Covid free calving – Graham Smith

It’s a great little country that we live in! As I watch the rest of the world struggling to cope with Covid I really do appreciate this slice of paradise.

The cows are just starting to calve and at time of writing there is plenty of grass and it has been mild weather. Cover is at 2215 kg DM/ha. Growth rate is 17 kg DM/ha/day, which is better than the budgeted 12, and the girls are at 5.2 condition score, about as good as I could want.

With only 14 frosts so far this winter the pasture is looking healthy and unburnt, which should translate into good spring growth rates. To ensure this I am about to start applying Ammo 36 at 80 kg/ha.

Five days into calving and already 25% of the herd calved! I guess I could expect that with the effect of OAD on fertility.

As usual at this time of year, I am busy fencing up new strips to plant Paulownias, and I am down to my last 40 trees to plant. It will be a relief to have that job behind me. I have, at the same time, been felling trees and carting the logs to the mill to ensure sawn timber stocks for orders. I have also been grading the dry pieces and cutting out knots and blemishes to ready them for sale. After lockdown I had a busy month catching up on wood orders and have only now caught up.

It has not been all work. Tess and I travelled to the far north in June to get in some fishing at Doubtless Bay. The weather was exceptional and I enjoyed warm weather whilst it frosted at home. Flat calm seas, good company, and plenty of fish, made for a great holiday.

We have rented the tourist accommodation out on a permanent basis due to tourism being a lame duck currently. We may stay permanently in that mode if we find it suits. Of course, that requires us to read the regulations to ensure we are good operators. Heating and insulation are the main requirements, but the buildings are relatively new, so no issues there. We will miss the variety of people that have rented over the last four years, and a lot of them have become very good friends, but one cannot have everything.

It was good to catch up with our family after the lockdown. One thing I have noticed is that there were less loopies ( tourists ) on the road as we went visiting. It is something I could never get used to, tourists stopping in the middle of the road to take photos! It has been good to see New Zealanders able to access and enjoy their own country. I know there are a lot of unemployed because of this but I am sure people will adapt into new employment. I wonder how big the outflow of NZ’ers to other parts of the world will be once this disease is brought under control?

Hope calving goes well for you all and that you have an abundance of grass.

Farming through the lockdown – Graham Smith

Strange how life can be thrown a curve ball by a bug. We went from planning a holiday to hunkering down on the farm and making face masks!

The Waikato Times ran an article from the French Embassy about travellers stranded in NZ. We replied to their request for help and then received a large number of replies from French tourists. The first group to reply got our accommodation, and they needed it. They were a family of seven camping in the South Island. They managed to catch the last ferry during lockdown and were a bedraggled and weary lot when they arrived. They stayed for the next three weeks and we accepted them into our bubble. They were keen to work to offset costs and we did a lot of firewood that I was just making no progress on. Now this year’s supply is in the shed as well as some of next year’s. Their eldest son, aged 14, was into photography and he and Tess connected. Tess lent him a camera, gave him lessons and they compared notes. When he left, he had bought the camera and I am sure that they will continue to share photos. The eldest daughter, aged 12, was an early riser and she appeared at the shed every morning to help me milk. By the end of three weeks she was helping shift the stock and feeding the dogs and ducks, and any stock work, she was there. She wishes to come back and do a calving with me, but that is for the future. The three youngest, aged 8, 10, and 11, spent their days roaming the farm, having fun as kids do. It has been a long time since my kids did that, so it was great to see them enjoying the environment.

GS French family May20

The French tourists: Aurelia, Ysee, Florian, Yris, Ylan, Yoen, and Yael.

Their parents were good company and Tess cooked them some great meals and in return they did French cooking for us. Of course, it made for great conversation around a glass of red wine. We made some good friends and have been invited to go and stay with them in the south of France. So, isolation has been enjoyable for us.

I dried the cows off on the 20th April, after a long slog juggling available feed. The paulownia prunings fed the cows for all of February and the silage was fed from the start of March to mid-April. Murphy’s Law says things go wrong when you can’t fix them. So, it was with the silage, when, with only four days of feeding left, the bearing collapsed in the wagon and I was unable to get it fixed because of lockdown. Luckily, my neighbour lent me his wagon and things got back into gear. We got some rain and then it was grass and PKE until dry off.

The season finished 14% behind last year and considering the move to OAD and the drought I have to be satisfied with that.

Currently, the cows are on an 84-day round on all grass. Average cover is 1850 kg DM/ha with growth rates at 50 kg DM/day. Condition score is about 4.8 on the cows. The heifers have been tagged and the next job is the rubberwear in the shed.

The yearlings have come through the drought in pretty good condition and it is good to be able to watch over them full time in a hard year like this. People are talking about the ’08 drought as a comparison, but I liken this to the ’77/’78 drought for harshness and length of time without rain. This drought is not quite as bad, but I certainly don’t want to see any worse!

