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!

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.

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

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!!

Getting ready for the calving rush – Noldy Rust

I was aiming to write this blog on the shortest day, but that was on the 22nd of June, and it came and went before I knew it. We are now two weeks past that already! Wow, two weeks past the shortest day, which means only 84 days to go until daylight saving kicks in. 84 days! Doesn’t seem like very long does it, but it will be 84 days of busy, busy and more busyness for most dairy farmers as calving looms or indeed is already underway for some. As I write this, I see Sam with his coat on following half a dozen cows to the dairy for milking. Yep, it seems to have started here. But more on that later.

I can’t speak for everyone, but the long, dry summer/autumn and sustained poor growth right through until early May had us worried about feed cover going into winter. Well, so much for that. Why worry, it doesn’t change anything, and often what we fear doesn’t happen anyway. We often get good growth after a long dry spell, with nitrogen build-up in the soil etc etc, but this year, at our place at least, it has been extreme. We have had good May growth in other years, but the growth right through May and June this year was phenomenal. A kind winter to date has certainly set most of us up for calving, with stock in good condition and plenty of cover on hand. And what about the ease of farming? Cows haven’t been stood off many times at all so far, which is such a contrast to last year. However, things can, and will, change, most of us think that winter is still coming, but no point in worrying about it is there??

Out on the farm, it’s been pretty much business as usual, with the normal winter maintenance jobs being carried out, plus a few extra little projects. The favourable June meant some of the planned digger work that was due was able to be carried out with ease and little mess. Our cows used to have to cross the tanker loop to graze two paddocks and new regulations meant that this was no longer acceptable, meaning a new track had to be formed to enable the cows to bypass the tanker circle. Fair enough, rules are rules, we better get that done…. But we all know, diggers are such an asset on a farm, I’m sure we’re all the same when we get one onsite for a day’s work….four days later, and a heap of jobs done that weren’t planned. I mean, I should have stayed away and turned my phone off, instead of taking a call every few hours from Sam saying things like “While he’s here, can we just ….”

And all the carnage the digger creates just leads to more things to do! I mean, I thought our little storage shed was fine…..ok it was a bit old and the door didn’t shut, and it had been hit by trucks and knocked off it’s foundations and was full of rats, but the roof didn’t leak cos the moss on it was so dense, and it owed me nothing! However, it was deemed to be an eyesore by everyone that was asked, so the digger driver didn’t have to be asked twice to become a demolition expert and crushed our little icon in no time. Ok, now what? We needed a new one of course! Mind you that was the fun part. Sam and I spent some time at the fieldays looking at options and finally agreed on a replacement which will be sited in a better position, away from trucks and rats and moss and things!

Speaking of fieldays, I don’t know about all of you guys, but I think it’s such a neat event, wouldn’t miss it for the world! Such a great avenue to check out new things, have breakfast with the bank, catch up with people, get new info, catch up with more people, have lunch with another bank, and come back the next day for food from another bank, and a pie from Ballance, not to mention a muffin from FMG…the list goes on. I had to go there for three days this year as I didn’t want to miss the breakfast at Swap’s, plus I still had to go the Good George tent to watch the tractor pull, although this wasn’t straight after breakfast I might add!

Back on the farm, we’re looking at putting rubber on our feedpad for cow comfort. We checked this out at the fieldays as well! We still put the old carpet in the yard which really helps, but rubber on the feedpad will be an extra level of care for animal welfare. Anyone I’ve talked to that has rubber on their concrete has said that they have no regrets. However, we scrape our pad, so now are also looking at floodwash options using green water. Got our info from Agfirst about this at the fieldays as well (in between banks!).

