under the same climate, on the same farm, under the same staff, milking shed – so we can see how that impacts on their production and what impact that would have for farmers if they were to implement that on their farm.

    Dr Elena Minnée

    When we’re doing research programmes, the number of animals we need does depend on the question that we’re asking. So when I’m doing my work with methane, we’re looking to find solutions that are going to give us a reasonable difference. There’s no point investing money in something that’s only going to give me a tiny difference, so I might only need six animals.

    But at the moment, I’m looking at how feeding plantain might affect milk composition, so I have two herds of around 25 cows per herd – so quite small, but it’s enough for me to see if there’s any differences in the milk composition. And the poor farm managers at the research farm have to deal with tiny little breaks and tiny herds.

    The challenges with any research, I guess, is making sure that you have conducted the research in enough seasons and enough environments – particularly forage-based research where, in any one year, you might get a different nutritive value of the forage depending on how it’s being grown. It does mean that you need to conduct a study in various different regions, and you might have to do it over several years. So that just makes the scale of the study quite large. And because we’re needing to understand the processes at an animal level, at the soil level, at the plant level, it’s really conducting all those experiments on those components individually to understand how things are working but then also pulling them all together, so when you are looking at the whole system, how things are operating and affecting each other part of that system and then again understanding how translatable the work that we’re doing can be onto a commercial farm.

    Ben Fisher
    Kieran McCahon
    Dr Elena Minnée
    Grace Gibberd


    This resource has been produced with the support of DairyNZ.

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