One big job completed was pushing up and stacking all the prunings for burning, and there are some big heaps. One job for the future is to fence up the next planting strips as I have about 150 sapling paulownias to plant out. Planting will happen in June once the trees become dormant. This year only 150 to plant, but next year should be up to 500. I have started a new nursery which will supply the extra trees. Starting the new nursery was a big effort due to the drought making it difficult to establish cuttings. About 50% fried in the sun and I had to replant in April when it had cooled down. Even with irrigation the little plants struggled, but survival rates are better now. I had quite a few inquiries about planting seedlings, but few people had the right conditions to grow good trees for timber. A number of inquiries were for the ornamental types which are better sourced from commercial nurseries.

GS paulownia prunings May20

I planted 220 seedling macrocarpa in late spring and although I have released them twice there will be some grass and weed maintenance required to stop them being smothered. Also, some winter pruning will be needed for the black walnuts. Right now, I have a pruner in who has just finished giving the 6 year old pines their second lift, and is now lifting the eucalypts for the third time. I don’t look at this as an expense, but an investment for the future. I thought I could do some of that pruning myself, but there are only so many hours in the day, and to maintain the quality of the stand it needs to be done on time.

Demand for timber peaked during lockdown as people decided to build a surfboard while they had the time. Unfortunately, I was unable to supply for the very same reasons. So, frustration on both sides. At the time of writing I can now ship commercial quantities but the smaller lines I move are still restricted until Post Shop gets back into action. Still, it is good to be back in business and keeping the commercial guys supplied and their staff in jobs. Fortunately, I have plenty of timber in stock and in my drying stacks to keep everyone happy.

With tourism dying for the time being Tess and I are looking at renting our accommodation so that it gets some use. That will change the dynamics on the farm, and we will have to roll with that as it happens.

Tess has been unable to work so all her cooking skills have come to the fore. Jams, sauces, breads, and she is currently learning how to make sourdough. I, on the other hand, have to work hard to justify eating all that great tucker!!!

The big “C” and “D” – Noldy Rust

I’m not going to mention the “C” word at all as I strive to focus on something other than what has been on the minds of most New Zealanders for the past 4 or so weeks. Today is the 21st day of lockdown and once again I extol the virtues of being a person of the land, although these days for me this is a bit of a dubious title as I pursue other interests and pastimes!

I will have to mention the “D” word though, as for many of us farmers this has also been a massive deal and a very big impact on our farming business since January. In January when I wrote my last blog, I stated that it was getting dry and how we hoped for rain very soon. In JANUARY! Where are we now? Mid-April and still wanting more moisture! Not wanting to sound ungrateful, we have had a few rain events in the last 3 weeks, but crikey, they’ve truly all just been ‘a good start’! I think this year was particularly bad as rainfall in general has been below average for months now, so soil moisture levels were low going into summer. The positive earlier on was that in most cases there were good levels of supplementary feed on hand, so as we worked through February, supplements were used to push the round out and keep the cows fed until early March when we were sure that the rains would have come….This wasn’t the case for most of us and the rest is history. However, we have been in this situation many times, I’m sure most farmers can talk about the droughts of the past, the 08/09 one being the precursor to many more of varying severity over the past 10 odd years. To sum up this season, I would simply state that it’s been an expensive second half with such a prolonged period of low growth rates. So much extra feed needed to be sourced once the allocation for summer had run out. The generally favourable PKE market was tight also, meaning that returns on feeding this were diminished to a point also. However, the payout is more positive than in recent times, and the spring/early summer period was pleasant and favourable for most of us.

So, what has everyone done to manage the big dry? I guess we always have options, some more unpalatable than others, as we try to maximise our milk leaving the gate and still make money in the process. For us it was pretty clear. Extend the round and chew the farm out to minimise any rot down once it rained. Then avoid overgrazing by feeding most of the diet as supplements and holding cows on a sacrifice paddock, usually next year’s maize paddock or one earmarked for undersowing. De-stocking has to fit in there somewhere, reduce the demand and look after the animals that will be on farm next season. Our culls have all gone now, which is earlier than usual, but was the right thing to do in a year like this. The final steps for us included drying off the lighter cows, to ensure we hit condition score targets by June 1st, and regularly updating the feed budget to monitor when we need to dry off the balance of the herd. This is the last option, and final big decision to make, as we look for an outcome of condition score 4.5 plus and a cover of 2200 kg/DM/ha minimum at June 1st, whilst also making sure we optimise our profit this season.

