Nourishing calves with NAIT

Date 26 November 2019

Genna Harris and her family raise calves as one part of family farming business on the southern edge of the South Island.

She and her husband BJ farm between the Mataura River and the beach in Southland, and raise calves in tandem with BJ’s parents on the neighbouring home farm.

“It’s a family affair. My husband, my parents-in-law, my kids -- Hunter is 11 and Jessica is five -- we all work together. It wouldn’t work without all of us.”

It’s an enterprise that has evolved over decade when traceability has become the bedrock of the farming sector and New Zealand’s biosecurity has been tested by the arrival of unwanted diseases such as Mycoplasma bovis.

Genna is demonstrating how good processes and NAIT traceability protect the health of her calves and her farming business. “We’re really clear about the NAIT process and the biosecurity implications of moving stock.”

In early spring Genna’s four-day old calves arrived from dairy farms in the area, NAIT tags in their ears and their movements all recorded. “We’ve got good systems in place and it’s really working well. We have all our movements recorded by the time they come through our farm gate,” Genna says.

“When NAIT first came out we were rearing 1400-1600 calves and we wondered how we were going to cope! Getting the relationship with the dairy farmers right and making sure calves were tagged and registered. Because it’s such a busy time of year for everyone, quite honestly farmers working seven days a week were finding the whole NAIT process a chore that sometimes it just didn’t get done.”

The calves arrive to a comfortable life of eating and sleeping. “There are never more than 12 to a shed – you risk getting disease if you overcrowd them – and of course no one enters our sheds from another farm, so disease risk is low.”

“Fresh bedding is a big part of our system. They get warm, dry bedding of woodchips that BJ makes on-farm in his chipper. And we recycle the old chips by spreading them on the paddocks.”

To make sure they know where each calf has come from Genna has always used a secondary colour tag. “We have a colourful crop of bobbies – everyone has their favourite colours – so we’ve got a whole lot of blue and green tags running round the property.”

The dairy farms that supply us keep the calves penned separately before they’re picked up, and we’ve always double-tagged. “That’s to double-safe ourselves. It goes in the left ear and every supplier we pick up from has a different colour. So even if an animal loses a NAIT tag, we still know where it’s from.

“Even before NAIT we used colour tagging in case we got rotavirus or any other disease. If we did get a disease on the farm, straight away we could stop picking up calves, alert the suppliers, and contain any virus until it was treated.”

The movement recording system has evolved too, Genna says.

“Last season we were getting the dairy farmers to transfer the calves through to us, but this year we got the Tru-Test Data Link app and it’s really easy to do – the wand reads the tag, the data is Bluetoothed through the phone and onto the Tru-Test app, then we hit the NAIT button and the data is automatically sent to NAIT. It has been a godsend.”

“It means we can drive home with a clear conscience. And with Mycoplasma bovis about, you need that clear conscience – having them in the system and traceable is reassuring,” she says.

Jenna Harris quadpic

HOUSE OF CALVES: Genna Harris and daughter Jessica make sure the four-day-olds arrive to a comfortable life of eating and sleeping. “There are never more than 12 to a shed. Fresh bedding is a big part of our system."