Tasmanian reunions – Graham Smith

The season ended early for me with drying off on the 26th April. The dry summer/autumn encouraged this decision, and I feel it was the right one, with covers now over 2500 two thirds of the way through May.

For the record, final figures were 28,759 kg solids, 368 kg per cow, and 1027 kg per hectare. Although well down on last season, I feel profitability will be similar, or better, because I managed to cut right back on PKE input. The girls are looking good and I am already looking forward to calving and the prospect of all season OAD.

Travel was in our plans once again. This time to Tasmania for 6 days for a Lincoln Dip. Ag. 1975 reunion and tour. We started in Hobart and the highlight there was a visit to Lark distillery where we were taken through the process of whiskey making. We tasted the product as it went through its various phases. One interesting aspect was that all the employees were under 30 years, except for the main whiskey maker and he was only in his early 30s! The product was good and sort of put us in a good mood for the rest of the trip!

We were lucky that one of our number is a farm adviser in Tassie, so as we travelled he discussed the methods of farming, the soil and climate to give us a close understanding of conditions.

We visited a 60,000 acres sheep and beef farm, well run with a run-off in the highlands. The highlands are cold and stony and are used in the summer when there is more rainfall at elevation and no snow. The east side of the highlands, which is dry, hard country, is in marked contrast to the west, which had lush bush, and as we went down into the valleys, we saw plenty of good-looking land supporting dairy farms.

We next stayed at Devonport, which is the ferry terminal to cross the Bass Strait to Melbourne, a 12-hour trip. We visited an opium poppy farm and were intrigued by the security and the uniqueness of the crop. The opium is retrieved from the shell of the flower capsule, so it takes a lot of flowers to make up a kilo! The poppy seed is sold for our buns and for bird seed.

Trowunna wildlife sanctuary was a chance to be close to and pat a Tasmanian devil and a wombat, and we learnt about their life cycle and survival. We viewed echidna and ran out of time to walk through a snake enclosure, such a pity ( not! ).

The next visit was to the only salmon farm attached to land, in the Tamar river, which has huge tidal flows to maintain the health of the fish.

Back to Hobart for the final day, and just enough time to visit the Salamanca market, which is very big. The day was heating up and by the time we boarded the plane it was 40 degrees and a very hot wind. I could then see why irrigating during the day would be an exercise in futility!

As you can see, with all my travels not much milking was done by me, but my relief milker was doing well. To put myself out of contention for the rest of the season I then had a full knee replacement, from which I am still recovering.

Since then I have given another talk for SMASH at Awakeri, and finally spent some time on the farm.

Other things have been happening, but I will save that for the next instalment.

Roll on the Fieldays!

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!

End of season action – John van der Goes

Hope this finds you all well.

JVG cows autumn17 crop

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

JVG rain crop

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

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

JVG reseeding crop

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

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

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

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

On the count down to a winter break – Brian Frost

In five more sleeps Frostie and Mrs. Frostie are flying away from the wet to enjoy a few weeks with friends in Alaska (amongst other places). This has been long in the planning, and the timing is probably not the best as it has worked out, things have changed on the farm since the planning began. We fly out on 31st May and in early June we have new managers starting, a new company picking up the milk, new tenants shifting into the rental and new yards being built on the run off – nothing like a bit of pressure before we go away. Looking forward to sleeping on the plane!

The dry weather had certainly been more of an issue through the autumn than it was in the summer, creating a few challenges running into the end of an already difficult season, but now we have mud!!  But with that the grass is growing which is definitely an improvement.

On the farm

Currently we have 309 cows on farm all grazing 1.5 days/paddock (1 ha/day = 65 – 70 day round) + 6.5 kg/cow/day of meal + ¼ – ½ kg/cow/day of molasses + 5 – 5.5 kg DM/cow/day of maize silage.

Production to date is 165,562 kg MS, compared with 163,624 kg MS at the same time last season. Current production is 5 – 5.1 kg MS/ha/day and 1.2 – 1.3 kg MS/cow/day. Cow condition is 5 – 5.2.