The lower lying paddocks have bounced back now and are starting to thicken up and show promising signs of growth. However, the higher, rolling paddocks have taken a real hammering resulting in undersowing being a very good option for these. We will have to manage these paddocks carefully as we try and control the weeds that will undoubtedly try and smother out the new seedlings. I thought we’d done all the undersowing we had to do, but unfortunately, as we were spreading DAP the other day, I found some more paddocks that are more open than I wanted, so it seems I’ll need to go get some more seed and call my friendly drill man once more to just come and do a bit more. All this undersowing is another cost we’d rather not have, but having paddocks that grow weeds and summer grass is certainly not a good option for the coming season. We simply can’t afford NOT to undersow in my opinion, as long as we do it right and nurture these paddocks as the new shoots get established. Thank goodness that Farmsource and contractors are essential services!

I must say that there are some short-term benefits of lockdown as is evident by the number of chores that I’ve managed to cross off the ‘to do’ list! Realistically, I thought the ‘to do’ list would never get attended to, but alas, I ran out of excuses and somewhat reluctantly have ticked some off. When I say reluctantly, I found that it’s like so many things, once you set your mind to the task and get started, it’s not actually too bad and the outcome can be very rewarding. The absence of rugby on TV, cafes and pubs closed, and an energetic and willing 16-year-old at home, have also added some impetus and motivation towards the completion of these tasks! Bev always says the same with doing the vacuuming and the ironing. The vacuuming itself is not the issue, it’s getting the vacuum cleaner out, unwinding the cord and plugging it in that’s the issue. Same with the ironing. It’s getting started that’s the problem. Being the helpful and caring bloke that I am, I have made it my mission to be more helpful so have started setting these up for her every few days. Me being more helpful and caring is another positive outcome of the lockdown….Bev is often quite speechless at my thoughtfulness and willingness to help….

Sam is busy getting those annual jobs done prior to winter. Checking the power on the fences, dirt around troughs, finishing spraying the gorse and the drains etc. We’ve put DAP on the bulk of the farm now and just have a small area left to do. Hopefully this will boost our growth rates, with all the lovely warm rain we’re anticipating over the next few days…. What about ProGibb? Is anyone utilising this as an option right now to help reach their target cover by June 1st? I think winter grazing may be scarce and there certainly won’t be much feed around for purchase.

Just as I close and head off to set up the vacuum cleaner for the day, I’m wondering what impact the ‘C’ word (that I’m not mentioning) will have on our industry post lockdown and into the new season. The whole world is in a bit of a pickle. What will PKE availability be like, will ships be regularly available? Will other essential things, like tractor parts, minerals, penicillin, iPhones and toilet paper be readily available or will there be a wait? If so, how long for?? There is much that is unknown going forward. DairyNZ is working on our behalf to look into many of these things to try and help us prepare as an industry in order to minimise any disruption. Ag is very much at the leading edge of the economic recovery…. feels kinda good doesn’t it!? If any of you have any concerns or thoughts as to what some areas of concern may be, get in touch with DairyNZ or visit their website. They have a site there regarding the ‘C’ word and there’s valuable info there for all of us to peruse. Can’t find anything on there about toilet paper though, fortunately we still get the ‘Waikato Times’ delivered daily and that is valuable in many ways….

Take care, get into that ‘to do’ list, if you haven’t already done so, I promise, it’s well worth it!

Waiting for rain – Graham Smith

The way things are going it is going to be a long summer. Feels like it started last November! My rainfall records show last year as the third driest on record, with annual rain 300 mm below the average. Going back to 1992 my records show a year like this about every 10 years on average. Production is still at 1.12 solids per cow per day. I have destocked by culling all the empties, plus one slack-uddered, grumpy cow. I scanned the cows mid- January for an 87% 6 week in calf rate, which of course gave me an empty rate of 13%. All things considered I feel that is very good on 6 weeks of mating.

Feeding the girls in this weather has required more PKE than normal. It has been fed at 4 kg per day, a 30% blend with soy hulls. Production is 14% behind last year, so the extra pay-out will be appreciated. I have been holding off on feeding silage due to there being less in the pit than normal, but the day is looming quickly. A 36-day round is allowing for a little growth, with the last readout showing 5 kg/ha/day. The greenest paddocks are those with the most densely planted trees, because of the shading effect stopping the grass from being exposed to the sun all day.

The trees also provide extra feed at this time of year when I do my annual pruning. I wait until the cows are in the paddock then prune some, or all, of them, depending on tree density. This has deferred silage feeding and has tidied up a lot of extra growth. I prune using a pole saw. These have a reach of up to 8 metres and only cut as you draw the saw back. This makes it reasonably safe standing on the ground and being able to dodge the branches coming down. I tend to prune one side of the tree on a fence line so that I don’t have to throw branches over the fence to the cows. The other side will be done when the cows go into the paddock on the other side of the fence. At that height windy days can be a problem, causing jam ups of the blade as the branches twist. Fortunately, I have three saws so one can be used to rescue the other. The saws have extruded aluminium poles and locking pins so I can continually adjust the height required. The blades are made of hardened steel and once blunt need to be replaced, as the type of steel means they can’t be sharpened. Each blade is approximately $100 to replace.

