Not cows… – John van der Goes

I’ve now started my final season of milking cows. I thought that maybe I would be struggling with motivation saying, “I don’t need to worry because this is the last time.” But it doesn’t seem to be the case at the moment.

Things are still full on at the moment – getting ready for a new milking season. This winter I said I wouldn’t think about taking it easy for a bit because usually I found the spring would be here before I could get started. So we pushed on, trying to get as much done as possible.

The bathroom is finally finished and looking good. It only took a little over a year, but a nice feeling to cross something off the list.

JVG bathroom Jun18

A bit of excitement on our road the other night as a mini tornado came through the farm next door on its way into town. It knocked down some trees across the road and broke four power poles, also breaking a pole on another neighbour’s farm. This meant no power for 12 hours while the mess was cleaned up and poles replaced. Not so good for the three farms that winter milk on our road as this all happened at three o’clock in the afternoon. At the time I was inside completing the nitrogen pages for Fonterra. It sounded like someone was driving a truck up into our house. I looked outside and saw leaves way up in the air and thought this was strange. Then heard a crash as the trees came down, and waited for a big gust of wind to hit the house. This didn’t happen. I looked across the road and saw a row of trees getting knocked around, then a swirl of debris above the tops of the trees, and realised it was a tornado. Unfortunately, I had one page of the report to finish which had to wait till the next day because there was no internet.

I have been focused on getting the deer on our runoff sorted this last couple of weeks. Usually the fawns are weaned near the first of May but this year we didn’t wean till the 20th because of the wet weather. Part of weaning is sending the leased stag home, and with it being so wet I couldn’t get the truck in, let alone out. In the end I decided to wean anyway and shift him later. The fawns have done really well this year and are not far away from being as big as the hinds. This year I decided to farm them on (normally I would sell them all soon after weaning) as most of our deer are getting quite old and I want to start replacing them with hind fawns. I thought I might operate a bit like the dairy herd, preg test the hinds and sell off all the empties. A new experience for both me and the vet. This seemed to work quite well and gives me plenty of scope to cull and bring in the 10 hind fawns for next year.

During May a friend of ours was knocking down a building to make way for a new expansion for his firm. I said I would take some broken concrete to put in on some bends of the stream that runs through our place, to stop the banks being eaten away during high flow events. We got two truck and trailer loads while everything was sopping wet. Had to tip trailers on the tanker track and truck outside the calf barn – the only places we could get to that were kind of out of the way. As soon as it dried a little I started cutting off and removing any reinforcing and carting concrete down to the stream, a bucket load at a time, with the tractor. Have done the worst one, the others will have to wait for a digger.

JVG concrete stream Jun18

Another job that’s been on the list for a while is dealing with the silage wrap. I bought a bin for it a few years ago but was unhappy with how much I could squeeze in. So have come up with a system of putting folded wrap between two pallets with a big concrete block on top. This squashes them flat. Once they are flat they go into the bin and I have another concrete block that just fits inside to squash them in the bin. Seems to be working quite well at this stage. Better than the previous systems I have tried. Means more wrap in each bin full so less cost of disposal.

JVG silage wrap

I had photos of all the things I wanted to write about on my phone. I use this as a tool to remind me of things to write about. I went to start this the other day only to find somehow the photo gallery had been wiped clean. So I have had to run around taking them all again.

On farm all is well, been a kind autumn, cows look well and in good nick, grass cover almost too good, and now things have dried out all’s good till it rains again.

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Kind summer – John van der Goes

The summer has been very kind to us. Regular rain and warm days created spring like conditions. At one stage we had a rotation length of 24 days and five paddocks shut up for silage. We cut three to get 64 bales of silage. We baled a bit early, so it was not quite dry enough, but the weather was threatening. The quality was a bit unknown because it was mainly summer grass, but we are feeding it out now and it doesn’t seem too bad.

Production has almost flat-lined and we have made inroads on the deficit on last year’s production. In the last couple of weeks we have fallen behind again which is mainly due to cow numbers. This year a neighbour asked to buy our old, quiet, empty cows to rear calves on. They are paying good money so it seems worthwhile. Also gives some good old cows a longer life.

I have now slowed the round down, started feeding more fodder beet and started grass silage to keep feed levels the same for the cows. This is to make up for the paddocks affected by undersowing and regrassing.

