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.

Smooth spring sailing – John van der Goes

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

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

JVG spring cows

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

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

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

JVG poplar poles4

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

JVG fodder beet cultivated paddock

JVG fodder beet planter

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

Spring is on its way! – Brian Frost

The sunshine has been a welcome relief from the wet weather and mud! This being said calving has gone pretty well so far with not many losses of calves or cows. Thankfully, the grass has kept growing giving us a new (but nice) headache making sure we don’t lose any pasture quality over the next six weeks as we speed up the grazing round.

BF calves

On the Farm

We currently have 371 cows on farm (and runoff) – all grazing 1.1 ha/day (65 day round).

  • 221 milkers are grazing 1 ha/day + 6 – 7 kg/cow/day of meal + ½ kg/cow/day of molasses,
  • 50 springers are grazing 0.1 ha/day + hay,
  • 49 late dry cows are still grazing at the runoff + 6 empty cows about to be culled,
  • 45 colostrums/sick cows and 110 calves are also on farm.

Production to date is 12,441 kg MS, compared with 10,000 kg MS at the same time last season. Current production is 5 kg MS/ha/day and 1.7 kg MS/cow/day. Cow condition is 4.3 – 4.4 for the milkers and the dry cows are 4.9 – 5.

BF cows Aug16

The mineral mix is going through the meal at 3%. The minerals will also start going through the water in the next couple of weeks. Causmag is being dusted on the pasture for the dry cows. The colostrums are getting 300 g lime flower/cow/day dusted on their pasture.

The average pasture cover is 3,040 kg DM/ha (dropped from 3,100 kg DM/ha 3 weeks ago). This fantastic cover is attributed to the undersowing (which shows how poorly the fescue was doing), the use of the runoff over the winter and some excellent management over the last six weeks. The pasture cover targets for the next eight weeks are 2,700 – 2,800 kg DM/ha in late August and 2,500 – 2,600 kg DM/ha in late September.

Run off

We have been bringing 20 – 30 cows home each week from the run off, with the last 49 cows coming home this week. The heifers are also doing well and are going onto all grass.

All of the new grass is shut up to cut for silage later this month, with a second cut planned in late September / early October including some other paddocks.

The main key to getting through has been sticking to the plan – even when it’s not been easy.

The plan for the next four weeks (slightly earlier/quicker than what we originally planned due to the very good pasture cover) is:

  • 13 – 25th August ½ paddock/feed (1 paddock/day);
  • 25th August – 1st September 1½ paddocks/day.

We then plan to hold this round through until we are confident we are not going to run out of pasture – and when the residuals can be kept under control. The milkers should leave behind around 1,300 – 1,400 kg DM/ha of residual through until late August with the aim to see this lift to 1,500 – 1,700 kg DM/ha through the spring, also using the option to follow the milkers with dry cows if this helps to keep the residuals down to the lower target levels over the next 4 – 6 weeks.

We have also been discussing our mating plan with our farm consultant as we have changed our dairy company and so are looking to change a few things to make the most of everything on offer. With the aim to start calving on 1st August next year, mating will look to start around 25th October. CIDR’ing will therefore be targeted to be done around 15th October. We are still planning to calve the heifers in early June – so their mating will start around 1st September.

BF heifers

Wet, wet, wet – Noldy Rust

August is here, the Olympic Games in Rio open today and the Chiefs bowed out of the race for top honours in the Super rugby competition last weekend. No more Super rugby to watch for a while, but the action coming out of Rio will certainly keep us entertained over the next couple of weeks. Now that calving is winding down hopefully there will be a bit more time available to take in some of the highlights of the games and enjoy some possible golden glory for the Kiwi team.

I had it in my mind to refrain from speaking too much about the absolutely appalling weather we have all been coping with during the last month or so. However, I do have to state that the rainfall we have received in July, right up to today, has certainly been a challenge to man and beast (and wife also, although to a lesser extent!!). Winters of late have been reasonably kind, but this year has seen conditions as challenging as I can remember. It wasn’t just the amount of rain we received, but the sheer frequency of it. Relentless daily downpours seemed never ending. Blow me down, as I write, down it comes again!! And that’s after I sent several texts to fellow farmers this morning gleefully sharing that the sunny weather had arrived for a while!!

In spite of the big wet, calving has gone well to date. Care has been taken to minimise pugging, and with that comes a lot of work. Getting springers moved before daylight, bringing milkers onto the pad early in the afternoon, moving lates to a standoff area and then standing springers on the pad overnight. The big challenge, as always, is to do the best for the soils and pastures whilst being as kind as we can to our cows so as to minimise lameness and tiredness. I don’t know that I could farm without a feedpad anymore. Being able to stand cows off and feed them supplements to avoid weight loss is just so good. But wouldn’t it be nice to have a covered herd home or something similar?? The benefits of some sort of cow housing in seasons like this are huge. I jealously think of all the farmers I know with herd homes etc and I go green with envy…… however this changes pretty quick once the sun shines again and I think of all the money I have saved in not building one!!

