Waiting for rain – Graham Smith

The way things are going it is going to be a long summer. Feels like it started last November! My rainfall records show last year as the third driest on record, with annual rain 300 mm below the average. Going back to 1992 my records show a year like this about every 10 years on average. Production is still at 1.12 solids per cow per day. I have destocked by culling all the empties, plus one slack-uddered, grumpy cow. I scanned the cows mid- January for an 87% 6 week in calf rate, which of course gave me an empty rate of 13%. All things considered I feel that is very good on 6 weeks of mating.

Feeding the girls in this weather has required more PKE than normal. It has been fed at 4 kg per day, a 30% blend with soy hulls. Production is 14% behind last year, so the extra pay-out will be appreciated. I have been holding off on feeding silage due to there being less in the pit than normal, but the day is looming quickly. A 36-day round is allowing for a little growth, with the last readout showing 5 kg/ha/day. The greenest paddocks are those with the most densely planted trees, because of the shading effect stopping the grass from being exposed to the sun all day.

The trees also provide extra feed at this time of year when I do my annual pruning. I wait until the cows are in the paddock then prune some, or all, of them, depending on tree density. This has deferred silage feeding and has tidied up a lot of extra growth. I prune using a pole saw. These have a reach of up to 8 metres and only cut as you draw the saw back. This makes it reasonably safe standing on the ground and being able to dodge the branches coming down. I tend to prune one side of the tree on a fence line so that I don’t have to throw branches over the fence to the cows. The other side will be done when the cows go into the paddock on the other side of the fence. At that height windy days can be a problem, causing jam ups of the blade as the branches twist. Fortunately, I have three saws so one can be used to rescue the other. The saws have extruded aluminium poles and locking pins so I can continually adjust the height required. The blades are made of hardened steel and once blunt need to be replaced, as the type of steel means they can’t be sharpened. Each blade is approximately $100 to replace.

You can get American-made Barnell pole saws at horticentres and they come in a variety of extendable sizes. These are a reasonable price and there is a good part replacement service.

The other sort I use are the Japanese Silky range, which are more expensive but of very high quality. One of their line even has resharpenable blades which is an advantage. I get these from Levin Sawmakers who have the full range. I also have a small handsaw from Silky that I carry on my belt to do smaller jobs. You don’t want your non sawing hand anywhere near these blades as they are extremely sharp as I found to my cost, when it went through a branch and tried to remove my thumb as well!!

The third brand I use is White Horse ( Baek Ma ) a South Korean product. I’m using their pole saw at the moment because it has the newest blade.

Overall, they all do a good job and which one you choose will be guided by the size you want, the availability and the price.

I must be careful when pruning due to the cows pushing up to be first to the leaves, it only takes one bully to push a cow towards you and you are at risk of being crushed. The cows love every part of a Paulownia and will eat all the leaves and the branches down to finger size (see a video of Graham’s cows at work on Paulownia prunings). When those run out, they start on the bark and are very skillful at removing every last piece of bark. All that is left are the larger branches which I push up and cart away for burning. I like to prune up to 8 metres because that lets the sun in under the tree. I have found that the grass remains palatable up to the trunk of the tree. With high pruning, as the sun moves so does the shade and the cows move with it. That removes the chance of dead areas under the trees due to trampling. The high prune also allows wind flow which stops the build-up of eczema spores.

But farming can’t be all work and I was able to get away to Whitianga for the Waterways concert. It was great to see George Thorogood and Billy Idol live. The weather was fine, too fine, it was very hot and 9 hours in the sun was hard work. The day prior to the concert we were lucky to be invited out sailing on Mercury Bay. We went to the marine reserve and with a little burley we had big snapper feeding beside the yacht. A very enjoyable day out. Getting home on the Monday was as bad as being in Auckland with traffic jammed up at Tairua and Kopu.

Last week we got away again to see Cold Chisel in concert at Tauranga, an excellent concert with more agreeable temperatures.

In the meantime, we await the rain, and a welcome respite from heat and dust.

