Successful operation of a family business for the Pirongia couple

Chris Poole, Waikato Bay of Plenty FMG Young Farmer of the Year. Photo / Provided

Using technology to reduce their environmental footprint and take better care of their herd is part of the daily activities of Pirongia dairy farmers, Chris and Emma Poole.

They were the first farm in the country to test the Netherlands’ new cow collar technology – Connecterra – in 2019.

Chris, the Waikato Bay of Plenty FMG Young Farmer of the Year, is convinced that technology will go a long way to improving the dairy industry.

“No one has time to be in the paddock constantly watching their cows every hour, every day of the year,” he says.

Using machine learning, Connecterra analyzes the data it collects on each cow and notifies of issues before they become visible.

“They’re on the cows 24/7, monitoring how much they’re eating, how much time they’re sitting, walking, standing – indicating health issues before they happen and before we do. saw them normally,” he said. said.

“You get a text and an app notification on your phone, and then it automatically redacts that as well, so it’s already sorted out from the rest of the crowd.

“By catching these things earlier, you can limit the antibiotics you would use to treat this animal because it’s not as sick as it would be when you would usually find it.”

The biggest help he thinks this brings is at mating time, one of the most important events in the dairy calendar, where collars can automatically find and tell you when a cow is in heat.

“Traditionally, farmers physically check their cows manually every day and you tend to get tired, fatigued and the level of accuracy goes down, so it eliminates that human error,” he says.

“Technology can completely change the job. A lot of young farmers burn out because there are so many mundane tasks, so if there is something to reduce that, it will increase the longevity the young farmer will have in this work.”

Chris and Emma are in partnership with his parents, John and Anne Poole, on the family farm.

Emma and Chris Poole.  Photo / Graeme Murray
Emma and Chris Poole. Photo / Graeme Murray

Juggling family life with their five-month-old new son, Beau, Emma is also a veterinarian for Vetora and Chris is a part-time customer success manager for Connecterra.

John and Anne are still very involved with the farm, looking after the dry cattle block and checking the dairy farm daily.

They milk 720 crossbred cows and raise 850 veal calves on 202ha on a system of five, growing much of their own feed and purchasing it for higher production per hectare, per cow.

“Our system is designed to be able to fully feed our cows every day of the year, whatever the conditions,” says Chris.

“If you get a good season and you grow more weed, you just do it cheaper. You always know how much production you’re going to do, what changes is how much it’s going to cost to do it.”

Reducing their environmental footprint and on-farm waste is a priority; they eliminated bobby calves from the breeding system altogether, adding them to the business as beef calves.

They also reduce their herd while maintaining milk production, feeding the same amount of feed to more productive cows.

“We are trying to achieve genetic gain by breeding our best cows. We have also just purchased a very high level herd, so we will be able to reduce the total number of cows we will be milking, which is the biggest thing you can do to reduce leaching of nitrates and such,” says Chris.

Small tech additions to enhance skills and personal inputs are scattered throughout their business – like a tractor GPS to ensure fertilizer is put on the areas to have the biggest impact on growth and stay ahead. away from nutrient laden areas such as catwalks and troughs.

“We just want to make sure we’re getting the most out of everything,” he says.

Chris was around 10 years old when John and Anne bought the farm in the Waikato, leaving Taranaki.

He went to Sacred Heart College boarding school in Auckland City from grade 9, a school he loved.

“It was a bit of a shock to put a country pig in town,” he laughs.

“If there was a chance to go to the farm after school or take a few days off to go to sales, I would jump on it, so they sent me there to focus on finishing my studies,” he said.

“They took me out of the distraction because they couldn’t really remove the distraction.”

An alumnus of Massey University, Chris has a bachelor’s degree in agricultural science and graduated in 2016 before returning to the family farm after his final exam.

He also started his own relief milking business while in school, to earn some extra money and meet local farmers.

He took off during his three years in college.

At one point it had 15 sheds moving and about 15 students were also moving in, taking a bit of each shed to organize.

Massey University Young Farmers was also where he and Emma, ​​then a vet student, met in 2014.

They got married just before the country went into lockdown in March 2020.

He says he always wanted to take part in FMG Young Farmer of the Year after watching it on TV and being involved with NZYF clubs since college.

He learns by talking to people, but patience is one of his weaknesses, he believes.

Making decisions quickly, however, is one of his strengths, something that works to his advantage in the contest environment.

“As much as you need to be as prepared as possible, a lot of it is out of your control and depends on what you’ve thrown in for the day.”

“There are a lot of things over the years that I have learned and learned through studying, in life and on the farm, that I took for granted or never really thought about. And then it comes up in a contest and I kind of think ‘oh I know that,'” he says.

He is looking forward to the contest, especially since Emma was one of the big finalists of 2019 and went up against her brother-in-law, Tim Dangen of Northern.

Tim Dangen (left) and Chris Poole - brothers-in-law battling for the FMG Young Farmer of the Year title.  Photo / Provided
Tim Dangen (left) and Chris Poole – brothers-in-law battling for the FMG Young Farmer of the Year title. Photo / Provided

Hoping to use his platform to bridge the rural/urban divide, Poole is already speaking to students at St Patrick’s School in Te Awamutu and Sacred Heart on their Career Days, showing how dairy farming is a great career choice. .

His lifelong goal is to create a financially and environmentally stable business, to allow some freedom to pursue some side projects they enjoy – like breeding, studs or other “fun” animal things.

To vote for Chris in People’s Choice, go to fmg.co.nz/campaigns/fmg-young-farmer-of-the-year-peoples-choice

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