The snow-capped mountain ranges, green undulating hills and stunning crystal clear volcanic waters, make the North island of New Zealand a popular location for blockbuster films including the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The majestic views provide a picture perfect setting for one of the top herds in the Southern hemisphere-Ferdon Genetics. Home to a mecca of bovine superstars, including Ferdon Comerica Viyella, the five time Champion of the New Zealand Dairy Event (NZDE).
Don Ferguson had a vision. As a young man, in 1949 he registered the Ferdon prefix – a name which has become synonymous throughout the dairy industry, not just in New Zealand, or in the Southern hemisphere but throughout the world. Together with his wife June, his love for the Jersey breed was undeniable, a trait and enthusiasm he fervently passed on to further generations of the Ferguson family.
Recognised for his services to cattle breeding and the dairy industry, Don received the Insignia of a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit, in the 2010 Queens Birthday Honours List.
In a career filled with highlights and accolades, Don’s 1975 visit to the Royal Show in England, left him less than impressed with Queens Windsor show team- an opinion he voiced with the Herd manager. Startled by the forthright views of a travelling Kiwi, it was left to Ben Cooper, of the British Noremead herd, who had visited and described the Ferdon herd as perfection to diffuse the situation – the rest they say is history.
In 1976 Ferdon Harvest Victor and Ferdon Glens Coronet were exported to Windsor, and in 1977, Don’s 17 year old son, Warren flew with Ferdon Glens Crocus and Ferdon Glens Hauty as they made their way to join them at Windsor. These families continue to feature throughout the Queens’ Jersey herd today.
Remaining firm friends, Don owned ten head of cattle in New Zealand with Her Majesty, and were one of a handful of people that could speak to her directly. Since Don’s passing in February this year, the Queen has spoken to Warren and an agreement has been made to continue the partnership.
For the past 15 years the Ferdon herd and farm has been owned and managed by Don and June’s son Warren and his wife Michelle with their son Corey working alongside them for the last 6 years.
Warren and Corey do the majority of milking and general farm work, whilst Michelle does calf rearing and relief milking. Their two other sons Josh and Ash, also help out as and when needed and provide valuable back up.
“Showing is in my blood,” says Warren, acknowledging a competitive streak, which their son Corey also expresses through his love of adrenalin sports. “Competing at 5-6 shows allows us to showcase what we have and also steers us in the direction we want the herd to take and what bulls we use.”
“One of the biggest attractions of showing is being able to compete against like-minded people, and make some great friendships along the way,” reveals Warren.
Having judged extensively, Warren’s highlights include being the first New Zealander to be asked to judge the Jerseys at International Dairy Week and second to judge two breeds, officiating the Jerseys in 2012 and the Ayrshires in 2016, and seeing those cows go through to win Supreme in their respective ages. “We like good cows, regardless of what breed they are” says Warren, “we want balanced, clean boned easy managed cows, but refuse to sacrifice type.”
A large percentage of New Zealand’s 5 million dairy cows are bred using the Breeding Worth (BW) system. BW is New Zealand’s industry index which theoretically ranks cows and bulls on their ability to breed profitable and efficient replacement dairy heifers, BUT it is a system which divides the nation! It penalises the majority of type orientated breeders and leaves the vast majority of them with a negative BW for their herd, regardless of their production. Likewise the majority of international high ranking sires, which have a BW, are in fact negative. “Shottle was widely regarded as one of the best bulls of our era, yet he was always negative for BW,” explains Warren shaking his head.
Winning Grand Champion Jersey at the NZ Dairy Event for five successive years and collecting the silverware for Supreme in 2012, 2015 and 2016, Ferdon Comerica Viyella is certainly a once in a lifetime cow, winning as a calf right through to an aged cow.
Originating from Jersey Island, Viyella’s pedigree can be traced back nineteen generations to the world renowned Lady Viola, who was considered the most “perfect Jersey ever seen”. Champion on Jersey Island in 1904 and 1905 her success continued in England, where she won her class at the Royal show on three consecutive occasions for Mr Alexandra Miller-Hallet. She was then sold to
America for £1400. The family is still winning 110 years on!
Enabling her to calve in every year for the shows, only since they retired her have they been able to capitalise on her potential through embryo transfer. With pregnancies by Colton and Premier, and daughters already on the ground by Blackstone, they hope that future progeny can emulate the success of her Tequila daughter that was Junior Champion at the NZDE in 2016. Her son Ferdon Sultan Volcom has done a great job within the herd and just recently an agreement has been reached with WWS NZ to market the bull domestically.
In calf to Applejack and now 8 years old Viyella has officially been retired. “Once she won the Aged cows, there was nothing left to prove, she achieved all we could have ever asked of her, but we will miss her on the team,” says Warren.
“It’s just an incredible cow family to work with,” says Warren. “One of 11 Excellent sisters – 7 of which were natural calves Comerica Viyella completes ten generations of Excellent cows, cows with big square open frames, who have a will to work and personalities you can’t help but admire.” Her grand-dam Ferdon Eves Viyella surpassed 20 years of age, and her dam Ferdon Follys Viyella EX, cuts a youthful figure for a 12 year old cow.