Reducing environmental impact – analysing options and measuring results – Graham Smith

Lately there have been quite a few thunderstorms raging around. I just wish they had deposited a bit more precipitation here! Plenty of noise but not much action, just like those politicians in Wellington. Just over the hill got 55 mm in the last storm and we were lucky (? ) to catch the edge of it and get 2 mm!!! Calendar year to date is showing some of the lowest rainfall recorded since I bought the farm.

MS production is now 1.26 kg/day/cow, and I am mowing ahead of the girls to keep on top of the seed heads. Just about to take the third cut of silage off the lease block and with the underlying dry conditions I may need it sooner rather than later.

Now that AI has finished the shed routine is a lot more relaxed. I did 4.5 weeks of nominated sires, and then 12 days of SGL. Then things went quiet, so I finished with 6 weeks and two days of mating. All cows cycled naturally, and it will remain to be seen what the empty rate will be with such a short mating. The last cow is due to calve about the 25th August which will give me a tight calving.

As I mentioned in the last blog, I did Overseer FM to look at my greenhouse gas profile. This showed my biggest (and everybody else’s) problem is enteric methane and as we know there is no answer yet for that. Options for the future to reduce emissions were firstly to cut down on imported feed, then use less N fertiliser. This would probably work best as a combination of the two which could give up to a 20% reduction in GHG but about a 10% reduction in EBIT. In my OAD scenario rearing less replacements will also give a reduction of 3% in GHG and a 5% gain in EBIT. Lastly, I could plant more sidlings in trees (pines?) and this has savings in GHG of 6%, but also a loss in EBIT of up to 12%. This is based on a dairy farm case study and could be further tweaked as we learn more, and Overseer is brought up to speed.

I said last time that my water tests were in, and overall I am very happy with the quality of water leaving the farm. Of course, my knowledge of water and swamps and their effects on water quality is limited, so I talked to Bill Vant from Waikato Regional Council. He was very helpful and without his explanations I would have failed to understand my water samples at all. I guess what I am saying here is it is all very well to have samples and records, but an expert is needed to make sense of it all. Once I explained how each watercourse was made up Bill was able to say why I had those readings and what they meant.

So, my samples showed that my system of water cleaning was working, but unless you can sample the inlet and outlet it is very hard to say how well it is working. Two of my samples were from swamps cleaning a mixture of surface and ground water and they showed that effect in the readings. They showed low to moderate readings and I should be happy with those. The third sample, made up of water coming from a spring, showed high Total N, which reflected the fact that this spring is fed by water from a large catchment which is seeping N into it. This water has been cleaned by the sands it runs through and had low suspended solids and because of that the phosphorus present was in mostly in a dissolved form. This is opposed to one of the swamp samples where you could see the particulate matter (solids) floating in it and therefore the P rating represented those solids. Bill’s parting comment was to inquire if the water had been tested for E.coli. It had not, and this will be requested in the next lot of testing I do.

In summation, there were a lot of things to learn about water and the effects we, and the environment, have on it. Also, get professional advice on the results. Lastly, keep testing so that you build a profile and learn from the changes as you go. Remember that the numbers you get are only relevant to you, which is why I saw little point in printing mine.

Hope you all have a great Christmas and a successful New Year.

Mating matters – Noldy Rust

The end of another weekend is nearing, and I am home from open homes and theatre practice. Too early to relax in the chair as Sam is still milking and I get the guilts if I’m relaxing and he is working. I can’t admit to those same guilts affecting me if Bev is working around the house, but then again I really think she does enjoy dusting, cooking and vacuuming, I mean I did buy her a new vacuum cleaner and a new steamer for cooking the broccoli so she has reason to be happy….However, I do think the safest option is to disappear into my little office and tap away on my keyboard for a few minutes, writing my overdue blog. Keeps me out of harm’s way and ensures that they all think I’m doing my bit to keep the world going around!