So now, day by day, it’s pretty much the calm before the storm, organising all the things needed for calving. Wood chip is in, calf feeders are cleaned, we’re putting water troughs in all our calf pens and buying whole grain calf meal (info sourced from SMASH fielday at Top Notch calves). Metabolic supplies are on hand, which we hope not to use as mag has been fed all winter, calving gear is sorted and the big bonus this year is….our lube pump! Can’t wait to help a cow to calve this year! The bonus of having an ‘interested vet with a big dog move to Wellington and take your daughter with him’ (see previous blogs) is that he left some of his stuff here for us to utilise. The broken-down motorcycle, the disused hut, the decrepit camping gear, well they’re not much chop. However, the LUBE PUMP, that’s another story! Both Sam and I are pretty excited about that! Those calves will pop out like a cork from a champagne bottle!

I wish you all well in the days ahead as we get into a new milking season. Enjoy the miracle of new birth and may the last calf that is born be as precious to you as the first one. It’s a bit like your kids…. The first one is really exciting but you sort of get used to it the more you have! This leads perfectly into my closing comment. Our youngest daughter happens to be a teacher who is now happier as they got a pay rise. But that’s another story. The Principal at her school is leaving this term after many years. He gave them all a parting gift which was lovely. They all got a bag with the school logo on! Her one was personalised….(see photo)

Nga mihi tin koto. Toru Wha.

Autumn Celebrations – Noldy Rust

My calendar seems in a bit of disarray at the moment as we work ourselves through 2 weeks of days on, days off, days on, days off, causing me to struggle a bit trying to remember what day it is. I do know that it’s ANZAC day today as this is such a well-advertised and poignant time in the life of our nation, and Easter has just been and gone, as is evident by the ever-diminishing basket of Easter eggs sitting in the middle of our dining room table. I am also aware that today is our wedding anniversary, many years of wedded bliss behind us now, the number a bit too scary to mention! I look back with a certain amount of smugness however, as the day we picked to get married is always going to be a national holiday, which is great in itself, but the real advantage in having an ANZAC day wedding is that it’s virtually impossible to forget our wedding anniversary. Haven’t forgotten yet, and long may it continue! To date, Bev has never missed out on being showered with all sorts of reminders of that memorable day, many years ago!! She certainly is a lucky woman!

As I wrote my last blog, we were celebrating some much-needed rainfall and looking forward to positive growth rates, and, if I remember correctly, I may have mentioned autumn silage, bloat, and the absence of facial eczema. I was right on one count, but one count only. Fortunately, we have seen no evidence of eczema to date which is great news. However, growth has been slow as the rain was sporadic at best, and only in the last few days have we seen some really decent rain, and this, coupled with cooler days, is giving us hope that we still have time to lift covers going into winter while we carry on milking. No sign of bloat, which is great, but certainly no surplus grass to even think of autumn silage.

We were discussing milking frequency in my last blog as well. I wasn’t sure whether to consider 16-hour milking, or even once a day, and I was thinking that I must bring this up with Sam at some stage. That ‘some stage’ actually eventuated rather quickly owing to Sam reading my blog and front-footing the conversation! At least it means he reads it I guess! After much discussion, we decided that the only way of finding out is by trying, so we bit the bullet and went onto once a day milking. Now this is a big decision for me as we don’t normally do this until we are drying off. However, the cows were down to about 1.15 kg MS/cow/day so we thought that we wouldn’t lose much. I heeded some great advice I heard years ago from Pete Morgan. They always go onto OAD milking sometime in December, but they time it with a period that the cows go into really good grass, usually silage paddocks or the like. This gave me the confidence to make the decision, as we had been on basically a non-grass diet for a month or so but were just speeding up the round again as we had reasonable cover in front of us. Feeding grass again, plus maize and a PKE blend with a bit of canola, seemed to do the trick. We’ve been on OAD about a month now and although there was an initial drop in production, they did lift again and are still doing over 1 kg MS/cow/day. And boy are they in good condition! And is Sam happy! He’s got a bit more time to do other things on and off the farm now, and that’s got to be a good thing. We’re sitting on about a 65 day round and still feeding plenty of maize while we try and build the cover some more in anticipation of the heifers coming home shortly.