Zinc is going through the water at full rates and Triple Mix is going on the maize.

BF new grass16The average pasture cover is 1,537 kg DM/ha. The pasture cover targets are 1,700 – 1,800 kg DM/ha in late May and 2,100 – 2,200 kg DM/ha in late June. The new pasture is looking great and establishing really well. The round extended out to 60ish days while the new grass area was out and we are edging out to 70 days as the new grass area comes back into the round. When the cows start being dried off the round will start to extend naturally to get out to the 100+ day round for winter.

Drying off
We dried off all the cows due to calve before 5th August on the 25th May. There are around 150 cows in this group, leaving 150 – 160 cows milking. On 25th June the cows calving in the first half of August will be dried off, there are around 40 – 50 cows in this group, leaving 100 – 110 cows milking plus the heifers who have calved from 16th June (10ish). On 5th July, the rest of the spring calvers will be dried off, there are around 40 – 50 cows in this group, leaving 65 empty cows milking, plus 50 heifers, plus the early spring cows starting.

Weed control
Even in this low payout, weed spray is still very important. Using Pasturekleen, Relay, Baton, or equivalent, is right for paddocks without chicory, but the chicory paddocks need Valdo, Preside, or equivalent. This is such a key part to maintain an excellent pasture sward and ensure we grow and harvest as much high quality pasture as possible.

BF cows

Run off

The run off looks great and is growing a lot of excellent pasture. The aim will be to run this feed out over the next 3 months – by the time the spring calvers all head back to the dairy farm to calve! At present 90 weaned 2015 calves are getting 5 days/paddock + grass silage and 56 in-calf heifers + 26 dry cows are getting 7 days/paddock + 4 kg DM/day of maize silage.

Notes from our farm advisor

Other notes from our farm advisor that might be of interest.

Cost of production
With the challenging financial times over the last two years there has rightly been increasing talk of managing costs on farm and the ‘cost of production’ is becoming a common topic.

This is clearly very good to continue to remind us to watch the costs involved in our business, but unfortunately the message about how to improve your cost of production is neither consistent nor helpful to actually achieve the intended goal.

Reduce costs
Obviously, looking at how costs can be reduced is always important and should be done regularly – especially in lower payouts.

It pays to keep costs in two categories: those that directly affect production and those that don’t. This helps to ensure that when costs that directly affect production are taken out, that production is also budgeted to be reduced.

The main and significant problem with this plan is that a lot of costs on farm are in fact pretty well fixed and therefore as production drops (as some ‘variable’ costs are reduced) then the actual cost of production with the fixed costs lifts. I have picked up a number of new clients this year who have fallen into this exact trap, where they have followed some popular advice and dropped out some costs, but have lost significant production as a result, causing a significant lift (not drop) in their cost of production. This is a common problem I also hear from outside my consultancy group and while some figures may argue farm working expenses are lower, once adding in the fixed costs of the business, the total cost of production is actually higher when production falls away too much.

Increase productivity
There is so much focus being given to reducing costs that the more important aspect of the equation is being lost – that being lifting productivity.

If costs are maintained but productivity is lifted, then the ‘cost of production’ will decrease a lot quicker than if you try and reduce costs without dropping too much production.

With the falling costs of supplements at the moment, there is more opportunity to lower the cost of production by actually lifting the amount of supplement being used while still lowering the total feed cost at the same time as lifting productivity.

This will significantly reduce the cost of production – way more than trying to reduce costs that have already been stripped down over the last 2 years of lower payouts.

Target numbers
I’m not a big fan of trying to compare between farms with these numbers, as they are often calculated differently and don’t always cater for very different farming operations – where some have no unpaid labour and some have no grazing but high interest costs for run offs etc. etc.

However, as a general guideline, we have seen cost of production numbers drop from around $4.50 – $5 / kg MS in the high payout years down to around $3.50 / kg MS this season.

I would like to think that on higher productivity farms, we should be able to see this drop further to closer to $3 / kg MS next season or $3.50 / kg MS on tougher farming country.