Out on the farm, things are ticking along nicely. Mating has been the focus in the past wee while and all went according to plan. We split the herd, ran the non-cyclers with bulls, or should I call them the ‘Nontailpaintrubbedoffers’ and had great results there again. The bulls did their job and we had about 85% went up in that lot in three weeks and 94% in the main herd, giving us a submission rate of 92% in three weeks. Scratchies, tail paint, vigilance and bull power! Makes a formidable mix. The second round has just come to an end and there are only around 2% that haven’t been up. Happy with the result, should be a good calving next year. However, we can’t count our chickens yet and we still don’t know how the non-return rate will end up by the time we finish mating. Three more weeks of bulls, then two weeks of short gestation AI, will see us close to Christmas and in time to finish mating just as Sam takes his Christmas leave.

In my last blog I was contemplating the use of Red Devon bulls over the heifers after they had been up to AI. In the end, we did go down this track. Beautiful, quiet Red Devons were bought and have been running with the heifers straight after we had inseminated them with recorded Jerseys. If we get 50% in calf to AI it will be an ok result, and if all the rest calve without intervention to the Red Devons, then we’re onto a winner. Well-grown heifers, easy-calving bulls with narrow shoulders, a vigilant farmer at calving time, all should be sweet!! I’ll be singing from the rooftops if all is well next calving, and conversely be avoiding the subject if we have some issues. However, I have confidence in my research…..

Grass growth has been consistent for the last couple of months, so we cut the feeding out right back to a bare minimum. The issue with a large stack face of maize and only feeding a couple of kilos DM per cow means that the face starts heating, even when inoculated with 11C33. For this reason, we buy in a unit or two of husk bales from Gisborne. Baled maize husks with crushed grain in them. This feed has an average ME of 10, is value for money, and is good to feed with a bit of PKE or the like. It’s really only a back-up if we hit a bit of a feed pinch. We find this works well and saves wasting maize owing to heating on the face. We closed the stack down properly this year, getting a digger in to pull the face down and give the front of the stack a good roll so that we could seal it properly with tyres touching. You may think that it’s a waste getting a digger in for that??? Our theory was that wasting feed is worse and it’s just so difficult to get a stack face to seal if its vertical. I hate opening a stack and seeing heaps and heaps of mould and gunge, a bit like opening that container that’s at the back of the fridge and been there for a few months….That reminds me, when Bev is finished vacuuming, she may want to clean the fridge out. I can’t help ‘cos I’m busy….

The last of the calves have headed up the road to their Garden of Eden, rolling in grass up there at Phil’s place, and achieving massive growth rates. It’s always nice to have well-grown calves go off grazing, knowing that they have had an excellent start in their pathway to cowhood….is that even a word?? Is now I guess! We’ll be up there monthly drenching them, for the next few months anyway, as it’s nice to see them grow. I had a bit of a brilliant idea to keep the last couple of calves for veal, keep them in the shed on milk for 4-5 months then send them on their big goodbye. This meat is really tender and easy to eat as we did this a couple of times years ago. However, I’m having second thoughts now as they look so fat and strong and healthy, and they’re so friendly, and they will grow so much more if we don’t send them on their big goodbye for another 16 months at least, and plus, I kind of like them!! So does Sam. And our young granddaughter! What would I tell Ainsley if she were to ask where Mr Speckle and Blackie have gone?? Hmmmm, maybe I’m getting soft.

So, from here on forward, it’s just business as usual in the lead up to summer. SustaiN is stockpiled in the shed, to be applied when the rain is nigh. Pasture spraying has been done and the farm looks nice and clean, a real credit to Sam. The pressure is now off on the farm, but the foot’s to the floor for another month in the real estate game. Plenty of listings are awaiting buyers and enquiry are steady. Open days and viewings, appraisals and contracts, are the order of the day, for the next wee while anyway. The payout forecast is good in the short to medium term, so it’s nice to have some positive news. Not to mention the beef price!! Whoa, that’s another good reason the let Mr Speckle and Blackie live a bit longer…they might pay for my ticket to Rarotonga next year….. Hmmm, holidays are now in my mind, I better sign off, my mind is wandering.