I have spent quite a bit of time killing weeds, mainly Californian thistle, but also some pennyroyal. The good growth has allowed me to boom spray these weeds in an attempt to improve our pastures. Also spent a fair amount of time on the tractor planting grass seed. Both new grass and undersowing into older pasture. This year I have switched to using a tine drill for undersowing as it seems to make a better seed bed and opens up to allow more seed to germinate. I’m planting when the grass is longer and then grazing when the seedlings are young to open up and allow them more light to grow.

JVG weeds Apr18.jpg

JVG resowing Apr18.jpg

We seem to be flat out at this time of the year with everything on the farm and trying to fit in things we want to do. So far it seems like only the farm things are getting done. At least our timing is better this year and seed is getting planted on time. We are hoping to avoid last year’s mistakes and have all our paddocks able to be grazed this winter.

We have nearly finished the bathroom renovation. Just some trims to paint and put in and the bath to paint and lights which still need to be chosen. Since the floor needed to be redone we thought that we would do the living area and kitchen at the same time. Looks stunning. I hope to have it finished in the next two weeks and then on to the next house project.

JVG floors Apr18

I need to start setting aside time for biking again as I have not been able to get on it for the last two months. The body is starting to show the effects of lack of exercise. Fishing is just a distant dream at this stage but hopefully will be put to rights in April as it is usually a good time for fishing. It hasn’t been helped by my decision to go back on stage. I always forget the time involved in rehearsals etc.

Hope all is well with you guys.

JVG cow helmet Apr18

Once a day decision – John van der Goes

Once again it’s time to reflect on what’s happened in the last couple of months. Age must be catching up with me as time seems to go by so quickly it becomes hard to think back on what has happened.

While we were down south we took the opportunity to bike the Roxborough trail. A nice way to see some different country. Unfortunately, they had just had a big rain storm through (60 mm/hr in town, 170 mm in the land surrounding) so we weren’t sure if it would be open. Most of the trail is on the other side of the river and escaped the rain. It was an interesting ride. The gorge was great, but it was hot (at least 35 degrees) and it seemed like we were biking in a oven with the reflected heat off the rocks.

JVG Roxborough combined Dec17.jpg

We came home to a dry, and getting drier, farm. A quick look around confirmed what I had thought while we were away and the cows went on once a day on the 11th December. We had a reasonable amount of feed but could see that in 10 days – two weeks it would run out. Making the change then would impact a lot more on production. With the continued dry we lost the extra production we had made up and are now 3% down on last year. The dry weather also meant that only a couple of paddocks had a second cut of silage, so a bit less silage for the summer. For a while it looked like the fodder beet yield might be severely impacted. I decided to feed silage and extra meal to let the fodder beet grow more. Fortunately rain after Christmas and in the new year have meant it has grown a lot more. Its yield is about 20 t/ha (down from 29 t/ha previous years). However, more rain over recent weeks means it has improved markedly and should continue to keep growing as long as there is enough moisture. It looks like I made the right call for once. With the grass growing well I have pulled most of the meal and silage out and the cows are going well on grass and fodder beet.

JVG fodder beet Dec17 resize.jpg

This year I thought it was time to declare war on our weeds. I’m hoping that this will improve the pasture available to our cows. I have started by attacking the Californian thistles. I’m spraying them with a boom on our side-by-side so I only have to spray the patches.

JVG Californian thistle Dec17 resize.jpg

Early in the new year we had our first herd preg test – 75% in-calf rate, so down slightly on normal but quite pleasing. The vet could see a foetus in quite a few of the cows that were scanned without a pregnancy, but it was too early to age.

We have managed to get some more of the bathroom done but need to push on as we are hoping to sand the floor by the end of February. Will have to get a wriggle on.

JVG bathroom Dec17 resize.jpg

Still the jobs keep piling up and the want-to-does get left for later. Same old story. Hopefully some of the biking and fishing will eventuate – dreams are free.

Hope you are all well and the rain gods have been kind.

Heating up – John van der Goes

At the moment I’m sitting in a motel in Queenstown on holiday. We have been to the Catlins for a memorial dedication to my sister and then visited friends who farm in Southland. The days were hot and sunny, although their grass doesn’t seem to have gone as stalky as ours. Everybody was saying how unusual it was much the same as at home. They seem to have had a dream spring down here with a lot of dry weather.

JVG holiday Dec17.jpg

So, what’s been happening at home? The wet weather finally went away, but not before having an impact on production. The cows, like last season, didn’t peak very well. But overall production is up a little. We have just finished AB, and the bulls are out, so now we are able to return to smooth milkings and get into routines. AB has gone not too badly, but the submission rate is down on normal. It looks like our conception rates are ok, with normal numbers returning and cows still coming on heat. Once again the cost of putting on the heat patches was well worth it.