Autumn catch up – John van der Goes

Once again I’m slow writing this blog. I must be getting old as time just seems to fly by.

Nothing much seems to have happened since my last blog but I guess a lot of the day is taken up doing routine stuff.

We have been fortunate to have had reasonable rain fall so pasture covers and growth have been good. This, plus the fodder beet we have left, means we are able to carry on milking. We have just dried off the lightest cows to give them time to reach their target condition score by calving – as the season has been a lot better than the predictions there were only forty that needed drying off. I am still milking most of my empties as well to help with eating all the fodder beet.

In the last month I have been able to get some fencing done at the runoff. This has been on the list for at least five years. All the fences were post and batten with no barb wire and no electric wires either. This meant that all the battens ended up together and the heifers every year would learn to push through.

JVG old fence combined

This usually ended up with broken posts and lots of bad language. We have now removed the battens on most of the fences and put electric wires in their place. Only two more fence lines left to fix and then they are all done.

JVG fence heifers combined

The next job on the list is to resurface the races. I was meant to start during the summer but my grader blade needed a ram repaired, this took ages and it only came back a couple of weeks ago. I was busy with the fencing and wanted to finish the job before starting a new one (a very rare occurrence). Hopefully the weather will continue to play ball and allow me to get this job done.

JVG race combined

Hope all is well with you guys out there as well.

Changing times – Noldy Rust

It’s gypsy weekend, another time of chaos and mayhem for farmers moving onto new ventures, either to other farms or moving on to another stage of life outside farming. We are experiencing a taste of this ourselves this weekend as Bernard moves into a new sharemilking venture, oh so exciting and maybe a bit scary as he comes to grips with getting paid on production, farming on a different farm  and coming to grips with a new boss!! Mind you, in time I’m sure he’ll  get used to getting paid per kg and the new farm……We wish him, Jo and the boys all the best and celebrate 3 fruitful years in a positive working relationship that has resulted in both of us reaching the goals we set when we started back in June 2012.

As a smaller herd farmer, I am absolutely convinced of the value of a smaller farm in providing a stepping stone to aspiring younger farmers as a means of learning gaining experience in ALL facets of running a farm. What a buzz to see someone progress through the industry as many of us have in the past. The experience and wealth of knowledge that Bernard takes with him will no doubt be a huge benefit for the owners of his new farm, I’m sure they will be eternally grateful to me for the indirect value I am adding to their business via Bernard! I must drop some hints when I visit as to my preferred brand of beer or even my favourite restaurant!!

NR & BK May blogSam is now the man on the farm, a Massey graduate with several years of “hands on farming” experience up his sleeve. He is also my nephew, so I know his family reasonably well. Sam used to come and stay with us in the holidays whilst he was a kid at school. He always showed promise as an aspiring farmer and got more and more useful the older he got! Now that he is in his 20s, he can prove to me how useful he really is!! I guess I will need to pay him for his services now though, free meals and baking from Aunty Bev and the odd trip to McDonalds and the movies probably won’t cut the mustard anymore!! I look forward to seeing him grow his skillset as he gains experience and adds value to our farming operation.

On farm, things are looking positive. Dried most of the cows off on the 29th of May after going on once a day on the 24th, which was a wet cold Sunday and I was on afternoon milking duty (and Bernard was away). We had passed last year’s production by then, so we were all happy. We still have a few empties and late calvers milking, cell count will determine how long they go for. I feel it’s my duty to give Sam a bit of experience milking in our dairy to get his hand in before the rush of calving!! A bit of milk in June will also provide a wee, tiny, miniscule bit of welcome cash in July!! The cows are in good condition and cover is going to be determined when Sam does his first farm walk. Maintaining condition and cover along with general maintenance should fill the brief winter break along with attending a SMASH conference, and spending 4 days at the fieldays to get a free lunch for all the family. I love those Ballance pies, and the muffins in the FMG tent are always worth a try!!

Enjoy your winter break.

NR & IT Ballance pies May blog