Ciao for now… Noldy

A Calving to Remember – Noldy Rust

The month of September rolling around always gives me such a feeling of relief. I guess it’s owing to the fact that this is it, spring is here, the rush is over, and with daylight saving looming it will mean that those long evenings will once again reappear enabling all sorts of outdoor activity. Oh, the joy that comes with this time of year, daffodils are out, trees are throwing out new shoots, and calves are skipping around in the paddock, free from their restrictive enclosures. However, just because the sun is shining today and it’s warm and clear, it can still change. The forecast for the first half of September isn’t too crash hot, hence the reason to get this written while the going is good!

With only a handful of cows left to calve, I can honestly say that this has been a calving to remember. I don’t know how you all have fared, but for us, the common things that can go wrong and make life tough, such as down cows, mastitis, difficult calvings, and cow and calf deaths have been few and far between. I don’t wish to speak too soon, but plenty of mag in the diet all winter, a rigorous dry cow programme, well-conditioned animals, vigilant observation of springers, and a fantastic new lube pump that helps calves pop out like a cork from a champagne bottle (see previous blog) have meant that this calving has been as good as it gets. Much of the credit must go to Sam for his attention to detail and getting things done right. Mind you, it was me who organised the lube pump. And paid for the Teatseal. And the mag for that matter. What I’m saying is that I did play a small part. However, all that aside, smooth sailing makes life easy and keeps the cost down. We had to invite our vet out for a cup of tea so Sam could meet her!! And she’s been our vet since February! Sam has to go do a refresher on how to treat mastitis as it’s been so long, and I can’t remember the surname of that JD guy that used to come and pick up dead cows. I better stop bragging now, otherwise it will come back and haunt me! However, we are often quick to moan when things are bleak, it’s only right to celebrate success too!

We’re a bit more onto it this year with our feed budgeting and pasture allocation. Sam is regularly doing his farm walks and we decided earlier in the piece to engage the services of Regan from LIC Farmwise. He’s a good, keen man and the aim of having him on board is to keep us on track, making sure we match rotation length with feed available and don’t end up getting our cover too low, whilst recognising any projected surplus early. In our regime, we use supplementary feed most of the year on the pad, but only if it’s needed to maintain feed intakes and manage residuals.

It’s so good not having to buy in feed at the moment, but there are always opportunities to spend money just when we think we have nothing to spend it on. We always do an annual machine check, and there’s often something that needs repairing. But the vacuum pump?? Couldn’t it just be some perished elbows or something? I mean to say, we reconditioned this not long ago?? Can’t argue though, it’s an important piece of machinery and it’s got to be right! And then there’s the tractor service. Had hoped it would be a simple case of changing a few filters and flushing the radiator, but oh no, the ever-vigilant mechanic spotted some bearings that should have collapsed long ago! The 3-hour service turned into a tractor out of action for a week. I gave Sam a square mouth shovel and some concrete pills in order for him to load the maize by hand, but he balked, opted to go visit our ever-obliging neighbour and borrow a spare tractor with a good loader on it. Back in my day…, nah, we won’t go there!

Our heifer calf numbers were down a bit this year. We did AI on the heifers and the better cows and managed to get a few keepers from them, and consequently had put more lower BW cows in calf to Wagyu, white face and Speckle Park. We thought we had the numbers right, but with slightly more empties than usual and a few more bull calves, we are a bit short on rearers. Were a bit short should I say. Luckily a farmer down the road had surplus heifers, so that sorted that out! Our aim is to try and minimise bobby calves, and this is working well. The only real bobbies are any dairy breed bull calves, and this year, against my wishes might I add, these bobbies go to AC Petfoods. I must say, it is an easy option. They come and pick them up daily, which means no time spent teaching them to drink off a feeder. Plus, the biggest bonus is that it’s nice and humane for the calf. No long truck rides and no need to wait until four days old.

Before we know it mating time will be here. Bulls are ordered and we’ll do the non-cyclers running separately with bulls again as this has worked well in the past. Metrichecking has been done on 80% of the cows, and the tailpaint for pre-mating heats is due to be applied. I am wondering, in order to minimise bobbies even more, should we try Red Devon bulls over our heifers? They say they’re easy calving and there should be a market for them I would have thought. Too risky?? Looking for advice here team?? It would be awesome to have Red Devons and Speckles and white face and Wagyu and Friesian. In this cosmopolitan world we live in, it would be almost not PC not to!