The long dry has resulted in a scarcity of winter grazing so we made the decision to buy a bit more maize in, as the heifers will be home earlier than usual and there may be more cows on at home prior to calving. We already had 250 tonnes of maize silage on hand after the harvest but another 50 tonnes came up nearby, so I just couldn’t resist. Maize on hand is like money in the bank, you can never have too much! And I don’t even work for Pioneer anymore! We used to always bring in some grass silage in spring but with the extra maize now I’m thinking that this won’t happen this year.

On the home front, we had an impending wedding when I wrote my last blog. I can happily say that this is now behind us and we have a happily married couple that were so fortunate to have a fantastic wedding day with all going extremely well. A big tick for that day to all involved.

Two down, one to go, although the ‘one to go’ has just today made the big move and left the nest for the second time, heading down to Wellington as she follows the ‘interested vet with the big dog’ (see previous blogs) and begins a new life down there. Never a dull moment in life especially when you have kids, no matter what age! Speaking of kids, daughter number one is about to produce grandchild number two, so it’s all a bit of a waiting game as to when this will happen. Nana is on standby for childminding and meals and all that stuff that nanas do, and I’ve made sure there’s a beer in the fridge, and a tipple in the cupboard, for when the need arises to celebrate the arrival of junior!

On that happy note, it’s about that time now, as the shadows lengthen and dusk draws near, for us to consider our plans for the evening. Seeing as I brought her a coffee in bed accompanied with an Easter egg, I’m guessing that my loving wife will no doubt have plans to take me out to dinner to celebrate and commemorate, both the ANZACs and our wedding day.

Finally, some rain! Noldy Rust

I feel in rather a buoyant mood today for several reasons including, but not limited to: autumn rain, maize, bacon, craft beer and boys…..Often we put ourselves under pressure by having a list of things we need to do, but can’t find time to do, or maybe don’t want to do; or things we want to have, and can’t have; or things we know are coming, but just won’t get here. That sounds like a bit of a mouthful, but it’s been a bit like that over the past month for yours truly.

How buoyant do you feel, when after months of hot, dry weather, the autumn rains turn up? With the countryside looking similar to the deserts of the Sahara, minus the camels, and nomads, and all that other stuff you get over there (I haven’t been there yet), the welcome relief of 26 ml can’t help but lighten the mood. This in turn inspires enthusiasm for those tasks that have been on standby for some time, such as blog writing, household repairs, and general catching up on things that are long overdue. As a result, these wonderful rains, coupled with the fact that the maize has just been harvested, the bacon’s on its way (thanks to the sacrifice of Mr and Mrs Piggy), and the impending wedding of daughter number three, necessitating a girls’ hen weekend away, have led to a general feeling of euphoria as once the chores are done, there will be time for unimpeded boys’ activities, including, at the very least, rugby, craft beer, and general scornful disarray in the next 24 hours or so.

Ok, enough of the planning ahead, let’s get back to the situation prior to the rains. After a summer to beat all summers last year, I guess we all kind of guessed that she’d be a bit tough this year. When you think of the copious amount of rain that fell throughout November and December, it’s not a surprise that once it stopped raining, it stopped for good. Unlike the big dry in 2008/09, this year saw most of us go into the dry with good stocks of supplements. For us it’s just been a case of storing up supplements, enjoying not feeding out throughout January and early February, then getting into it with a vengeance once the farm had been chewed out. We identified two paddocks that needed regrassing and decided these were the standoff sacrifice paddocks to use in order to avoid overgrazing the rest of the farm. Consequently, Sam has had the cows on a 300 plus day round for almost a month now, only using about .15 ha per day. The clean break was really just to feed out on. Feeding out four times a day is a little time consuming, but should be worth the effort, as pastures will be in a good state to fully rejuvenate now that they’ve had a drink. Plus, Sam loves his job, enjoys driving the tractor, and is especially pleased that we don’t have cab tractors as this would slow down his getting on and off. I always knew that he’d see my logic sooner or later!

