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.

Advertisements

Be careful what you say! – John van der Goes

JVG sunset Oct18

It’s high time I sat down and wrote a blog. Since the weather is not so good I thought it may be a good time to write and put off going outside.

It feels like nothing much has happened since the last blog. It seems like I’m on the go all day and barely get the basics done. Not sure if it’s an age thing or not. Having said that, our last spring has gone quite smoothly. No cows to calve apart from a couple that I checked to see all was ok and decided to help since they were so close. Only two cows with milk fever and four or five cases of mastitis. Which was due to crap weather when we dried off and having to stand them on the yard too soon. I only have a handful of cows left to calve now and I’ll be able to say I won’t have to do that again. Seems to be said quite regularly.

I’m just starting to get the crop paddocks ready for planting. I was in two minds about whether to plant less area this year or not but have decided to do the same as last year.

I have decided that after all my talking about cleaning up our pastures, particularly buttercup, I had better get started. So this spring I’ve sprayed just about every paddock with 2,4-D Amine and flumetsulam. The results look really good. Nice not having a sea of yellow flowers.

JVG pasture Oct18

It seems that spring is under way properly now with grass growth taking off and milk production moving along nicely. I was a bit disappointed at first with our per cow production but realised that nearly half the herd is two and three year olds so doing over two solids a day was not too bad. This was the result of last year’s culling program to set the herd up to be sold. There are only five cows over eight years old.

We have tried metrichecking the cows this year because we should get a couple of extra cows in calf which means they can be sold for a bit more.

We are in the final stages of getting things organised for next season. I asked the neighbours if they would like to lease our place but they declined. So we are now looking at either leasing it as a dairy farm or as a dry stock block. We have people interested in both. We have tried to see what costs will be involved in both and what we may need to do going forward. So now we just need to decide.

I had an interesting experience a couple of weeks ago when the incident officers from the regional council showed up to see the work I did on the bend in the stream (that I talked about in my last blog). Talking to them I found out that someone had seen the post and filed a complaint about it and they had to come and check it out. The next day people from the area office came to look and said the concrete needed to come out. The thing they seemed most upset about was that I hadn’t notified them that I was doing it. Two years ago when they planted the trees along the banks I talked to the person in charge and got the impression it was ok.

I think the lesson from this is that people and regulations change so quickly that we need to check before we do anything. It also shows that maybe we have to be quite careful about what we say and post because you never know who is reading them. Hopefully a lesson learnt! I have just received a formal warning from regional council and this should be the end of it, apart from remedial work.

Looking forward it’s time for a break to recharge a bit before mating starts. Not half looking forward to it.

Digging for treasure – Graham Smith

The sun is shining as I write this, and that certainly has made life easier. In spite of the mud calving has gone really well with one cow to go, and one milk fever. The girls are currently producing 2.27 kg per day, with grass a little short they are also getting 3 kg silage and 4 kg PKE/ tapioca blend. For the first time in many years I had surplus AB heifers and managed to sell 7. The rotation length is currently 23 days and I went there quite early to minimise the mud, being on my fastest round by the 25th August. This meant a lot more silage being fed to maintain decent residuals. I went into this winter with good covers of 2200 kg/ha. But growth as low as 5 kg/day and no higher than 12 forced an early start to silage feeding, and even so my cover got down to just below 1800.

Having had the digger in during winter, with some drainage and track forming done, it is only now that I have been able to lay metal and stabilise the work. This compromised access to some paddocks to the extent that only the cows could get in, and I was pleased to have keen dogs who saved me a considerable slog through the mud.

Due to the neighbours’ bull getting in with my heifers the vet came out to give that magic disappearing injection. Whilst he was here I got him to DNA test a calf with dubious parentage and send off the sample. Genemark (LIC) sent it back saying they don’t accept samples taken with a Zeetag sampler. It had to be with an Allflex sampler. Pity neither the vet nor myself were informed of this fact. I had been in touch with them for the paperwork and no one saw fit to inform me then and it was not in the written “how to” instructions. So, all be warned, LIC don’t accept Zeetag!! Needless to say I had to get hold of an appropriate sampler and go through the process again.

Being part of the NZ Farm Forestry Assoc. means you meet interesting people. I had an American forester stay for a month in July. He expected to do some pruning in lieu of board but I was in the process of planting my nursery Paulownia saplings. So, he learnt how to dig them out and then how to plant them, with only the fencing left to go. Russell was from New Hampshire and had no knowledge of Paulownias, but it was fair to say that after a month his knowledge was as good as mine. He had also been a nurseryman in another life and I learnt a lot from him. We had some very good discussions about how to run the world!

GS visitors

Our accommodation was also used by three young French men who came to stay for free in return for working on the farm. They enjoyed calving and milking the cows, and really got into the project we set them. We have set aside about one hectare that is slowly being planted with native trees. It is situated below the cliffs and we wanted a walking track for our guests. The lads got stuck in with a will, and we now have the first section of track built and metalled. They also, with Russell, got taken to Waitomo caves and the Kiwi house, and we introduced all of them to the iconic kiwi pie, which they very quickly became addicted to! We hope they all pass their business management degrees and come back with their families one day.