You can get American-made Barnell pole saws at horticentres and they come in a variety of extendable sizes. These are a reasonable price and there is a good part replacement service.

The other sort I use are the Japanese Silky range, which are more expensive but of very high quality. One of their line even has resharpenable blades which is an advantage. I get these from Levin Sawmakers who have the full range. I also have a small handsaw from Silky that I carry on my belt to do smaller jobs. You don’t want your non sawing hand anywhere near these blades as they are extremely sharp as I found to my cost, when it went through a branch and tried to remove my thumb as well!!

The third brand I use is White Horse ( Baek Ma ) a South Korean product. I’m using their pole saw at the moment because it has the newest blade.

Overall, they all do a good job and which one you choose will be guided by the size you want, the availability and the price.

I must be careful when pruning due to the cows pushing up to be first to the leaves, it only takes one bully to push a cow towards you and you are at risk of being crushed. The cows love every part of a Paulownia and will eat all the leaves and the branches down to finger size (see a video of Graham’s cows at work on Paulownia prunings). When those run out, they start on the bark and are very skillful at removing every last piece of bark. All that is left are the larger branches which I push up and cart away for burning. I like to prune up to 8 metres because that lets the sun in under the tree. I have found that the grass remains palatable up to the trunk of the tree. With high pruning, as the sun moves so does the shade and the cows move with it. That removes the chance of dead areas under the trees due to trampling. The high prune also allows wind flow which stops the build-up of eczema spores.

But farming can’t be all work and I was able to get away to Whitianga for the Waterways concert. It was great to see George Thorogood and Billy Idol live. The weather was fine, too fine, it was very hot and 9 hours in the sun was hard work. The day prior to the concert we were lucky to be invited out sailing on Mercury Bay. We went to the marine reserve and with a little burley we had big snapper feeding beside the yacht. A very enjoyable day out. Getting home on the Monday was as bad as being in Auckland with traffic jammed up at Tairua and Kopu.

Last week we got away again to see Cold Chisel in concert at Tauranga, an excellent concert with more agreeable temperatures.

In the meantime, we await the rain, and a welcome respite from heat and dust.

Dry weather strategies – Noldy Rust

Welcome to 2020. The beginning of a new year and all the promises, plans and New Year resolutions that we are all bound to keep and break, some of us more one way than the other. I find the Christmas season is always so enjoyable, with so much happening throughout December, culminating in a very enjoyable family day on Dec 25th which, in itself, leads on to a period of more relaxed and unorganised types of days as we head out through the New Year period, getting confused with what day it is, and planning and having some time away, whilst clinging to each day and willing it to never end before life returns to routine again. Our Christmas day was again special, as they all are, less about gifts etc as we improve with age, but more about fun with the grandkids and sharing highlights and lowlights from the year gone by. We do share some gifts; they often range from something really handy, to ones that are of a dubious nature, and thought of solely to take the mickey out of the recipient. On the one hand, the little staircase for the chihuahua that assists her to get up onto the bed is great, but did I really need lollipops with a hideous photo of me on them, or new socks that were adorned with the same photo? Those daughters of ours are so quick to snap a photo at any opportunity they can when the poor recipient finds themselves in a less than desirable pose! Heaven forbid that you ever dose off while they’re visiting. You’ll find your photo on Snapchat, Whatsapp and Facebook, and all sorts of other social media sites!

Sam managed to get a break over Christmas, which was fantastic and well earned. I took the reins for the period and had full control of the farm and managing the daily operations, just like in the old days. Bev was as supportive as ever, farewelling me as I crawled out of bed in the morning with the typical “hate to be you” comment. She just doesn’t know what she’s missing I reckon. Relief  milking in December is probably the best time to do it, as you get up as day is breaking and it’s still relatively cool, while in the afternoons it’s usually not too hot, with the flies still out of sight, amassing their armies for the onslaught in January. Plus, there is minimal feeding out to do, no cows to draft for AI any longer, and cows coming in with nice full udders, which makes it all seem so worthwhile, especially when the payout is good.

The mid December rain enabled us to apply some nitrogen and extend the rotation meaning, as mentioned earlier, production was consistent and above average for us for this time of year. That rain, however, was pretty much all that we have had in the last month, so things are starting to look very different now. Regrowth has slowed considerably, and the amount of supplement we are feeding daily is slowly increasing. Our husk bales did the trick, as we fed lesser amounts earlier on, but now we’re into the maize from the pit again. It was well worth pulling the maize face down and rolling it prior to covering it back in November (as mentioned in a previous blog). Only a little wastage on the edges and certainly nothing like we used to get when we had a vertical face. Maize plus a PKE/DDG mix is the daily ration and keeping production at a favourable level….so far! We are following our usual summer strategy of feeding the cows a lesser amount of pasture during the day and standing them off in the shade paddock after midday, giving them the bigger allocation of pasture when it’s cooler in the evenings.

