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.

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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.

160 mm of rain – John van der Goes

I spent the end of March and beginning of April in the Nelson area on holiday. The first weekend was spent with our wine club visiting vineyards, tasting their products, and seeing some of the sights.

JVG Mapua

We stayed on for another week looking around and also stayed with some friends who live there. On one of our day trips we met a guy who is making milking sleeves. He makes them out of neoprene. I managed to get a set to try. They are quite nice to wear, and being thick offer a reasonable amount of protection.

JVG milking sleeves

When we left it was just starting to rain and I thought, “This is nice”, as we could do with a bit – thinking that it wouldn’t be as much as the forecast. I found out that we had 80 mm by the next morning, and it was still raining. In all we got about 120 mm that weekend. On our way home we ran into rain just north of Turangi. The further we travelled the heavier it got. By the time we got home there was 70 mm in the gauge. We had to stop and change the water diverter from the yard as I had forgotten to tell the relief milker about it. Although I had emptied the pond before I left I knew that it would be filling fast. The next two days saw the rain fall go to 160 mm in total. This meant that the stream was over its banks for at least 4 days. This is the longest I have seen it up this high as it normally goes down in half a day.

We came back to find most of the leaves had disappeared off the fodder beet. I think the rain had knocked all the dried leaves off. Most of the leaves had dried off with a fungus. However, it still has a good amount of feed value for us.

JVG fodder beet no leaves

This meant my intended work programme for when I came home went out the window as it was too wet to plant the new grass or put on urea. In fact it was so wet that it took two weeks before it was dry enough to start either job. There was a river running down the fodder beet paddock and it’s washed a deep grove through the middle of it. The ground being so wet also slowed the grass growth, meaning that cover started to drop away, so I decided to cull the remaining surplus cows. I identified them as in-calf for the sale and got really good money for them.

JVG rain damage

Yesterday we dried off any cows that needed weight put on (22 cows), most only need to put on half a condition score. This means that 80% of my cows are at calving weight or better (the best result I’ve ever had.) I can now milk these on till the fodder beet runs out before drying them off. Cover remains a bit low so I’ve upped the supplements and extended the round to 50 days. Hopefully this, along with 23 units of N behind the cows, will lift the grass cover to desirable levels.

JVG wood splitter

Before we left I was trying to get my wood splitter rebuilt. The idea was to finish it before we left, but it was not to be. Finally got it finished this week.

Going forward I have to get some fencing done as while it was so wet the electric fence power was down and one clever cow thought she would walk through them to help herself to more grass. This is a timely reminder for me to get my act together and replace the temporary fences with permanent ones.

While we were away we started to look at motorhomes since we think we would like to travel around in one when I decide to finish milking, probably in two years’ time. Hopefully, we will get the free time we would like to have instead of always having a huge list of things to do.

Hope you have all survived the big wet and all’s going well for you heading into winter.

Rain, the good and the bad – John van der Goes

Howdy all,

This is my first attempt to produce a blog on schedule. So, what’s been happening? Well, it seems to be the same old. The routine continues. I have managed to sneak out for one fishing trip, having decided one evening that the weather the next day was just too good to pass up and that there was nothing that I couldn’t put off (I seem to have that move pretty down pat). I have also managed to get out for a few bike rides, but not regularly.

JVG fish

I see I had a senior moment and said that I would do a whole herd preg test in mid-July when I meant March. I had the vets come in and preg test last week. The results were pleasing, 13 empties including the cows I sent earlier. This works out to be around 8%. Still shy of my target which is to have the number of cows in single figures.

The recent wet weather, although much needed, has brought a few problems.

Firstly, we have had a run of mastitis cows. I think it may be due to the mud in the fodder beet paddock. I had cultures done on their milk to find they were all environmental bugs. Funny how all the infections seem to be in the same quarter; this year it’s the left back.

For the first time in a couple of years I emptied the effluent pond and had the stirrer in to mix up all the solids. Of course the rain came and filled it up again.

JVG effluent

And I’m trying to get the first fodder beet paddock planted so I sprayed the paddock with glyphosate. The rain came and now I need to spray it again. I’m now waiting for the correct seed to arrive – hopefully early next week.

Since the start of the new year I have decided that I have four seasons of milking left in me. So now we are going through the options we have for when the time comes. Not sure whether I will make it that far but it’s a line in the sand. I think that we may have compliance issues that will force us out before then.

Our cows have done really well on the fodder beet so now we have nearly caught up with last year’s production to date. We lost about 2000 solids over the peak. We are now, like most farms, starting to cut down on supplements to keep up with the grass that’s growing.

JVG fodder beet Mar17

We weighed our young stock in early February when we put zinc bullets in. We found that the bullets I bought were too small because most of the heifers were over 400 kg. Pleasing to have them in such good shape but meant that we had to put in the bigger bullets this month.

Looking forward to getting away for a couple of weeks soon as feel I’m overdue for a mental health break. Hope you are all going well.

Farming through the ups and downs – John van der Goes

For those who thought I had disappeared off the face of the earth I am still here, just turned into a bit of a hermit. I thought I had better update you on what’s been happening.

Things have been plodding along since I last wrote. Seems like all I’ve done is the basic things that need doing every day. Milking, feeding cows, and the seasonal stuff – making silage, mating etc. The type of stuff we do every day and don’t see as having done anything.

Spring seemed to be a real challenge this year with all the rain we had. Trying to get jobs done, like getting the rest of the fodder beet planted and silage made, was a real battle. Meanwhile, the cows, who were just starting to hit their straps at 2.2 kg a day, crashed to 1.8. They seemed to be getting enough grass but just couldn’t produce on it. I was talking to a friend who said they heard from another farmer who tested his grass that the ME was only 8 during that time. No wonder they didn’t fire on it. We ended up being down about 2000 kg solids on last year.