NR cows feedpad

We have our yard temporarily covered once again in the finest wool carpet from Axminster and Bremworth in order to provide a more comfortable surface for the cows when they are standing off. This works a treat. We can hose it and keep it clean and the cows certainly prefer to stand on it rather than on concrete. We feed the springers on the pad and leave the gate open onto the yard for them to go and ‘camp’ on overnight. I had them on there again last night and as many as possible were sitting down quite happily. I had to give a few of them a boot in the backside to get them up; similar to what I have to do in the house when I get in for breakfast!!!

NR yard carpet2

Going forward, we need to try and stick to our spring rotation planner. This will be easier when things dry out a bit, starting in about half an hour (I hope!!). I am keen to get calves outside asap as the sheds are pretty full. Using sexed semen has worked well once again and the regular heifer calf pick-ups for the Chinese market helps the cashflow. I am thrilled with the rate that the 2 year heifers calved at. I think after 3 weeks we only have 5 to go out of 43. I see this as a result of having well-grown heifers that are hitting their liveweight targets at key times. Our grazier has done a great job with them and I know that other lines of heifers from this same block have calved equally as well.

Days are getting longer, spring kicks in in around 25 days and the latest GDT auction went up. We have lots to look forward to! Plus our eldest daughter is expecting her first baby shortly and Ali Baba, the stage show, begins on 1st September in Te Awamutu. Not to mention the youngest daughter finishes Uni shortly and will hopefully start earning some money and repaying some of the financial contributions I have gifted her with during these past few years…. Exciting times ahead!!

NR preg+ali baba+grad

Till next time, soldier on, keep smiling and looking forward positively to what exciting things lie ahead!!

NR spring lamb

Feeding lessons learned – John van der Goes

I have just finished watching the end of the first stage of this year’s Tour de France. It looks like another three weeks of getting up each morning and watching the computer while the Tour unfolds. I thought that since I was up and it’s too frosty to go out I might as well write this blog which I have done in my head for the last few months.

We ended up milking till the 22nd of May. This is the longest we have milked ever. Production finished just behind our best, so not a bad result considering we didn’t start the season that well. Most months were just below the previous season. We managed to reach our SCC target, and stay below 100,000 on average, which is quite pleasing. Most of the cows were in really good nick and the cows we dried off early were gaining weight nicely. By the time we dried off we had only just started the last fodder beet paddock. Also, we had a reasonable amount of pit silage left. So we were well off for feed.

I decided that it would be better to feed out the pit silage first, as we seemed to be juggling all the different feeds we had, plus good grass growth, which was making things complicated. I thought that it might be a bit drier at the start so the pit silage should go first. Also I didn’t want to shut down the pit again. Of course it was wet while we fed silage and dried out when we finished the stack. This was around the time we finished milking.

We started the fodder beet again and had to transition cows back on to it. So now we are a little over halfway through the paddock, putting two mobs of cows on one after the other. They get about two hours on beet each which means around 4 kg DM. Good feeding, but extra time and a big tie. I think that we probably should have just kept one mob on full time. This would have reduced the work load and cows walking every day. At the time I thought to put cows on and take them off would reduce the pugging. It didn’t really work. I’m looking forward to the changes we will make this season, after all the things we learnt last season.

JVG cows on fodder beet

Just as we finished milking I was talking to a friend who was working off farm in town. He said that the firm he was working for were really busy and could do with more staff. I said I could help out if they needed. So soon after we dried the cows off (three days) I started work there as well. It was a great arrangement for me as I only worked the hours that I could, meaning that all the basics still got done and I could do 25 hours a week of paid work. Hopefully, it would be enough to pay the supermarket for the food bill.

Of course this meant that all those jobs that I was going to do in the summer and didn’t, plus all the jobs I had planned to do with the cows dry, never got done. It will be a very busy year in catch-up mode.

After I finished work I had three days to get organized for my relief staff, then we were off to the South Island for seven days. The main reason was a wedding in Queenstown, but we added a visit to friends in Southland and a trip through the Mackenzie Basin as well. This was to check out the Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail, which I’m now really keen to do.

Back home things had got a little damp – 134 mm of rain in a week. Starting with 75 mm overnight on the day we left. Wet weather in winter is the part that I hate in farming, but I did feel really guilty leaving my staff to deal with it while I was away. We came back just as the rain finished to very tired cows, after having to be on the yard overnight nearly every night. But the farm was in really good shape. All credit to Craig who looked after the place.