JVG cow sunhat.jpg

All the fodder beet has been planted and is up and growing well. The later plantings seem to have got away really well this year. The first cut of silage has been made from the runoff and fert put on, ready for a second cut hopefully. We only managed to get ten bales from the home farm as there has been very little surplus. The ground has dried out and now we are looking for rain. Typical – farmers are never happy. Now the grass has gone all stalky and the quality is not too good. I have been putting extra nitrogen on as I think the wet weather has taken most of what was in the soil away. The lack of nitrogen is also making the grass go stalky.

JVG baleage Nov17.jpg

I got the digger in to do some drainage work on a fodder beet paddock, then a digger to play in myself for a couple of days. I cleaned out drains that have been put off for the last few years. I also had them in to repair the track up the back of the runoff, which was getting to the stage where the tractor could hardly get up it. I feel sorry for the contractor, trying to please everybody doing deferred maintenance.

JVG digger.jpg

It seems to have been a really busy time, rushing to get everything done. I don’t know if it’s me slowing down, or just lots to do. I only manage to get the basics done, if that, most of the time. Meaning that any other jobs needing doing get missed out, which is a bit disappointing and frustrating.

JVG bathroom.jpg

One of those jobs is renovating the bathroom. We decided to start during the winter to get it done before calving. As normally happens we only got part way through before calving started so now need to get back into it. May even have it done before the New Year. Not holding my breath.

I went to Clevedon to fly the flag for SMASH at their A&P show. Interesting that a lot of people thought we milked small cows.

JVG Clevedon A&P2.jpg

We managed to get a break away before mating, which was nice, and now this one, so hopefully we will survive the summer. We have quite a few trips away planned for later in the season so need to be on top of essential jobs before we go.

Hope all is well with everybody…

Break from the rain – John van der Goes

Finally decided that it’s blog time again.

I’m writing this on the last day of our “between calving and mating” holiday. It’s a welcome reprieve from the pressures of this winter-spring. I don’t need to tell everybody how stressful it was as we all had to deal with it.

JVG holiday Oct17a.jpg

Having calved the cows five days earlier and not had any increase in production I decided to go back to our usual date. Also it meant that we could have a decent holiday.

We have managed to plant our first paddock of fodder beet close to the date we wanted. We sprayed the next paddock before we left so will get into cultivation when we get back home.

JVG fodder beet sowing.jpg

We have had a few fine days and it’s amazing the difference in the cows, both in their behaviour and production. Hopefully the weather will play ball from now on. Having said that, we have had another weather system come through and give us heaps more rain.

JVG cows Oct17a

Calving is almost done with only one cow left to calve as we left. All has gone smoothly and pretty much problem free. The new heifers have settled in amazingly well and seem to be producing well. I thought that they might be a bit of a handful, but was pleasantly surprised.

When we get home it will be time to focus on heat detection and getting cows back in calf.

We are still working on our exit from milking cows. We have talked to lots of people who have helped us in our career and it seems that we have quite a few choices, so we need to work through them to reach our final decision. I was tempted to get out at the end of this season but it seems like we need to set a few things up to maximise the return we will get when we decide to sell up.

As I said earlier, we have been on holiday so I’ve had a couple of good fishing trips and we are rested a bit ready to carry on.

All set for calving – John van der Goes

My attempt to produce a blog each month only lasted for one month. Here we are back to normal with Louise having to send reminders for me to get my bum into gear.

So what’s happened between drying off and now?

Well, the great plans of getting out in my kayak have failed miserably as it is still gathering dust on the wall in the workshop. It now has a place to hang rather than having to trip over it every time I want to find things. A big trip for it but makes lots more room and looks tidier.

Getting out cycling was going to be another priority but although I have managed to get out a few times it has really suffered the same fate as fishing.

Things on the farm have gone quite well. We have come through the dry period remarkably well. The cows are in good nick and we have a reasonable amount of feed to start calving. This is despite having four paddocks of new grass and only one of them planted anywhere near the right time. We have got two grazings off it and ready to start the third. Two of the rest have just been nipped off and now growing back for a second graze. The last paddock is just now starting to look like it could need a nip off by the end of the month. So pleased to sit at 2200 cover with calving just under way, five days earlier than last year.

Soon after drying off I got the opportunity to go out for a day with a tanker from Waitoa. I had to be at the factory at 6:15 am to go through all the briefing etc. with the drivers. If you think we are regulated try being a tanker driver. Everything is sent back to the factory and recorded. They then have targets for things like over speed, heavy braking, even over speed in the factory area. Their breaks are also recorded. Targets are set for how many times this can happen per week, and in cases like braking, how heavy and why. The case when I was there was a campervan pulling out in front of the tanker.