That’s me done, time to get out there and feed the calves and check those few springers. Wouldn’t want to have to give that JD guy a call now would I?? I’ve forgotten his number anyway!!

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.


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.


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.

bf calves jan19

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.

Christmas catch up – Noldy Rust

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keeping on top of the grass – Graham Smith

Mating this year has been a little better than in the past due to the great weather. Submission would be classed on the low side, at 85% after three weeks. I put nine cows on once a day and that certainly got them cycling. I have one cow not cycling now, so in all I am happy with that.

GS cow calf2 small Nov18

Currently production is 1.7 kg per day, down on last season, which was a record season, but I am using a lot less PKE due to the great grass growth. In the season to date I am 4% behind last year, but still happy with where I am at. I have already made two cuts of silage from my leases and brought the heifers home to clean up any surplus. The last cut was very heavy, and my small pit just managed to take it all.

All this great growth has necessitated mowing ahead of the cows to maintain residuals, and the quality of the next rotation will give a production response, I hope. Average cover is 2300 with all my leases locked up for another cut.

It went from very wet to a little too dry. Right now, there has been a series of thunderstorms passing through, but we have missed the heavy rain and have had just a few light sprinklings. That has been enough to get the annual fertiliser working.

The calves are doing very well on a daily shift ahead of the cows.

Once the weather fined up, I got a lot of metal spread. Having a four-wheel drive tractor for the first time has meant even the steep tracks are in great shape. Having a cab has also meant not worrying about taking a raincoat and leggings, and I have never done so much work in such comfort!!! The starlings also thought the new (secondhand) tractor was a great place to nest, and it has been a battle of wits trying to stop them getting in. I used rolled up wire netting, and after the fourth attempt I managed to exclude them from getting under the bonnet.

GS Feeding out time small Nov18

During Labour weekend my eldest son, Chris, got married to Nadia on the farm. It was timed to coincide with the Paulownia flowering and the farm looked a picture. The weather was good, and the wedding took place on top of our central hill in a natural amphitheatre. We built a walking track up the hill through the trees and the rock face. It is a pleasant walk, and will eventually link in with the other walking track we are building. Having all the family gathered was a bonus and we all enjoyed each other’s company.

The track started by our French guests was further extended by two more French couples during November. Benjamin and Enis, and Charlile and Marissa, went to it with a will. The track now extends to the top of the hill, with some nice views on the way. We also discovered a new site of glow worms in a cave on the farm and they enjoyed viewing them. They were further wowed when I called up the moreporks and they called back!

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

Has the Easter Bunny passed away? – Noldy Rust

It’s Good Friday, the start of the Easter break. The sun’s still shining, the grass is still growing, and the cows are still milking. Pretty exciting huh? That part is great. I am a bit concerned, though, about one thing.

The Easter Bunny and his mates had been living in the maize paddock not too far from the house. I know this because I often saw them in the evenings, frolicking in the open paddock nearby, hopping across the driveway and even digging holes in our lawn. That maize has now been harvested and replaced by a light green hue of Governor ryegrass. The question remains though: what happened to the Easter Bunny and his mates?? No more evidence of them anywhere…did they translocate, did they join another colony elsewhere, or, heaven forbid, did they fall victim to the gaping jaws of the maize chopper and add to the maize yield?? My fear is, come Easter Sunday morning there will be no little baskets or caches of Easter eggs anywhere and my worst fears may be realized…. the Easter Bunny is no longer, driven to his fate by our need to harvest his dwelling place!

What a different autumn this is compared to last year! Far out, the maize is in, the new grass is in and up, ready for spraying with Thistrol Plus or Tribal Gold. Undersowing has taken place, the effluent pond has been pumped out and solids dug out, a new race has been formed and sanded, and paddock 7a has had the digger through it to dry out the wet areas. All this work comes at a price though…. The odd broken strainer and cut waterline from diggers and maize trucks seems inevitable in the frantic rush of getting things done!

