The Brow Dairies
Putting their family first was one of the main reasons dairy farmers Russell and Charlotte Heald changed their system to once-a-day milking at the start of 2017. They’re also now converting to an organic system and love how First Light Wagyu fits into that story.
They say it's a cliché, but work-life balance and overall wellbeing are the reasons behind many of their decisions on the farm.
The couple milks 430 cows on Dunkeld, their 170ha (effective) property near Norsewood, and Fenwick, a 128ha runoff under the Ruahine Range. They were bought in 2013 by Charlotte's family and are farmed in an equity partnership with her parents, Jerry and Diana Greer.
They target 140,000kg of milksolids per season and have lower maintenance, running and labour costs because they’re only running the shed once a day.
About 60% of their herd go to Jersey sires for replacements with sexed semen and the rest are given Wagyu semen and then tailed with a Wagyu bull.
"Everything can be reared and there are no bobby calves. It means every aspect of our business has a purpose, as well as it being an ethical thing. There is more value in those calves now.”
For several years, Russell and Charlotte were rearing all Wagyu calves (140-150) to 90kg. But with organic milk worth more to sell, they’ve recently chosen to only rear the first 40 AI Wagyu calves and sell everything else at between four and 10 days old within the First Light Producer Group.
“We’re getting an extra 45c for our organic milk so it makes more sense to send that milk away than give it to the calves. That’s an incentive payment for three years. Once we’re fully organic that goes up to $8.75.
“It’s also about reducing the amount of stock on the runoff to allow for the extra support for the organic programme, especially in a dry season. Were trying to make everything homegrown.”
The Healds' company bought shares in First Light in 2016. Charlotte says it was a natural progression for them - her parents are original First Light shareholders and are strong supporters of the Wagyu breed.
“It also provided the opportunity to create extra revenue by putting Wagyu over our heifers,” says Russell. “Then we went from that to using Wagyu semen over the cows we didn’t want to breed from. It built up from there and will probably build up again – it doesn’t matter how small our Wagyu numbers are, we are still part of the First Light family.”
Charlotte says First Light provides great networking opportunities with like-minded people, particularly at its annual Spring Muster.
“We also love the way First Light markets the product,” she says, referring to first-hand experiences while on holiday in the US. “We think they’re really good at that. The Americans love our product - they truly do. They love the attributes and the story that goes with it. We took a little photo album of our farm and showed how we live and work at home and it was really interesting for them.”
Charlotte has her own health coaching business, Wealth of Health, and the couple have three children – Isabel, 9, Henry, 7, and William, 5.