I have forgone my morning walk today to enable me to get these few words written. My Fitbit will be on strike soon if I don’t get out there and start getting those steps up. However, we have planned to get out on our bikes and explore some river trail rides today so that will give it a good workout…and me!

It’s close to 7 am now so Sam must be close to getting the last row in. I can hear poor old Mr Speckle and Blackie indicating that they need their daily slug of milk. I think Sam is in the process of weaning the poor dears. They’re only about 4 months old now and still think they need milk to support their grass intake. Their size indicates that this may not be the case. I think we need to find a far away paddock for them for a few days as this regular bellowing sounds worse than a teenager who’s had their phone taken off them! Well, almost. I think I’ll go over and do the clean-up so Sam can go move calves.

We’ll talk again soon, hopefully sharing how the rain came in the nick of time, and how the weaning process went. Until then, enjoy life on the land and whether it’s too hot or too dry, it will change.

Reducing environmental impact – analysing options and measuring results – Graham Smith

Lately there have been quite a few thunderstorms raging around. I just wish they had deposited a bit more precipitation here! Plenty of noise but not much action, just like those politicians in Wellington. Just over the hill got 55 mm in the last storm and we were lucky (? ) to catch the edge of it and get 2 mm!!! Calendar year to date is showing some of the lowest rainfall recorded since I bought the farm.

MS production is now 1.26 kg/day/cow, and I am mowing ahead of the girls to keep on top of the seed heads. Just about to take the third cut of silage off the lease block and with the underlying dry conditions I may need it sooner rather than later.

Now that AI has finished the shed routine is a lot more relaxed. I did 4.5 weeks of nominated sires, and then 12 days of SGL. Then things went quiet, so I finished with 6 weeks and two days of mating. All cows cycled naturally, and it will remain to be seen what the empty rate will be with such a short mating. The last cow is due to calve about the 25th August which will give me a tight calving.

As I mentioned in the last blog, I did Overseer FM to look at my greenhouse gas profile. This showed my biggest (and everybody else’s) problem is enteric methane and as we know there is no answer yet for that. Options for the future to reduce emissions were firstly to cut down on imported feed, then use less N fertiliser. This would probably work best as a combination of the two which could give up to a 20% reduction in GHG but about a 10% reduction in EBIT. In my OAD scenario rearing less replacements will also give a reduction of 3% in GHG and a 5% gain in EBIT. Lastly, I could plant more sidlings in trees (pines?) and this has savings in GHG of 6%, but also a loss in EBIT of up to 12%. This is based on a dairy farm case study and could be further tweaked as we learn more, and Overseer is brought up to speed.

I said last time that my water tests were in, and overall I am very happy with the quality of water leaving the farm. Of course, my knowledge of water and swamps and their effects on water quality is limited, so I talked to Bill Vant from Waikato Regional Council. He was very helpful and without his explanations I would have failed to understand my water samples at all. I guess what I am saying here is it is all very well to have samples and records, but an expert is needed to make sense of it all. Once I explained how each watercourse was made up Bill was able to say why I had those readings and what they meant.

So, my samples showed that my system of water cleaning was working, but unless you can sample the inlet and outlet it is very hard to say how well it is working. Two of my samples were from swamps cleaning a mixture of surface and ground water and they showed that effect in the readings. They showed low to moderate readings and I should be happy with those. The third sample, made up of water coming from a spring, showed high Total N, which reflected the fact that this spring is fed by water from a large catchment which is seeping N into it. This water has been cleaned by the sands it runs through and had low suspended solids and because of that the phosphorus present was in mostly in a dissolved form. This is opposed to one of the swamp samples where you could see the particulate matter (solids) floating in it and therefore the P rating represented those solids. Bill’s parting comment was to inquire if the water had been tested for E.coli. It had not, and this will be requested in the next lot of testing I do.

In summation, there were a lot of things to learn about water and the effects we, and the environment, have on it. Also, get professional advice on the results. Lastly, keep testing so that you build a profile and learn from the changes as you go. Remember that the numbers you get are only relevant to you, which is why I saw little point in printing mine.

Hope you all have a great Christmas and a successful New Year.

Mating matters – Noldy Rust

The end of another weekend is nearing, and I am home from open homes and theatre practice. Too early to relax in the chair as Sam is still milking and I get the guilts if I’m relaxing and he is working. I can’t admit to those same guilts affecting me if Bev is working around the house, but then again I really think she does enjoy dusting, cooking and vacuuming, I mean I did buy her a new vacuum cleaner and a new steamer for cooking the broccoli so she has reason to be happy….However, I do think the safest option is to disappear into my little office and tap away on my keyboard for a few minutes, writing my overdue blog. Keeps me out of harm’s way and ensures that they all think I’m doing my bit to keep the world going around!