Grass silage, with PKE and canola in the mix, plus some maize, and 7.5 m2 per cow of Sahara-type pasture is a diet to behold, and I’m sure the envy of many a cow….. well, they seem happy enough. The FEI is an interesting one though. No worries feeding 3-4 kg of PKE in spring with lots of grass, but things change a bit when the diet is made up of less grass and lots of silage and maize. There were times that we had to cut right back, even stop feeding PKE for a day, just to bring the FEI back on track. The canola does help to dilute the mix a bit and adds some protein.

Going forward, it’s the big debate of milking times. We traditionally stay twice a day because I don’t have to milk (hang on, did I say that?), no, I mean because of SCC challenges, cows drying themselves off early etc etc. Plus, what would Sam do with all his time? I guess he could feed out another couple of times…. Seriously, I’m thinking that once we have a bit of grass and the high SCC cows are gone (there aren’t many) we may look at options of three times in two days, or once a day milking. I guess the decision will be made easier if I get called in to do some relief milking…

When planning ahead in the autumn profit is at the forefront of our thinking (as it should always be) so we are always thinking about the cost of feed, the level of payout, and other factors, such as cow condition and the cost of weddings. As mentioned earlier, daughter number three is to be married in a few weeks so this adds another dimension to the need for profit – as weddings are a joy to behold, but very costly! However, the investment in the wedding of daughter number one a few years back has paid dividends, as they are enjoying the benefits of married life, and have provided us with one beautiful granddaughter to date plus another baby is on the way (and he’s a mechanic and we all have cars that need looking after). An investment in a fruitful marriage is well worth the money, even if it involves hens’ parties, and things like that, that us blokes struggle to understand. Speaking of which, my valuable boy time in the absence of the female friends is slipping on by and even though I am feeling buoyant, my commitment to writing is fading as my mind strays towards rugby and craft beer. And to add a bit more pressure, I have just taken a call from a prospective purchaser, wanting to view a property that I’ve listed. Oh, the joys of real estate. With this in mind now, I have totally switched off from the farm and all things to do with cows as I focus on rugby, craft beer and real estate, but not in that order! I need to sign off in order to meet my prospective buyer at the appropriate time, after which I will be able to regain some buoyancy as I concentrate on the plans for the rest of the afternoon that involve craft beer and rugby!

I’ll be back in touch in a few weeks talking about autumn surpluses, bloat, no facial eczema and two down, one to go….but that’s another story!!

Christmas catch up – Noldy Rust

With the busyness and frenetic activity of the Christmas season upon us, it’s nice to take a bit of time out and tap a few thoughts on the keyboard. My last blog seems like just the other day, but I’ve just checked, and it was way back in September. So Christmas music on in background, cell phone off, here we go, tap tap tapping to Mariah Carey…

The spring/early summer period has been one to remember. I think we were all waiting for the wheels to fall off as predictions of a dry November and El Nino kicked in, but fortunately that didn’t occur. We did have a wee dry spell (with just enough rain to keep things going nicely) but in the last few weeks the threat of an early summer dry has lost momentum. Pasture quality did its usual thing, as it does every year, with seed heads appearing almost overnight. But, as is policy on our place, the mower gets a fair workout for at least a whole rotation as we attempt to keep pastures in a lush and growing state, and let light into the base to give those baby tillers every chance at having a long and illustrious life as they head for parenthood. Our farm is looking clean and green, thanks to Sam’s attention to detail: weed spraying, mowing and fertiliser applications all take priority in the months leading up to summer.

