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DAIRY PEOPLE » Ross Soffee

NZ Dairy

Finding pleasure on the farm Russell Fredric “Choose a job you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life,” said Confucius. Ross Soffe has extended that quote a bit to be something like, “Have something in your job that gives you pleasure, and you’ll be happy to turn up to work.” He and his wife, Joanne, have a 160 hectare dairy farm about halfway between Waitara and Hawera. Most of his herd of 350 or so are friesians, but about 25 per cent of them are shorthorn, and these are what gives him the pleasure. It’s not that he doesn’t like friesians, but, “I like looking at my red cows. They are a point of difference and another reason to go to the shed every morning. Life would be boring if everything was the same.” Shorthorns are reckoned to be the oldest cattle in New Zealand, having been brought here by Samuel Marsden in 1814 as a dual purpose breed supplying good milk and meat, and useful as draught animals, too. They were the most popular breed until the 1920s when jerseys took over. For the Soffes, it all started about 20 years ago. “We wanted to find a rare breed with still enough

numbers to make things easy and to fit in with the friesians. I saw an ad that said shorthorns had a high protein to fat ratio. That swung the decision and we have been involved ever since.” Soffe says they are an easy management cow, and especially, easy calving. They have good feet, are robust, and have low health costs. “He hasn’t counted exactly, but believes there are fewer lame cows, fewer have mastitis, and there are fewer empties. They are good-size cows and produce much the same as the friesians. We started showing them that first year at the Stratford show, and are still showing them now.” The Milking Shorthorn Association was formed in 1913. The association breed development scheme has been going for 30 years, and is run by Semex. Semen is available from bulls in New Zealand, and also Australia, Canada, the UK, the USA and Scandinavian countries. This leads to greater genetic gain. “In the last 30 years since the Association has been in place we have made huge gains in production and conformation, especially in the last 10 years.” The Soffes had been farming a smaller property further north. Their son, Caleb, and daughter, Ashleigh, both farm and that property would have

Ross Soffe, who farms 160ha between Waitara and Hawera, with his friesian and shorthorn herd. been too expensive for either son to buy them out, so they moved to near Tariki, a larger property and more suitable, they thought, as a nearing-retirement option. They quickly discovered that running it themselves with one other staff member was pretty challenging, so now have two full timers on board. “We’re positive. We’re in a pretty good position, but you still wake up at 3am and think, ‘What’s

going on here?’ What’s happening just now is quite sad, and I can’t see things coming right very soon. We’re still optimistic it will improve to a manageable level. “Having the shorthorns is beyond a hobby – it’s a commercial enterprise. The cows are all run in one herd and all treated the same. But … culling decisions? I may be a bit more lenient with the shorthorns. I have lots of favourites among them.”

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Nz dairy 2016 Autumn Issue  
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