Out on the farm, things are ticking along nicely. Mating has been the focus in the past wee while and all went according to plan. We split the herd, ran the non-cyclers with bulls, or should I call them the ‘Nontailpaintrubbedoffers’ and had great results there again. The bulls did their job and we had about 85% went up in that lot in three weeks and 94% in the main herd, giving us a submission rate of 92% in three weeks. Scratchies, tail paint, vigilance and bull power! Makes a formidable mix. The second round has just come to an end and there are only around 2% that haven’t been up. Happy with the result, should be a good calving next year. However, we can’t count our chickens yet and we still don’t know how the non-return rate will end up by the time we finish mating. Three more weeks of bulls, then two weeks of short gestation AI, will see us close to Christmas and in time to finish mating just as Sam takes his Christmas leave.

In my last blog I was contemplating the use of Red Devon bulls over the heifers after they had been up to AI. In the end, we did go down this track. Beautiful, quiet Red Devons were bought and have been running with the heifers straight after we had inseminated them with recorded Jerseys. If we get 50% in calf to AI it will be an ok result, and if all the rest calve without intervention to the Red Devons, then we’re onto a winner. Well-grown heifers, easy-calving bulls with narrow shoulders, a vigilant farmer at calving time, all should be sweet!! I’ll be singing from the rooftops if all is well next calving, and conversely be avoiding the subject if we have some issues. However, I have confidence in my research…..

Grass growth has been consistent for the last couple of months, so we cut the feeding out right back to a bare minimum. The issue with a large stack face of maize and only feeding a couple of kilos DM per cow means that the face starts heating, even when inoculated with 11C33. For this reason, we buy in a unit or two of husk bales from Gisborne. Baled maize husks with crushed grain in them. This feed has an average ME of 10, is value for money, and is good to feed with a bit of PKE or the like. It’s really only a back-up if we hit a bit of a feed pinch. We find this works well and saves wasting maize owing to heating on the face. We closed the stack down properly this year, getting a digger in to pull the face down and give the front of the stack a good roll so that we could seal it properly with tyres touching. You may think that it’s a waste getting a digger in for that??? Our theory was that wasting feed is worse and it’s just so difficult to get a stack face to seal if its vertical. I hate opening a stack and seeing heaps and heaps of mould and gunge, a bit like opening that container that’s at the back of the fridge and been there for a few months….That reminds me, when Bev is finished vacuuming, she may want to clean the fridge out. I can’t help ‘cos I’m busy….

The last of the calves have headed up the road to their Garden of Eden, rolling in grass up there at Phil’s place, and achieving massive growth rates. It’s always nice to have well-grown calves go off grazing, knowing that they have had an excellent start in their pathway to cowhood….is that even a word?? Is now I guess! We’ll be up there monthly drenching them, for the next few months anyway, as it’s nice to see them grow. I had a bit of a brilliant idea to keep the last couple of calves for veal, keep them in the shed on milk for 4-5 months then send them on their big goodbye. This meat is really tender and easy to eat as we did this a couple of times years ago. However, I’m having second thoughts now as they look so fat and strong and healthy, and they’re so friendly, and they will grow so much more if we don’t send them on their big goodbye for another 16 months at least, and plus, I kind of like them!! So does Sam. And our young granddaughter! What would I tell Ainsley if she were to ask where Mr Speckle and Blackie have gone?? Hmmmm, maybe I’m getting soft.

So, from here on forward, it’s just business as usual in the lead up to summer. SustaiN is stockpiled in the shed, to be applied when the rain is nigh. Pasture spraying has been done and the farm looks nice and clean, a real credit to Sam. The pressure is now off on the farm, but the foot’s to the floor for another month in the real estate game. Plenty of listings are awaiting buyers and enquiry are steady. Open days and viewings, appraisals and contracts, are the order of the day, for the next wee while anyway. The payout forecast is good in the short to medium term, so it’s nice to have some positive news. Not to mention the beef price!! Whoa, that’s another good reason the let Mr Speckle and Blackie live a bit longer…they might pay for my ticket to Rarotonga next year….. Hmmm, holidays are now in my mind, I better sign off, my mind is wandering.

Ciao for now… Noldy

Our season so far – Brian Frost

It’s been a long time between blogs for the Frosties – one daughter has been to the US to be a camp counselor with camp America and is now back, working hard to save for uni next year. One son has finished his degree this week! The other son has been studying with YWAM in Queenstown, been to Samoa and PNG on mission trips and is now back in Queenstown studying some more with YWAM. Our youngest is studying hard for her exams and last year at school. Mrs. Frostie’s dad got married after 4½ years of being a widower – very exciting and very happy. Mrs. Frostie has spent a few months working at 3 different companies while also trying (not overly successfully) to keep up with things on the farm, while Frostie has kept everything ticking over on the farm and on the home front – he is amazing!!