We then got to meet our driver and took a look at the runs we had for that day. I was thinking that it would be cool to go to somewhere new and different. Found out that the first run was in an area I knew well around Matamata. Then back to UHT plant in Waitoa. And the second run was on the Hauraki Plains, also an area I know well. Still, it was a good day and I should have realised that with it being near the end of the season runs would be limited and only winter milk happening. I discovered that it’s not quite as easy as it sounds and there can be quite a bit of waiting around – like waiting for milk to be checked before unloading at the UHT plant. Had a great day and nice to see life from another’s perspective. Always surprises me how our employees have more pride in the company than a lot of us that own it. If you get the chance to go take it. I’m going to go again if I can.

I spent a couple of days helping a friend to shift from Tirau to Ngahinapouri. I was asked to do one load the first day and soon realized that it would take at least two loads. That was the farm stuff done. I enquired about how they were situated for shifting the house and ended up doing two loads the next day as well. I had forgotten what a performance it is to shift after all these years of being in the same place. Next time I’ll hire a box body truck.

Managed to get a couple of fence lines finished before the end of June when things turn silly with feildays and SMASH conferences. I still have a couple left to do but the important 10 m section of the creek is done so my milk can be collected.

I was reminded why I tried to give up putting urea on at night when I managed to park my tractor in a hole late one night.JVG tractor prang Jul17

Since the start of July I’ve tried to get ready for calving and finish off a few jobs that were nearly done. Got a little bit done then was hit by the flu bug which slowed me down a bit, then just coming right slipped of a culvert pipe under our road and wrenched my ankle. Finished the day’s jobs off and came home to tell the family of my slip and swim. I was told I needed to have it looked at, so spent 4 hours in Hamilton at the hospital and a clinic to come back with a moon boot. So I have had to wear a moon boot with bag on it while trying to get farm work done. My helper (wife) came down with the flu at the same time so we are now a bunch of crocks. I have now got to the stage where I can put a gumboot on and off (after four days of putting foot in a bucket full of ice and water for twenty minutes every four hours). But I’m not as mobile as I would like, even with a roll of tape holding my ankle together. We seem to be coping well at the moment, but farm walks are off the agenda so I hope the grass is all right.JVG ankle Jul17

Hope you all get through calving without too many dramas and frustrations.

End of season action – John van der Goes

Hope this finds you all well.

JVG cows autumn17 crop

We have now dried off all the cows (on the 12th of May). We finished the season doing just over 64,000 solids. Not a bad effort, but still short of what I wanted. I got lulled into a false sense of security with the last two good autumns so milked on longer than I probably should have. This meant that cover was below what it should have been and therefore we needed to keep things quite tight feeding the cows. Fortunately, the cows are pretty much all in calving condition so there is no need to put on much weight. We have a reasonable of supplement so at the moment are using that to slow the round and try and grow as much grass as we can. The up side has been the cows have dried off well and quickly. The night we dried off the cows it rained heavily, as you can see by the photo so we had to put the cows on the yard overnight. We gave our cows Teatseal as well as dry cow treatment so hopefully that will have stopped any infections.

JVG rain crop

The runoff is also relatively tight feed wise so I’ve been getting rid of stock while I can. I’m trying to sell all the young deer and off loaded some sheep to make things easier. Had thought about leaving the heifers down there and using the silage that is there to feed them. But I decided to bring them home and feed the silage at home so no tractor trips there every second day.

I finally managed to get the last fodder beet planted on the 15th of May. Looks like we are going to have to get by with the crop paddocks out for most of the winter. I decided to leave the repairs to the water damage till next autumn as it’s too wet to try now and it was more important to get seed in. My paddock that was planted in annual grass got hit a bit when I sprayed the paddock next door so had to replant some of that as well.

JVG reseeding crop

I’ve managed to start fencing, although it’s hard to get a decent run at it with weather and other jobs interfering. Still, have got 300m of fence line in with all the posts rammed and just wires and gates to do. Hope to start again tomorrow. The next section to do is a little bit of the stream left that’s meant to be done by the first of June.

I’m trying to get back on my bike regularly but its proving to be a challenge, so I’ve got desperate and put my old bike on the trainer and sit still and go nowhere for an hour each weekday night. I just love it (not).

Fishing still seems to be a distant dream, but I’m still dreaming. Got to keep sane somehow.

Hope all is going along ok for everyone. Catch you next month.