Now we are concentrating on calving. I managed to set up the calf shed before it started (first time without calves on the ground for ages). We have just over a dozen cows calved, so we will be sending milk soon. At least it will mean some income.

JVG milk plant3

I have also put new dropper tubes in the cowshed (changed from 16 mm to 19 mm) with the aim of reducing foaming in the plant while the cows are at peak volume. The good news is that it has meant less foaming in the plant while the acid wash is going through. Hopefully this will also mean less milk foaming. Fingers crossed.

I hope all goes well for everyone as we crank up into a new season.

The start of a new season – Brian Frost

BF Canada

Mr. and Mrs. Frostie have returned from their wBF halibutanderings around Hawaii, Alaska and Canada and the children are all still alive and the house is standing, so we are on a win:win!!! We had a wonderful time with great friends, amazing sights and fabulous weather, and came back to use our thermals here! We once again have to say New Zealand is the best place on earth though.

The first day back Frostie went straight out to the farm to catch up with what was happening there while Mrs. Frostie stood in the freezing cold and rain to watch soccer and netball then that night left the houseful of people watching the rugby to pick up the youngest child and get her broken leg attended to – welcome home!

Well, as we start a new season we can only hope the financial challenges of the past season get better. As our farm consultant has said ‘the next 6 months are probably going to be some of the most financially challenging that we have ever experienced! Keeping good focus and a mind for the longer term is such a key at times like this.’

On the farm

We currently have 197 cows on farm – all grazing 0.6 ha/day (120 – 130 day round).

  • 138 milkers are grazing 0.43 ha/day + 7 kg/cow/day of meal + ½ kg/cow/day of molasses + 2 kg DM/cow/day of maize silage.
  • 15 colostrum cows are grazing 0.05 ha/day + meal + maize.
  • 44 springers are grazing 0.1 ha/day + 2-3 kg DM/cow/day of maize silage.

Production to date is 5,429 kg MS compared with 3,967 kg MS at the same time last season. Cow condition is 4.5 – 4.6 for the milkers and 4.7 – 4.8 for the dry cows at the runoff. Causmag is going on the maize for the dry cows and the triple mix for the milkers. Causmag is also being dusted for the dry cows.

The average pasture cover is 2,555 kg DM/ha, an amazing turnaround from the 1,500 – 1,600 kg DM/ha that was around in early/mid May with the undersowing work coming through very strongly now. The pasture cover targets for the next 8 weeks are 2,300 – 2,400 kg DM/ha in late July and around 2,100 kg DM/ha in late August.

The grazing round has extended with the spring cows starting to be dried off. The spring rotation planner is the key to grazing management from the start of calving so we hold to the target grazing areas over the next 3 months.

With all the stock on the farm, grazing no more than:

  • 1/70th of the farm/day on 1st August = 1.06 ha/day in total for all stock.
  • 1/60th of the farm/day on 10th August = 1.23 ha/day.
  • 1/50th of the farm/day on 20th August = 1.48 ha/day.
  • 1/40th of the farm/day on 1st September = 1.85 ha/day.
  • 1/30th of the farm/day on 10th September = 2.47 ha/day.

To reach these goals, we try to keep to the following grazing areas:

  • Springers –hold at 20 m2/cow/day + hay.
  • Milkers – aim at 40 – 45 m2/cow/day until 20th On 20th August, these can lift to 50 m2/cow/day and up again to 55m2/cow/day on 1st September. On 10th September lift up to the 30ish day round.

A load of hay is coming to use for the springers when the maize stops.

The maize silage feeding level dropped from 4 kg DM/cow/day down to 2 kg DM/cow/day last week. With the pasture cover being so good, this will drop out over the next 1 – 2 weeks. This will leave around 100 t DM to have on hand for the milkers from February.

Run off

The run off continues to improve very quickly and is set up very well to grow a lot of spring pasture that will provide some really good silage for the dairy farm. 90 weaned 2015 calves are now getting 7 days/paddock + grass silage. 146 dry cows are getting 3 days/paddock + 3 – 4 kg DM/day of maize silage.

The plan is to graze the new grass and then shut this for silage. Over the next 3 – 4 weeks we will start thinking about other paddocks that can be left to cut for silage also. We will keep following with PhasedN over the whole block in the next 6 weeks.

In general

Over all, the farm is looking a picture with lots of grass and at the moment the sun is shining. We have had large amounts of rain over the last few weeks and the work that the council have done on the drains have so far keep the flood waters off the farm – so long may this last. Most of the heifers have calved and the cows have started calving so the fun of the new season has begun! The holiday is becoming a distant memory.

BF Canada2