GS Track-1

The digger was not here just to titivate the farm. Some time ago I got in a contractor with ground penetrating radar to survey two paddocks for buried logs. I pegged all 180 spots he found in two paddocks. The digger went down on these pegs, but turned up nothing. So I gave him free rein to cast around for logs and he immediately found a couple that could be milled. After half a day we had three logs and a churned up paddock. So, I decided to cut my losses and tasked him with extracting metal in an adjoining paddock. He immediately hit a reasonable sized matai log, which took a bit of work to extract. Soon after he retrieved another log, and then he needed to drain encroaching water. Whilst digging a shallow drain he hit the biggest log yet. This was only 1 metre under the soil but took some strenuous efforts by the 20 tonne digger to move it. Our estimates are that this tree took approximately 1000 years to grow to this size, remembering that it also had been buried for 1800 years after the Taupo eruption. When you look at the photo (below) remember that all the sap wood has rotted off leaving only valuable heart. This tree has existed through a lot of our recent, recorded history.

GS buried matai

Matai sells for about $3000/m3, and is used in windows and flooring because of its hard-wearing traits. I intend to save a slab as a bar top. The rest will be milled to suit flooring, and the sale of the timber will easily offset the costs of all the digger’s work on the farm. Milling native timber salvaged in this way is legal. There is a form to fill in, and a photo must be taken of each log. Finally, a registered native timber miller must be employed. The application to mill costs nothing. When I bought this farm I had no inkling that this was possible, so this has become an exciting sideline to dairying. I will try not to enjoy myself too much!!!

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

A new season begins – Noldy Rust

It’s June 1st, the start of the new dairy season. It’s an exciting time on the farm for many as cows are generally dried off by now in spring calving herds, farms change hands, sharemilkers move, staff changes occur, and we say goodbye to the last season and look forward to a brand new season ahead, wondering what the big influences on our farming business will be this year. Will it be a wet spring, or a dry spring? Will we get a summer drought? Will the payout be as good as early indications are? Will we have animal health challenges above the norm? Do we contract PKE now or wait and hope that the price comes down a bit????? So many things to look forward to, both opportunities and challenges. So many unknowns ahead. For me, this is one of the thrills of being involved in this great industry. Roll on 2018/19!

NR contract milking Jun18

On that note, this is the first day for us employing a contract milker. Uncharted territory for us all as Sam has earned his stripes, so to speak, and been employed as a contract milker in partnership with his wife, Alice. The transition has been reasonably seamless as basically nothing has changed so far, seeing as he has done his apprenticeship here for the last couple of seasons. The main difference to date is in the cashflow going forward, as we have cancelled his fortnightly pay, owing to Fonterra taking over that responsibility and paying him on the 20th of each month….just not the first month or two that’s all!

NR new grass Jun18The couple of months since my last blog have been one of those periods that we need to remember with gratitude when things are a bit difficult in the future. Last year in autumn it didn’t stop raining. What a contrast to this year! We experienced such lovely warm weather, punctuated by the odd spell of warm rain, so that in many cases growth exceeded what we experienced in spring! Our new grass, both annual and perennial, just leapt out of the ground and has been grazed three times already. This unprecedented autumn growth, along with copious quantities of maize silage, meant we could feed our cows to the level they needed to keep them milking right to the end of May and still gain weight in order to hit condition score targets. Sam had a month off overseas and, try as I might, I couldn’t justify going on once a day, let alone drying off, while he was away! I had to rise to the challenge and keep everything ticking along; but there was no way he was coming back from extended leave to dry off straight away. Karma occurred as he had to milk for 10 more days in frosty conditions upon his return……

NR cows feedpad Jun18

Our dry cow treatment policy is to use penicillin and a teat sealant on any cows that have had a SCC over 150 throughout the year, and just a teat sealant on the rest. The ones with just teat sealant make me nervous. Even though we wiped each teat meticulously and took all due care, did we introduce bugs up the teat? It seems that if we use penicillin as well as teat sealant there is more tolerance for error. I always wonder if it is worth the risk of getting sick cows by not using penicillin on the cows that don’t need it, or should we just use a combo to be safe and defy best practice? Is best practice minimising penicillin use or is it using penicillin as insurance against sickness? I think that weather conditions play a huge part. We had fine frosty weather over our drying off time, so the cows were relatively clean to start with, plus we didn’t have to stand cows off to avoid pasture damage during and after the drying off process. And last, but not least, I put my glasses on while we were doing the job, which meant I could see a bit more clearly!

NR passport Jun18

Going forward, the focus now is on maintaining covers and cow condition, plus getting all those pre-calving chores done, such as organising machine checks, going on holiday, getting calf sheds ready, going on holiday, winter farm maintenance, going on holiday…… Unfortunately, Sam has had his holiday already so I guess it’s up to me to fulfil that part and he can do the rest. Sounds like a good plan to me!

I look forward to calving and seeing the results of our mating programme coming to fruition. Sexed semen heifer calves, more beef calves, Wagyu calves and AI calves from the heifers. Our record keeping and calf identification will need to be top notch. Roll on spring, let’s hope it’s a good one. I know Sam can’t wait to get started as well, although I suspect the main reason is not because he loves getting up early, but because that’s when he’ll start getting paid again!

Enjoy the season, have some time away, get to the fieldays, watch a bit of rugby when you can! I know I will be doing all of the above as time allows! See you!

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.