On the farm we are very grateful to have the same amazing staff stay on for another season. So nice to have stability, and people who know the farm well and are great with the animals.

The project for the moment is the feedpad. We had a feedpad made of rotten rock which has been unused for at least the last 10 years and so have decided to concrete this and get it usable again.

Things on farm have been going well with no significant flooding over the winter and so far this spring, which has made things a lot less stressful.

We are in a critical part of the season as we have many paddocks out with turnips and chicory, and we are in the middle of getting cows in calf and keeping them fed and producing well.

On the farm

There are currently 370 cows grazing 2.25 ha/day (28 – 30 day round), plus each cow is getting 6 kg meal and 3½ kg P8. Sixty calves are also on farm (28 have already gone to the runoff).

Production to date is 68,058 kg MS (compared with 59,195 kg MS at the same time last year). Current production is 9.5 – 9.7 kg MS/ha/day and 2 – 2.1 kg MS/cow/day. The cow condition is 4.4 – 4.5.


The average pasture cover is 2,355 kg DM/ha, with the pasture cover targets for the next two months of 2,400 – 2,500 kg DM/ha in late November and 2,600 – 2,700 kg DM/ha in late December. We will aim to hold to a consistent grazing area through the next two months, while the cows are trying to hit their peak production and get back into calf again. Then we will look to lengthen the round from early December onwards when the chicory will be ready to add to the ‘normal’ grazing round.


SustaiN (urea) has been applied as follows: 1.3 tonne in August, 3.6 tonne in September and 2.7 tonne in October (so far) at 85 kg urea/ha. The next lot of nitrogen will be due from late November/early December onwards at 85 – 90 kg/ha to push some good pasture growth and quality into the summer.

The Runoff

All the young stock and in-calf heifers are at the runoff (mating went from 3rd to 10th October with all the heifers mated in this time – the bulls went in on 10th and will come out in late December).

Urea has been applied behind the stock at 85 kg/ha over the last six weeks.

70 – 80 t DM of grass silage that has been made and stacked on the runoff and 24 ha has been sprayed and ready to sow for maize cropping ASAP (14 ha of P1636 and 10 ha of Corson F71F1).

Mr and Mrs Frostie are off to Queenstown next week to see Stafford and catch up with other friends so we are very much looking forward to some time away (although only for four days).

A Calving to Remember – Noldy Rust

The month of September rolling around always gives me such a feeling of relief. I guess it’s owing to the fact that this is it, spring is here, the rush is over, and with daylight saving looming it will mean that those long evenings will once again reappear enabling all sorts of outdoor activity. Oh, the joy that comes with this time of year, daffodils are out, trees are throwing out new shoots, and calves are skipping around in the paddock, free from their restrictive enclosures. However, just because the sun is shining today and it’s warm and clear, it can still change. The forecast for the first half of September isn’t too crash hot, hence the reason to get this written while the going is good!

With only a handful of cows left to calve, I can honestly say that this has been a calving to remember. I don’t know how you all have fared, but for us, the common things that can go wrong and make life tough, such as down cows, mastitis, difficult calvings, and cow and calf deaths have been few and far between. I don’t wish to speak too soon, but plenty of mag in the diet all winter, a rigorous dry cow programme, well-conditioned animals, vigilant observation of springers, and a fantastic new lube pump that helps calves pop out like a cork from a champagne bottle (see previous blog) have meant that this calving has been as good as it gets. Much of the credit must go to Sam for his attention to detail and getting things done right. Mind you, it was me who organised the lube pump. And paid for the Teatseal. And the mag for that matter. What I’m saying is that I did play a small part. However, all that aside, smooth sailing makes life easy and keeps the cost down. We had to invite our vet out for a cup of tea so Sam could meet her!! And she’s been our vet since February! Sam has to go do a refresher on how to treat mastitis as it’s been so long, and I can’t remember the surname of that JD guy that used to come and pick up dead cows. I better stop bragging now, otherwise it will come back and haunt me! However, we are often quick to moan when things are bleak, it’s only right to celebrate success too!

We’re a bit more onto it this year with our feed budgeting and pasture allocation. Sam is regularly doing his farm walks and we decided earlier in the piece to engage the services of Regan from LIC Farmwise. He’s a good, keen man and the aim of having him on board is to keep us on track, making sure we match rotation length with feed available and don’t end up getting our cover too low, whilst recognising any projected surplus early. In our regime, we use supplementary feed most of the year on the pad, but only if it’s needed to maintain feed intakes and manage residuals.

