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!!

2019 begins – Brian Frost

It’s been a long time between blogs and lots has been happening. The rain has been wonderful and is keeping the grass growing at exponential rates, which is a wonderful change for this time of the year.

The end of 2018 was busy with normal farming life but also Mrs. Frostie took on a few other jobs like: receptionist, part-time chairside assistant for an orthodontist, and project manager for a build and shift of an engineering company, all while continuing with DairyNZ, being busy on various committees, and doing some farm work where needed. The younger two Frosties had their study leave and exams, so needless to say, we were all ready for a break so all ended up taking turns milking the cows over Christmas and New Year. We are all back at our other jobs now so no time for the beach this year! Frostie has had the opportunity to go fishing a few times (yum!!) and there have been trips to the lake for skiing.

bf water skiing jan19

On the farm

On the farm front there are 361 cows on the milking platform and the run off and production to date is 91,401 kg MS, compared with 82,116 kg MS at the same time last year. Current production is 8.5 – 8.9 kg MS/ha/day and 1.75 – 1.85 kg MS/cow/day. Cow condition is lifting at 4.2 – 4.3.

Magnesium, sodium and calcium are still being added with the meal and the trace mineral mix is also going through the water.

Feed

We have been trying the SPACE pasture cover readings but for the last few months these have been reading very low compared to the reality of what is on farm, so we haven’t been relying on these reports. The pasture cover targets are 2,600 – 2,700 kg DM/ha in late January.

Crops

The 24 ha of maize at the run off looks great.

Also, 7 – 8 paddocks were put into grass silage at the run off on 22nd November and we have another four paddocks currently shut up and ready to harvest.

The first grazing of chicory started on 5th December and when the turnips start (about now), the chicory will be added as a replacement for the pasture area to feed with the turnips. At this feeding rate we expect the cows to get around 5 kg DM/cow/day of turnips and the crops to last through to late March.

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Spring mating

The bulls came out of the heifers on 11th December. AB started for the cows on 23rd October and finished on 4th December. 259 cows (94%) were mated in 21 days and 100% by the end of mating. 108 cows returned to AB meaning 61% didn’t return. Pregnancy testing is booked in for 22nd January.

Once a day decision – John van der Goes

Once again it’s time to reflect on what’s happened in the last couple of months. Age must be catching up with me as time seems to go by so quickly it becomes hard to think back on what has happened.

While we were down south we took the opportunity to bike the Roxborough trail. A nice way to see some different country. Unfortunately, they had just had a big rain storm through (60 mm/hr in town, 170 mm in the land surrounding) so we weren’t sure if it would be open. Most of the trail is on the other side of the river and escaped the rain. It was an interesting ride. The gorge was great, but it was hot (at least 35 degrees) and it seemed like we were biking in a oven with the reflected heat off the rocks.

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We came home to a dry, and getting drier, farm. A quick look around confirmed what I had thought while we were away and the cows went on once a day on the 11th December. We had a reasonable amount of feed but could see that in 10 days – two weeks it would run out. Making the change then would impact a lot more on production. With the continued dry we lost the extra production we had made up and are now 3% down on last year. The dry weather also meant that only a couple of paddocks had a second cut of silage, so a bit less silage for the summer. For a while it looked like the fodder beet yield might be severely impacted. I decided to feed silage and extra meal to let the fodder beet grow more. Fortunately rain after Christmas and in the new year have meant it has grown a lot more. Its yield is about 20 t/ha (down from 29 t/ha previous years). However, more rain over recent weeks means it has improved markedly and should continue to keep growing as long as there is enough moisture. It looks like I made the right call for once. With the grass growing well I have pulled most of the meal and silage out and the cows are going well on grass and fodder beet.

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This year I thought it was time to declare war on our weeds. I’m hoping that this will improve the pasture available to our cows. I have started by attacking the Californian thistles. I’m spraying them with a boom on our side-by-side so I only have to spray the patches.

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Early in the new year we had our first herd preg test – 75% in-calf rate, so down slightly on normal but quite pleasing. The vet could see a foetus in quite a few of the cows that were scanned without a pregnancy, but it was too early to age.

We have managed to get some more of the bathroom done but need to push on as we are hoping to sand the floor by the end of February. Will have to get a wriggle on.

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Still the jobs keep piling up and the want-to-does get left for later. Same old story. Hopefully some of the biking and fishing will eventuate – dreams are free.

Hope you are all well and the rain gods have been kind.

Roll on Christmas and holidays – Brian Frost

 

Well summer has arrived with a bang. It felt like yesterday we were saying “Please stop the rain” and now we are crying for it to return (just not in the volumes it has come during the rest of the year – farmers are never satisfied).