As we moved further into spring the farm turned more and more yellow with buttercup. I have now decided to make it next year’s priority to spray the farm to try and get rid of it. I’m sure that it will take more than one year. But I’m determined to start. I will also have a go at the Californian thistles. The aim is to grow more grass and less weeds.

jvg-buttercup

Mating came and went without too much drama and the usual results. We started five days earlier and still hit our targets about a day after we were supposed to. I’m quite happy with that and it looks like the empty rate is about the same, 9% so far and they are gone now. We’re going to only do one whole herd pregnancy test in mid-July this year so will pick up the surprise cows then.

My big plan to make only quality silage this year has failed miserably. Every time I thought it was just about ready the weather would crap out and by the time I got to make it it was past it. So I consoled myself by saying I needed fibre to go with the fodder beet. This year we baled all the silage which seemed to work well. One of our neighbours has a one-man band trucking company and he carted the bales for us. He’s a really easy guy to work with so we will be using him again. We ended up having 200 bales at home with another 90 at the runoff. Some of those can come home if needed.

jvg-baleage3

We never managed to get a holiday between calving and mating this year so we went away for week not long before Christmas. On our first full day Cathy managed to fall over and hurt her foot. When she went to the doctor after Christmas she found out she had broken 3 bones in her foot. She was told not to put weight on it for four weeks. This meant that it was all up to me as far as farm work went. Consequently, quite a few things haven’t been done. Weeds being the major one. The upside is the enforced sitting has meant that we now have a health and safety plan. And are probably close to being compliant.

We made the decision to go on once a day a few days early this year as I was doing the last of the silage, as well as everything else, and getting a bit frazzled. The idea was to give me more time to get things done. It hasn’t really worked out all that well as feeding out and fodder beet have taken up more time. We started the fodder beet as planned in early January. I have been really pleased with the result. We are milking more cows and have nearly caught up the production we lost in the spring. The cows are getting about 8 kg DM from fodder beet, 2 kg meal, 2.5 kg silage, plus whatever grass is in the paddock. They seem to be quite happy with their lot.

Although there have been very few cases of mastitis this year the cell count has been all over the place. Ranging from below 100,000 to 355,000. I got sick of it so I decided to check individual quarters on the high count cows identified by the herd test with a RMT test. I found that it was six quarters that were causing all the problems. I then got samples from each quarter and had them tested to see what sort of bugs we were dealing with. Turned out they were all Strep. so could be cured with dry cow when the cows are dry. To keep the cell count in check I thought I would use a quarter milker on the infected quarters and milk the rest normally. It’s a bit of a pain but means a better cell count. I did think of culling them but when I checked their history I found that last year their counts were all below 100,000 so it is worth trying to clear them up over the dry period.

jvg-quarter-milker

One of the success stories of this season is changing the size of our milk droppers. The foaming problem has all but gone making milking easier when the cows are in full milk.

jvg-no-foam

During his holidays my brother came down and managed to get a few little jobs done that have been waiting for a while. One of them was to build a new mounting pole for the cow brush. The cows knocked the brush over about 18 months ago. We put it back up and I thought that it may take a few days for them to get used to it. I was wrong, they must have remembered it and got straight into using it on the first day.

jvg-cow-brush

Looks like things are looking up as we have had 80mm of rain and the brown landscape is turning green. Hopefully this is the start of things to come and we have a good autumn grass wise. Hope everybody has had the same.

Smooth spring sailing – John van der Goes

Once again time has roared around and it’s time to update what’s been happening here.

Well, what has happened? On the whole things have gone really well. Calving seemed to start and just power away, with us reaching the halfway mark three or four days ahead of last year. Talking to people it seems that most of them had the same thing happen. The downside for us was that when we sent our first load of milk we didn’t have as many first calvers in as usual and that, coupled with early calving high cell count cows, meant demerit points for the first two pickups. There is always something that catches you out each year.

JVG spring cows

We have had a good run with replacements this year. In fact, I think our heifer to bull ratio was outside the normal range. Not only did the cows have lots of heifers, but the first-calvers did too. All in all, we have had a really good run with not many animal health issues. Only a couple of milk fevers, mastitis cases and calvings.

It seemed like that there was no time for anything but the essentials right from the start this year. Usually I manage to get some extra jobs done before things get going but not this year. In fact, it was a big surprise to look back at the end of the day and think I actually got something done.

Not long before we got busy I was talking to a regional council officer and asked about what we could do with the stream banks where the corners are being eroded away. He said he would contact the right person for me. They came to see me and now we have a lot of willow and poplar poles planted on the corners of our stream. The best thing is that I didn’t have to do any of it, and they are coming back to replace the ones that the cows snapped off. Also, I’ve got someone else from council coming to talk about planting more of the banks, and he said that they will probably help with the funding and supply of plants.

JVG poplar poles4

After three attempts we have managed to get our first paddock of fodder beet planted. This was the last paddock grazed, which we didn’t finish till the end of July, so it has just been sitting there waiting. Nice to think that something is growing in it now instead of just weeds. This year our contractor has a new planter with all sorts of fancy gizmos, including a sprayer, so no need for a separate pre-emergence spray.

JVG fodder beet cultivated paddock

JVG fodder beet planter

With feeding out just about finished, and grass getting going, it looks like I may be able to think about the odd fishing trip and breaking out the lycra and hopping on my bike.