Inside Our Farm Gates

 Origin Earth core values are sustainability and traceability

We regularly receive questions about our farmers and their farming practices. Here we have taken those questions to create a resource so that you have a better understanding of just how dedicated these people are to animal welfare and environmental matters and the reasons we chose them as our milk suppliers. As you will read both of our framers are passionate about what they do.

Are the farmers you source your milk from required to follow certain practices and meet particular ethical standards?
Yes. Our farmers have been chosen because we believe they practice ethical standards. We collect milk from two farms – Plantation Road Dairies and Oakdale Holstein – and retain all our products as single farm origin. Both of our farmers fully feed their cows to their genetic potential producing over 50% more milk than the national average. We and our farmers believe the underfeeding of dairy cows is a huge animal welfare and environmental issue.

Are the cows given any chemical or antibiotic treatment? If so, what are the stand down times, if any, in place for milk from cows treated?
Yes, our farmers will treat a cow if required. Any cow treated will have its milk withheld for the treatment days and then an additional withholding period as specified by the manufacturer. Due to the size and nature of the herds each farmer handles these treatments slightly differently.

Plantation Road Dairies (Farm identification PD on the batch label)
This is a large farm and the cows are run in two herds. Herd 1 contains the cows that are producing the highest quality of milk, this is the herd Origin Earth gets their milk from. Herd 2 is still of NZ (Fonterra) dairy supply standard, it is just where the slightly lower quality cows are run.

Milk quality is affected by lots of things such as age, late lactation or somatic cell count. Herd 2 is also where any cow that has had any sort of treatment is run once out of the withholding period. This farm also runs an on-farm lab to test the milk to insure the correct treatment is used or if in fact is required at all. The cow treatment plus withholding period is carried and then the cow goes into Herd 2. 

Oakdale Holstein (Farm identification OH on the back label)
This herd is only 160 cows and Grant and Bridgit Gibson are outstanding farmers and rarely ever need to treat any cow for anything. Cows like people generally only require some form of treatment when under stress. The biggest cause of stress in dairy cows in NZ is underfeeding. As already stated, both our farmers fully feed their animals.

Are herbicides used on the farms? E.g. glysophate?
Yes, our farmers use herbicides as part of re-grassing which is usually a ten-year cycle on the milking platform. They will also use it on their cropping support land. The biggest problem with glysophate is its mis-use. The presence of it in our food chain is more likely to be from vegetable crops (potatoes, tomatoes, onions) which are sometimes sprayed preharvest to raise sugar levels. Some contractors will do it to silage crops pre-harvest to increase the sale value. These practices put it directly in the food chain.

What is the expected milking life of the cows?
The national average is around five years which we and our farmers feel is too short because most animals don’t stop growing until they are seven years old or have reached their genetic potential One thing is sure they last a lot longer if they have been well fed. Oakdale Holstein have a 15 and 17 year-old girls who are still producing. 

What happens to the bobby calves from these farms?
Plantation Road Dairies rear all the dairy heifers and have standing orders for the bulls and dairy beef calves. They also have a dedicated calf rearing lady Stephania. She is also the farm AI technician and proudly claims the calves from conception.

Oakdale Holstein rear every single calf born and sell some as weaners and others on demand. 

What is biologically farming/soil management?
Biological farming and soil management is about using whatever tools are available to achieve nutrient dense food and the outcome of this is a high Brix. In ours and our farmers opinions the emphasis of biological farming and soil management is to produce high quality food and not turning a blind eye to the soil and environment. Our farmers believe strongly in producing high quality nutritious milk, while balancing it with a low environmental impact.  We firmly believe that the foods we eat today have a lot to answer for health issues we struggle with e.g. cancer and arthritis. Origin Earth’s award-winning products are part of the proof that milk produced under a biological system is superior.

Kevin Davidson of Plantation Road Dairies makes the following comments about his farm:
Plantation Road Dairies has been farming in Central Hawke’s Bay for over 17 years and over that time has modified its plan to both adopt new technology and innovation along with best practise.

We started out under a conventional fertilizer system on the dairy farm, but currently run a biological system. We are continually modifying our system as money and ideas allow to fit what we are trying to achieve.

Currently we have lowered our nitrogen use to around a third of what we used to use and that is done in liquid form over 11 applications throughout the season. So, application rates are very low by industry standards and with different forms of nitrogen products to help achieve the outcome we are looking for. In addition to the nitrogen mix we also apply humates, carbohydrates, trace minerals etc. This inclusion allows the plants to take up nutrients more readily; a good example of this is we can get a Brix response within an hour of application. I have come to the realisation that the proof of a soil test is in the tissue sample, if the tissue is lacking the soil is not in balance after all the NPK part of a tissue sample only makes up around 5%, 95% is about sugar production hence the Brix test which is all about photosensitises or plants producing sugar.

When we converted Plantation Road Dairies to biologically farming, we chose to put in monitoring bores to measure nitrates, these have been pumped at regular intervals by HBRC staff. These bores over the years have indicated that we don't have anything like the effect that is often attributed to dairy farms in general, so our biological system and other mitigating strategies are working.

To give you an idea of some of our mitigating strategies:

  • 100% of the farm is sown in deeper rooting Fescue grass;

  • Our farm is also planted in Plantain and extensive clovers;

  • Use of maize silage etc. throughout the season dilutes animal proteins;

  • Regular small amounts of nitrogen are used in an appropriate form for the time of year;

  • Folia spray is used as opposed to conventional spray;

  • Humates and carbohydrates are used to aid nutrient up take;

  • Our cows feed on a feed pad twice a day in wet cold months; and

  • There are lots and lots more worms in the soil including some introduced.

Plantation Road Dairies milks around 2200 cows with young stock included and supply 93% of the cows feed meaning we are in full control of cow diets something I take seriously all on our 1071 hectares. This farming system is sustainable and conforms with current environmental plans and I'm sure along with new technologies as they come available this will only improve.

Also, stock have been excluded from waterways for several years now.

Rural Delivery Stories

Over the years TVNZ’s Rural Delivery programme has produced a number of stories about us, our farmers and the biological approach to farming – which is what our farmers do. We have listed these stories below and linked them to the Rural Delivery site where you can either watch or read the story.

Plantation Road Dairies – March 2018

A Biological Approach to Improving Soils – May 2014

Gunson Sheep Milking – May 2014

Origin Earth Cheese & Yoghurt – August 2011

Armitage Biological Dairy – June 2010