On the farm

Currently we have 330 cows on farm – all grazing 3 ha/day (18 – 19 day round), plus 7.5 kg/cow/day of meal, 10 – 15 litres/c/day of P8. Production to date is 85,248 kg MS, compared with 88,693 kg MS at the same time last year. Current production is 7.4 – 7.5 kg MS/ha/day and 1.7 kg MS/cow/day. Cow condition is still 4.2 – 4.3.

Feed

The average pasture cover is 2,505 kg DM/ha. Our pasture cover targets for the next eight weeks are 2,200 – 2,300 kg DM/ha in late December and 2,700 – 2,800 kg DM/ha in late January.

Fertiliser

4.5 tonne of urea (SustaiN) has been applied at 80 – 90 kg urea/ha. We will have a break for a full round when this round is finished.

Cropping

Unfortunately with the last lot of flooding we have had to re-sow a couple of the paddocks, that were originally sown in turnips, into Bealey.

Mating

The bulls came out of the heifer mob on 4th December.

AB started for the cows on 22nd October and finished on 4th December, before the bulls went in.

280 cows (88%) were mated in 3 weeks, 304 cows (95%) in 4 weeks and 99% in total to 6 weeks of AB. The bulls have just come out to give 8 weeks of mating.

Run off

At the run off we have 22 dry cows and 126 R2 yr heifers grazing 2 – 3 days per paddock. 133 calves are getting 6 days/paddock, putting the stock on the run off on a 30(ish) day round.

Cropping

17 ha of maize was sown on 15th November and has had nitrogen applied. The crop is looking amazing considering the late planting – the warm weather has certainly helped and the run off did get a small amount of rain a couple of weeks back.

The chicory/annual paddocks were sown into a Bealey (22 – 25 kg/ha), chicory (3 kg/ha) and clover (4 kg/ha) mix on 13th October and are being grazed for the second time.

Silage

We were able to make 30 bales of silage off 4.5 paddocks on 23 – 25th November, nothing like what we were able to get done last year, but better than nothing.

This is a much shorter blog, with no pictures (sorry) as we are off for 3 weeks – Israel, Jordan, and Hong Kong on the way home. This has been a long time in the planning, and even with Trump’s comments trying to stir things up we are still going – 18 of the family members are going so it’s going to be the trip of a lifetime.

Heating up – John van der Goes

At the moment I’m sitting in a motel in Queenstown on holiday. We have been to the Catlins for a memorial dedication to my sister and then visited friends who farm in Southland. The days were hot and sunny, although their grass doesn’t seem to have gone as stalky as ours. Everybody was saying how unusual it was much the same as at home. They seem to have had a dream spring down here with a lot of dry weather.

JVG holiday Dec17.jpg

So, what’s been happening at home? The wet weather finally went away, but not before having an impact on production. The cows, like last season, didn’t peak very well. But overall production is up a little. We have just finished AB, and the bulls are out, so now we are able to return to smooth milkings and get into routines. AB has gone not too badly, but the submission rate is down on normal. It looks like our conception rates are ok, with normal numbers returning and cows still coming on heat. Once again the cost of putting on the heat patches was well worth it.

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All the fodder beet has been planted and is up and growing well. The later plantings seem to have got away really well this year. The first cut of silage has been made from the runoff and fert put on, ready for a second cut hopefully. We only managed to get ten bales from the home farm as there has been very little surplus. The ground has dried out and now we are looking for rain. Typical – farmers are never happy. Now the grass has gone all stalky and the quality is not too good. I have been putting extra nitrogen on as I think the wet weather has taken most of what was in the soil away. The lack of nitrogen is also making the grass go stalky.

JVG baleage Nov17.jpg

I got the digger in to do some drainage work on a fodder beet paddock, then a digger to play in myself for a couple of days. I cleaned out drains that have been put off for the last few years. I also had them in to repair the track up the back of the runoff, which was getting to the stage where the tractor could hardly get up it. I feel sorry for the contractor, trying to please everybody doing deferred maintenance.

JVG digger.jpg

It seems to have been a really busy time, rushing to get everything done. I don’t know if it’s me slowing down, or just lots to do. I only manage to get the basics done, if that, most of the time. Meaning that any other jobs needing doing get missed out, which is a bit disappointing and frustrating.

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One of those jobs is renovating the bathroom. We decided to start during the winter to get it done before calving. As normally happens we only got part way through before calving started so now need to get back into it. May even have it done before the New Year. Not holding my breath.

I went to Clevedon to fly the flag for SMASH at their A&P show. Interesting that a lot of people thought we milked small cows.

JVG Clevedon A&P2.jpg

We managed to get a break away before mating, which was nice, and now this one, so hopefully we will survive the summer. We have quite a few trips away planned for later in the season so need to be on top of essential jobs before we go.