On the spraying note, we have noticed an increase in the yellow bristle grass (ybg) population in the last few years, so this year we have decided that looking the other way just isn’t going to cut the mustard or get rid of the ybg. Consequently, we have started a spraying programme on the worst affected paddocks using Dockstar, as recommended by our Farmsource friends at a recent fielday. I sent Sam along to this fielday and he was keen to go, mainly because lunch was provided, I think. It actually turned into quite an expensive lunch as he came home armed with all this info on ybg eradication and several containers of Dockstar. Time will tell if it proves to be expensive or not. I do know that having a ybg infestation throughout our pastures is even more expensive, and spraying results to date look promising. The main points to note are that the ideal spraying time is 5-7 days after grazing and to allow at least 21 days after spraying until the paddock is grazed again. It must be done prior to seed heads forming too, so mapping any hotspots or paddocks that do get to the seed head stage is important, as these are the paddocks to target with the spray programme next year.

Mating has just entered its final phase, and as I sit here and write, the AI technician has just arrived. We did have a couple of bulls in the herd for weeks 7- 9 of mating, but have now ditched the bulls and started 2 weeks of short gestation AI. This is such a handy tool as it means we can give any late returning cows one more chance at getting in calf and not compromise our calving spread. The plan was to go all AI this year, with the option of bulls if we chose to go this way. Well, you know, best of intentions were had, but we got to the end of week 6 and got cold feet, thinking about those silent bullers that we may be missing. Plus, Sam was a bit over drafting cows every morning. And then I saw this nice Speckle Park bull on a farm we were marketing…and he was for sale…and the word is that these calves are in high demand…therefore I couldn’t resist the temptation…!! This particular farmer also had a Harley for sale……You never know what you might come across when marketing a farm!! Getting back to mating, we used Flashmates this year and had mixed results. They work alright, boy do they work! I just loved looking out at night and seeing the herd in the paddock next to the house, little red lights flashing all over the place. I thought I was on K road, they tell me that’s what it’s like there, although I’ve never been there of course. The downside of the Flashmates was that we did lose quite a few, even though we reglued them after 17 or so days as instructed. We must admit the first lot were glued on in the morning, and the advice is that its best to do this in the evening as the cows should be drier. That may have been part of the reason. However, we reglued in the afternoon the second time and still had quite a few come off. We assumed that if they were missing, the cow must be in season, so we’d put them up for AI. Consequently, our submission rate was high, but I guess at the end of the day, the plan is to get cows in calf, so once we know what our in-calf rates are, we will be in a better position to judge how successful this detection method is. So, plenty to look forward to in the near future…. In-calf rates, how many cows go up to short gestation in the next two weeks, plus, I can’t wait to see my little speckly calves born next year!

We only contracted half a year’s worth of PKE at the fieldays, so our contract has almost run out. It seems like the gamble paid off as prices have come down nicely, I’m getting ready to jump in and contract some more. I would appreciate anyone with a crystal ball telling me when the right time is…..tomorrow, next week, early January? The best price I have seen is $238/t from March 1st on. This is getting very tempting. Oh the agony of not knowing what to do!!

Going forward on farm, it’s time to concentrate on getting the rotation out for summer, keeping on top of the weeds, and doing those odd jobs that have been put off to date. Happy days as College has finished now and Hayze is home, keen to earn money by helping Sam, although he’s caught between the need for some cash and the lure of the Xbox. Times are tough when you’re a teenager!

On the home front, we sold the other house on our farm, which is a real plus. I needed a bit of practice in my real estate sales and thought this was a great opportunity. The sale went without a hitch and now we have lovely new neighbours. However, we didn’t factor in that the previous tenant of the house, which is daughter number two, yes, THAT daughter (the one mentioned in the previous blog with the sick chihuahuas and an interested vet) suddenly had nowhere to live, so moved back in to live with us! It’s so nice to be wanted!! She mentioned something about cool parents and how much she loves us…. I don’t think the lure of cooked meals, free wifi, dog sitting and endless available supplies of craft beer in the fridge had anything to do with her decision. Speaking of dog sitting, it’s not just her dog, the aforementioned interested vet has transferred to a new work position a little further away and couldn’t take HIS dog with him…OR his cat as it turns out. And HIS dog ain’t no small, obliging, cute chihuahua!!! In fact, he could eat a chihuahua for breakfast and still have room for more!! But, I must say, he is nice and adds a new dimension to dog sitting!!