What is it that makes Ferdon Comerica Viyella unique? “We all say she’s half human,” laughs Warren. “Her incredible nature and personality shine through.” Warren recalls how she is a cow who would spend periods of the shows “free stalled”, meaning free to wander off the pack and take a drink or stroll as she desired. Warren recalls how someone once yelled at a show there was a cow loose at the trough, Dean Fullerton replied, “Oh it’s just Viyella,” she had her drink, came back in and took her place in the pack. “She is just Viyella, unique and part of the family!”
MILK INDUSTRY IN NEW ZEALAND
In a country where the 5 million dairy cows outnumber the total population, the export market for dairy products is increasingly important. Ranking #8 on the list of top milk producing countries in the world, New Zealand is a global powerhouse in the dairy sector. Over 95% of all milk products are exported and the dairy industry accounts for New Zealand’s largest export sector-resulting in export sales of over NZ$ 12.4 Billion last year.
NZ milk producers are paid by kilogram of milk solids (kg). Milk prices aren’t determined in advance.
Final pay-outs for annual production come in June, July and October and rely heavily on the price
and demand for whole milk powder throughout the year.
At the beginning of the 2016-2017 milk season, Fonterra set an opening price of NZ$3.50/kg. Gradual increases by Fonterra to the forecast farm-gate milk prices, predict a final price this year of approximately NZ$6.00/kg.
To many, the concept of grazing cows 365 days a year seems unachievable, but that is exactly how the majority of New Zealand dairy farms operate, taking full advantage of a rotational paddock system. Calving over a nine week period (three oestrus cycles), their system is built around producing milk when grass production is at its peak.
When there is too much pasture to graze effectively, they make silage which is then used to buffer feed cows when grass is limited. Cows calve outside all year round. The calves come in for the first few weeks, but depending on the weather, they can be outside from 6 weeks of age in paddocks.
Transitioning to feeding on a trailer in mobs of up to thirty, the calves are segregated according to breed. The Jerseys struggle to take the same volume of milk as the Holstein or Ayrshire calves without a detrimental effect and fed 5 litres a day versus 6. From a young age, calves receive routine vaccinations and worming which are paramount.
“Prevention is certainly better than cure,” says Warren when referring to diseases like Black Leg, Tetanus, and Leptospirosis. Facial Eczema, is commonly associated with Southern hemisphere farming. It can be fatal and is caused by a toxin produced by the spores of fungus which can grow within pastures, humid conditions can make the threat of it worse, and daily spore counts are published to advise farmers of the risk. Drenching with Zinc oxide and minerals helps minimise the risk, but treating with zinc can make an animal deficient in copper, a consideration they watch.
The De Laval 24 point herringbone parlour is central to the farm. Cows at Ferdon can walk up to 4km a day, maintaining the network of cow tracks is crucial to preventing feet and lameness associated problems.
Initially founded as a Jersey herd, Holsteins and Ayrshires were introduced to the farm at a later date, as they expanded in cow numbers and increased production.
Although Jerseys make up two thirds of the herd, Warren and Corey particularly admire the Gloss family, within their Ayrshire herd, and have enjoyed show successes with several of their Holsteins.
Ferdon Shottle Chi EX won 1st 4 year old in the Holstein and All Breeds classes at Waikato Show in 2016, and they are excited about the future of Ferdon Jay Jay VG-85 2yr, sired by Pinetree Sid, who was 2 nd 2 Year old and crowned Intermediate Best Udder at the recent NZDE.
Their Jersey success isn’t just limited to the Viyellas, other top cow families include the “L” family (Lornas) the “C” family (Connies) and the “B” Family (Brighteyes). Together with the Viyella line, these four families have been at Ferdon since Don registered the prefix 60 years ago.
When Warren and Michelle took over the farm, they switched to using more North American bloodlines. “We felt we were getting too intense with our own Ferdon bloodlines,” says Warren, “the direction of the herd changed, bringing more size and increased production- a move we have not lived to regret.” Cited as one of the most perfect cows he ever saw, the 3X All-Canadian Duncan
Belle can be found in the pedigree of Ferdon Mana Belle, (3 rd Aged cow NZDE 2017) a family establishing itself well at Ferdon.
Regardless of colour or breed, the cows have to be good. No excuses are made or tolerated for those who fail to meet the expectations at Ferdon.
The foundations which the late Don Ferguson laid for Ferdon Genetics have been in the capable hands of Warren and Michelle for some considerable time now. With subsequent generations displaying that same passion, enthusiasm and zest for life, there is unquestionably a lasting legacy that will continue to flourish in future years.
- Located in Otorohanga, North Island, New Zealand
- Owned by Warren &Michelle Ferguson with Corey Ferguson working alongside them for the last 6 years
- 135 ha (335 acres) including 6-8 ha Maize
- 360 Milking herd (approximately 2/3 Jersey and the remainder Holsteins/Ayrshires)
- 180 EX and 150 VG cows
- Average Production: 2X 4,500kgs, 5.5%F 4.0%P 285 days
- Grass based system- supplemented with Grass silage, Hay and Palm Kernel Extract (PKE)
- Current sires: Jersey-Applejack, Blackstone, Celebrity, Colton, Premier and Tequila
Holstein-Gold Chip, Meridian, Mogul, Seaver, Sid and Windbrook
Ayrshire- Burdette, Dreamer and Jumper