Hope all is well with everybody…

Autumn already?! – Noldy Rust

As I stumbled my way to the dairy this morning in the dark (no, not owing to a big night or anything like that!!) I lamented the fact that the spotlight was out of action and low cloud cover meant any hope of a glimmer of light to illuminate the way was sadly just wishful thinking. Along with a bit of a cooler feel in the air, this reminded me that we are indeed now into the autumn period of the season and before we know it winter will be upon us. However, autumn has only just kicked in and we have several weeks ahead of us to enjoy cooling temperatures, falling leaves and Super rugby.

I’ve heard many comments around the place, comments that I must agree with to be honest, asking how autumn can be here when summer hardly turned up? I mean, how much rain were we fortunate enough to get over the last three months? Most of us expected, with a little trepidation, that after the bucket-loads of rain that fell over the winter/spring period, we would be in for a rather dry summer……and rightly so. Well, thankfully, that wasn’t the case around our neck of the woods. I realise that there was a lot of variation in rainfall amounts, even across our region, but we must have had close to 200 ml in the last two months, and a lot less heat that normal.

This certainly kept our pastures in good shape, with good covers going forward and minimal summer grasses invading our nice ryegrass and clover swards. Clover growth has been particularly strong this summer with lots of those lovely little white flowers dotted all through the paddocks. Following several years of dry to extremely dry summer/autumn months, this year has been exceptional.

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What a relief!! Thankfully, the decision to sell surplus grass silage from the maize block back in spring turned out to be a good one as I would never have lived it down if we had run out of supplements owing to a dry summer. I could tell by the way Sam looked at me when I said that we wouldn’t be bringing any grass silage home that he thought I must have lost the plot. On the contrary, we now have had the opportunity to empty the bunker of 3-year-old grass silage (which was still in top condition might I add) and have plenty of room to store the maize when it arrives.

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Speaking of maize, a topic never too difficult to discuss, I guess if there’s one downfall of a cooler and wetter summer it’s the fact that the harvest will be later than normal. The only impact of any consequence at our place is that the regrassing of these paddocks will be a bit later than normal. However, I still expect to have the maize off and the new grass in by the end of March at the latest; I can live with that. We aren’t looking for any maize in a hurry as we still have around 50 tonnes on hand which will last well into April. We plan to get stuck in and do any other regrassing shortly, taking advantage of higher than usual moisture levels, so at least these paddocks will be growing strongly by the time winter arrives. Next year’s maize paddocks will get undersown with an annual, such as Hogan or Winter Star, and we have identified another couple of paddocks that will be sprayed out and replanted with a perennial diploid, such as Alto, Trojan, or the like.

My ‘no-till’ maize is looking good, and at this stage I have no reason to rule out using the ‘no-till’ method again next year. We do have a higher than usual weed burden in the crop, mainly grasses, which I put down to the length of time the crop took to canopy. This is due to cooler soil and air temperatures, so the plan next year will be to consider a post-emergence spray as late as possible to deal to any grasses and flat weeds that appear. Our maize has been grown in effluent paddocks again this year, so no fertiliser was applied as a base dressing. However, I was ‘challenged’ at our recent discussion group as to whether a side dressing of nitrogen may help lift the yield. Consequently, we did a deep N test (or should I say that Marty from Ballance did a deep N test!) and we found that our N levels were indeed adequate, so applying any more N would probably make no difference. But I was curious now so we did anyway! We flew 200 kg of SustaiN onto half of the paddock and will do a yield cut at harvest. I sure am looking forward to the outcome as I’m pretty sure we had a bet on it at discussion group!! Roll on next group I say!!

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I’ve heard from other farmers that empty rates are higher than usual, so I have delayed scanning for as long as possible. I don’t know that this delay will help, but ignorance is bliss… However, I think Sam has booked a vet for later next week so I guess we will know before too long.

I must be going on a bit as my computer tells me that I’m now onto page two! Sorry about that, it must be time to end! Oh, just one more thing, what is everyone doing about bobby calf loading this year?? We need to follow the rules and no longer have our bobby pen on the roadside, so now we need to look at options that comply with the new regulations. Many of us smaller farmers don’t have many bobbies, what with doing AI for a long period of time and having beef bulls over the herd. Is it wise spending thousands of dollars on loading facilities just to load 30-40 calves a year? What can we do to get around this? I might go see the neighbour who has lots of Jersey calves and put mine with his. It will get his average up!!!! Maybe do a bit of bartering and swap each calf for a nice bottle of Pinot Noir or a six pack of ‘Panhead’? Any ideas welcome!!

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Anyway, enough is enough, may the days stay warm, the rain turn up regularly, the Chiefs keep up their winning form, and may we all remain enthusiastic about the challenges and opportunities that dairy farming has to offer.