I gotta go, this ramble has to stop. I just have so much to share, I need to get around to writing my blog a bit more often.

Joyeaux Noel, have a great Christmas and remember to take care out there…

Mating decision time – Noldy Rust

With the mid-winter (or should I say mid-summer in European terms) holiday now a distant memory and the spring rush on farm now winding down, it’s time to reflect on the calving period and look forward in anticipation to the huge spring flush that is about to happen…. well the signs are certainly there, that’s for sure! My early morning starts at the dairy, while Sam moves the springers, and then my subsequent calf feeding are coming to an end as things settle down. Only 4 newish calves to feed in the barn as they await their relocation to their new home on the beef rearing block, 5 springers to move in the paddock, and 2 mobs of older calves to feed on the mobile feeder. I am almost back in the house before it gets light, although I say almost, as the days are certainly lengthening and the promise of spring and then summer is just around the corner. Hence the opportunity to pen this blog before breakfast on this fine sunny morning!

NR Cows small Sep18

We synchronised our heifers for the first time last spring so we could AI them; they are away up the road on a grazing block. The reasons were twofold. Firstly, we wanted to get some early AI calves to rear for a greater genetic gain, which enabled us to get more of our lower BW cows in calf to a beef bull, which also helped us cut down on the number of bobby calves. Secondly, it meant that there were over 50% of our heifers calving prior to the main herd, and all in a matter of days. This was convenient because there is a bit more time to spend training them in the dairy, alongside a few early calved or slipped cows. Calves born from heifers are smaller for sure, but having them calve prior to the herd just gave them that little bit longer to grow and get a head start before the big bolshie Friesians turn up! We were tempted to inseminate the heifers to a Kiwi x bull, but resisted the temptation and stuck with Jerseys. I would be interested to hear if anyone does use Kiwi x on their heifers?? With mating looming we are planning to repeat this exercise.

I mentioned last year that we also used Wagyu semen for some of our lower BW cows, along with Hereford for the low BW Friesians, and frozen sexed semen for some of the higher BW cows. Big tick for the Wagyus; the only issue sometimes is that they seem a bit harder to teach to drink on the calfeteria, and identification can be tricky as they look just like crossbred calves.

NR wagyu

Big tick also for the short gestation, easy calving Herefords in the lower BW cows. No real calving issues and a good strong market for these at a week old. Not such a big tick for frozen sexed semen. We have had good results in the past from using fresh sexed semen, but frozen has a wee way to go as the conception rate is still lower. We are tempted to use fresh sexed semen again, but the bull team as I see it is not quite as strong. I think we will just stick with bull of the day and make sure we inseminate enough of them to get our replacements. At least the Friesian bull market has been reasonably strong also, and the calves don’t need to be sold as bobbies.

While we are still on the subject of mating, the plan this year is to use Flashmates for the first time on the herd. This came about at this year’s fieldays when we had a moment of weakness while visiting the Gallagher stand and succumbed to the pressure of a smooth talking salesman…. Fortunately, we had the common sense to avoid the John Deere site! However, we had been thinking about giving these a go as we plan this year to join the increasing numbers of farmers that use AI all the way through and have no bulls on farm. Reducing the M. bovis risk is a big driver for this, and the fact that Sam is now our contract milker means he’s the one that has to draft cows for 10 weeks! I don’t feel too bad about this, as you may remember Sam went away and married Alice last year in the middle of mating time, so it’s kind of payback time. Did I mention in a blog last year that Sam got married? I don’t remember….Anyway, getting back on subject, if, for whatever reason, we get the jitters we will bring some bulls in.