It’s so good not having to buy in feed at the moment, but there are always opportunities to spend money just when we think we have nothing to spend it on. We always do an annual machine check, and there’s often something that needs repairing. But the vacuum pump?? Couldn’t it just be some perished elbows or something? I mean to say, we reconditioned this not long ago?? Can’t argue though, it’s an important piece of machinery and it’s got to be right! And then there’s the tractor service. Had hoped it would be a simple case of changing a few filters and flushing the radiator, but oh no, the ever-vigilant mechanic spotted some bearings that should have collapsed long ago! The 3-hour service turned into a tractor out of action for a week. I gave Sam a square mouth shovel and some concrete pills in order for him to load the maize by hand, but he balked, opted to go visit our ever-obliging neighbour and borrow a spare tractor with a good loader on it. Back in my day…, nah, we won’t go there!

Our heifer calf numbers were down a bit this year. We did AI on the heifers and the better cows and managed to get a few keepers from them, and consequently had put more lower BW cows in calf to Wagyu, white face and Speckle Park. We thought we had the numbers right, but with slightly more empties than usual and a few more bull calves, we are a bit short on rearers. Were a bit short should I say. Luckily a farmer down the road had surplus heifers, so that sorted that out! Our aim is to try and minimise bobby calves, and this is working well. The only real bobbies are any dairy breed bull calves, and this year, against my wishes might I add, these bobbies go to AC Petfoods. I must say, it is an easy option. They come and pick them up daily, which means no time spent teaching them to drink off a feeder. Plus, the biggest bonus is that it’s nice and humane for the calf. No long truck rides and no need to wait until four days old.

Before we know it mating time will be here. Bulls are ordered and we’ll do the non-cyclers running separately with bulls again as this has worked well in the past. Metrichecking has been done on 80% of the cows, and the tailpaint for pre-mating heats is due to be applied. I am wondering, in order to minimise bobbies even more, should we try Red Devon bulls over our heifers? They say they’re easy calving and there should be a market for them I would have thought. Too risky?? Looking for advice here team?? It would be awesome to have Red Devons and Speckles and white face and Wagyu and Friesian. In this cosmopolitan world we live in, it would be almost not PC not to!

That’s me done, time to get out there and feed the calves and check those few springers. Wouldn’t want to have to give that JD guy a call now would I?? I’ve forgotten his number anyway!!

Calving off to a racing start – Graham Smith

As I write this on the 30/7/19 I have just over half the herd in. The girls certainly have been keen to go as I had 25% of the herd in by due start date! This has convinced me to push back my start date to the 25th July. This is particularly relevant when it is considered I am milking OAD this season and therefore the girls should be more fertile, and calving will be more compressed next season. OAD has so far been smooth and it has been noticeable that the girls are keen to be milked, especially the heifers.

There has been a good run of heifer calves, so that enables me to keep higher BW types and to make a bit of extra income from sales of the surplus. This year’s sires were all crossbred and so the black calves have been easy to sell. But due to OAD, and the desire to chase higher BWs, all but one of my selected sires for this spring will be Jersey. This will give me a higher proportion of brown calves and there may be a bit of buyer resistance to their colour, even if their BWs will be higher. Time will tell.

During the winter, my vet (VetEnt) had a social function and Emma Cuttance presented on her studies into calf dehorning. She showed how calves react to the dehorning and made recommendations on how they should be treated afterwards. I followed up on this and got my dehorner to apply Tri-Solfen to the horns after the procedure. This worked very well, and the calves have showed no aftereffects with this new treatment.

Feed supplies have held up well, with plenty of cover ahead and quite a bit of supplement ready to go if needed.

Due to the amount of time I had off over autumn, the winter has been very active work-wise. I have done quite a bit of fencing repairs and some new fences as well. The back of the farm has always been a bit of a conundrum as to how to subdivide the hills. I’ve bit the bullet, and made a decision on where the permanent fences will go, and have made a start. Some parts have been partitioned with portable fences for the last 30 years and I thought I had it sussed until I did my tree harvest. I then realised my crossings, tracks and races were in the wrong place or not wide enough. This has been rectified and now I am proceeding with confidence. I have been making all the new races 5 metres wide instead of 4 metres. Four metres was okay when I had my old small tractors, but with a new, larger tractor and the need to cater for logging trucks and forwarders, width has become important. If I get this right the next harvest should be a lot more straightforward with better infrastructure.

Further to the fencing, I only had a temporary fence around some of last year’s paulownia plantings. Well, I paid the price for my slackness and during break feeding the cows broke into the block and ring barked all 37 trees. Once the bark is damaged the tree can continue to grow but the timber will rot from the inside out. So, the only thing to do is cut them all down. Fortunately, they have the ability to grow from the stump again. Growth will be a year behind, but the established root system will enable them to make compensatory growth and the end result will not be so bad. Still, all my plantings this year are fully fenced, as I don’t wish to see that again.