NR Flashmate

Looking back at the last couple of months in other matters, it seems that most farmers would agree that this calving season wasn’t as difficult as last year. Yes, it was wet, but usually we had longer fine spells as well. Cow condition was good which meant less animal health problems. However, we did have a vet out reasonably frequently, although one vet in particular often didn’t make it to the farm dairy and detoured to our other house, where our daughter lives! As it turns out, it wasn’t the fact that her dogs were sick after all, there were other, more sinister, reasons…..luckily some discreet Facebook stalking eventually highlighted the fact that there was more going on up there than tending to sick chihuahuas!! The colourful branding on the Vetora utes is so easy to spot, great advertising I reckon!!

NR dog vet

Time to get ready and head off into the world of real estate. I must say, on those rainy, cold, horrible days, it’s quite nice to sit in a warm office and work on listings and agreements and all those other things that make up the life of a rural salesperson. However, looking at this beautiful day outside right now I’m thinking that some on-farm visits may be the go today! It’s far too nice to sit inside! Enjoy this time between calving and mating and make sure you get a break off the farm.

NR Pirongia

Winter break – Noldy Rust

In my last blog I was busy writing about the winter dry period that was ahead of us. Time has rolled on now and Sam has been stuck in getting things sorted. Covers are ok, cow condition is good, it’s been a bit wet, some heifers have calved early and everything is set for calving …. Ok, that is the update from Te Pahu. Now for the real news…..

One of my hot tips for the winter period was having some time away. I thought long and hard about this and came to the difficult conclusion that seeing as Sam and Alice had experienced a wonderful few weeks overseas in late autumn it was probably only fair that I do the same. Seeing as Sam is contract milking for us now, I’m sure that he wants me out of the way a bit more so he can forge his own way forward without my meddling. Therefore, this blog comes to you from the little alpine village of Kandersteg, high in the Bernese Oberland, in Switzerland. Two of our three daughters cajoled me into joining them on an overseas adventure, similar to four years ago. Only THIS time, they were to pay their own way. Bev was happy to stay home and earn money while I spent it, and Hayze didn’t mind if I went as long as I didn’t take his rugby boots and Xbox with me. Tough decision really…. and here I am.

We broke our journey to the other side of the globe with a three day stopover in Singapore. Great place, plenty to do on Sentosa Island and Chinatown was fun. The city looks great from the gondolas that cross the harbour and the Marina Bay Sands hotel and gardens by the bay must come close to being included in the man-made wonders of the world. The stocking rate in Singapore is 827 ppl/ha, and growth rates are measured in concrete poured per day, as I sure didn’t see any green grass!

NR Singapore Jul18.jpg

Onwards to the Emerald Isle. We went to join our expat vet friend Paula as she returned to her home country for a visit. After a couple of pints of Guinness in the Ferryman Hotel next to the Liffey, Paula agreed to accompany us on our car journey and act as our tour guide. After the tour of the Guinness Brewery soon after, Paula just about agreed to pay for the whole trip!! The wisdom of our decision in appointing her as tour guide was in question the next morning when she struggled to find the road north out of Dublin! She kept insisting that Mr. Navman was incorrect. Eventually we got on the N something, which turned into the A something, then the M something, and we found our way to Belfast. I must say Paula’s strengths weren’t in navigation and map reading, but she certainly knew a heck of a lot about the pubs on the way. Every second pub we passed (and there are a lot!!) had a story to go with it and was good for a bit of “craic”.

NR Bunratty Castle Jul18.jpg

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We checked out Belfast and the Titanic Centre, went to the Giant’s Causeway, and had the privilege of catching up with my past worker Bernard’s brother and mother on the home farm where Bernard grew up in county Antrim. Onwards to Galway and Limerick, where we took in more pubs, I mean sites, did a decent hike in the Connemara National Park, and caught up with our ex de-facto stepdaughter, Steph the vet (see previous blogs regarding Frankie the lamb and high empty rates). Steph is now a practicing vet near Limerick, as her partner has a contract playing rugby for Munster. Real, real interesting hearing about a vet’s life in the little town of Cappamore. We had a great catch-up over lunch in the village. Alas, no cafes in sight, but thankfully Paula stepped up and advised us which of the several pubs in town had the best Guinness, food, craic etc….

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NR Mulcair Vets Jul18.jpg

The stocking rate in western Ireland is 54376 rocks per ha, a few cows, and plenty of lush, green grass, although this is one of the hottest summers on record over there and there are water restrictions looming (which is unheard of)! The heatwave we experienced was unprecedented and was a catalyst in getting many of the locals out for a pint!! Or so they reckon… One of the shirt slogans I saw in a souvenir shop was a sheep saying “l love summer, the rain is warmer”! However, the lack of rain meant hay and silage making has been easier. What a great place to visit, I now know much more about hurling, and Gaelic football, and Croke Park, and castles, and things…..

NR Heatwave menu Jul18.jpg

Now, to the land of my forefathers, the unparalleled beauty of Switzerland. The fact that Switzerland bowed out of the FIFA World Cup didn’t mean that the flags disappeared. On the contrary, one of the features of this beautiful place is the pride that the indigenous people have, as is evident by the patriotic symbol of the national flag flying from flagpoles, on buildings, cafes, pubs, and in all manner of places.

NR Swiss flags2 Jul18.jpg

It’s mid-summer here; the cows are in the alps eating lush grass covered in flowers for the next few months, while back on the home farm the farmer is busy mowing, drying, raking and storing every available blade of grass for the upcoming winter. Maize is evident too as a crop to store as silage for winter. The farmers with cows in the alps still need to milk them, and in many cases they then make alp cheese to sell to tourists and the local market. We visited a family high up in the Bernese Oberland near Häsliberg where the work has only just begun when milking is finished. Making the cheese and then drying, storing AND selling it is a whole other industry in itself! No Fonterra to come take it away and do it all for you! On one particular alpine train we went on, the little train stopped and hooked up a private little carriage with a vat filled with 500 litres of milk and delivered it to the cheesemaker, high up on Rigi mountain.

NR Swiss cheese Jul18.jpg

The mountains, the scenery, the sounds of cowbells from the cows in the alps as we hiked high above Kandersteg made a lasting impression. Nature at its best, in all its majesty and glory.

NR Swiss combo Jul18.jpg

The Swiss love to go hiking in the mountains and the sheer number of cable cars, funicular trains and chairlifts that are stuck to the side of every imaginable slope is mind-blowing. To add to that, the efficiency and punctuality of the Swiss rail network is amazing. We travelled through the new Gotthard Base tunnel, on the main line to Italy. The existing Gotthard tunnel was only 15 km long and was a bottleneck for trains so they decided to build a longer one…. 57 km long in fact. Took us 21.5 minutes to get through it (av 159 km/hr) and it now shaves almost an hour off the trip south by rail. Didn’t take many photos on that particular stretch….

NR Swiss alps Jul18.jpg

Anyway, I could go on forever. I now appreciate Fonterra for making and selling our products just a little bit more than previously. I appreciate NZ, where grass still grows in winter, and where our cropping doesn’t involve mowing, raking and handling hay by hand. I appreciate the wide open spaces that NZ provides for pastoral farming, and I appreciate a bit more those woolly, dumb sheep that harvest grass on all our steep land. They have gone up a bit in my estimation. Speaking of sheep, I saw some cool looking black-headed sheep in Galway, can’t remember what they are called…

I need to sign off now as the church bells have indicated it’s 19.00 hr and it’s time for a pint or two of Eichof beer before my dinner of Rösti followed by coffee schnapps. We have another couple of days here prior to spending three days with our good friend Leo in Bavaria, Germany, before flying home. We met young Leo when he was in NZ driving for John Austin Ltd. He’s on a farm too so more learning to be had…. See you soon back in NZ. I’ll be the one with the tan, the memories, the Swiss chocolate and the big credit card bill!!!

Chüss, Noldy