NR maize stack broken post Apr18.jpg

This time last year I think the third cyclone was about to hit and the whole farm was as wet as can be. The maize couldn’t be harvested, and new grass certainly couldn’t be planted. So far this year has been one out of the box. I guess, however, there has been the odd challenge. Low ME pasture, owing to high levels of summer grass, has meant  production seems to have struggled on most farms. It seems to be coming right now as the weather cools a bit and more ryegrass appears, taking the place of all the summer grass rubbish. The infestation of yellow bristle grass is certainly a lot worse than normal. What a shocker! We are taking note of the worst patches and aim to spray it in November/December with Puma S.

NR bristle grass Apr18.jpg

NR Steve vet Apr18Unfortunately, our empty rate was 12%, which is still higher than I would like. This is lower than the 15% we had last year and I put this down firmly to Steph, our de facto daughter, ex-tenant vet, who did our scanning last year, moving away to work in Ireland and getting Steve to do the scanning this year. Steve is such a nice boy…… It seems that there are a huge range of results after talking with the vets. I think there is such a myriad of little things that must line up in most cases to keep the empty rate down. Yes, it was very, very wet during the mating period, but we were feeding copious amounts of feed on the pad. The cows certainly weren’t hungry at mating time. Maybe there was too much maize in the diet, or not enough protein, or the the pasture ME was too low, or the grass was too watery, or not enough sunshine, or our detection wasn’t up to speed? Or maybe they were just milking too well, or not well enough?? I do know that we followed the rules as best we could. We treated any dirty cows with Metricure, we ran a teaser, we used scratchies, we had enough bulls, we rotated the bulls etc etc. On the bright side, our 6 week in-calf rate was a pleasing 77% so that part was ok. It just seems such a waste to have to cull or carryover good, empty cows, when those ugly, niggly, low BW, 3 titted, “always s…t in the shed” ones get in calf early, year after year. Grrrrrrrrrrrr.

So, going forward, we have two months left of this season. Sam, our manager, who I introduced in earlier blogs (yes, the one that got married at mating time) won the award for “most promising new entrant” in the recent Dairy Industry Awards. This award has given me confidence for two reasons.

Firstly, even though he missed some of the mating period, winning an award such as he did MUST prove that he knows what he is doing, so the empty rate can’t have anything to do with any lack of skill from him. Just thinking about it, it may actually have been a bit to do with my lack of skill seeing as I was responsible for picking bulling cows in the early stages of mating whilst he was on his honeymoon. However, I would never own up to that.

Secondly, the award of the most promising new entrant has given me the confidence to employ him next year as a contract milker. He has proven himself now and I feel confident to be able to give him more responsibility. Yes, come June 1st he will be self-employed and getting paid on a milksolids basis. However, prior to that, he is off on his big OE with his wife to psych himself up for the rigours of contract milking. The farm will be in the capable hands of yours truly for around a month, so that should be an interesting experience for me (luckily, it’s not mating time at present!). I’m picking I’ll do a drive around farm walk on the day he leaves, decide the cover is too low and then put the cows on once a day. Milking twice a day for a month seems a bit daunting!! Unless there is a reader out there who is looking for some milkings???

Time to sign off now, I need to ensure that Sam has all the sprays, waterpipes, strainers, posts, tools, and whatnot to get all his chores done before I take over as operations manager for a month. I am having a practice run milking on Easter Sunday morning. By coincidence the timing is perfect as daylight saving ends and I will need to stay in bed for an extra hour!! Funny how it worked out that way!!….. Oh, the bliss.

Footnote: It is now Easter Sunday and after a refreshing sleep in of one hour, I can report that as per the photo below, the Easter Bunny is obviously alive and well as he has delivered his wares to our place. Phew!

NR Easter Apr18

A new year – Brian Frost

2018 started with us flying from Israel to Hong Kong, so we were in the air for the New Year’s celebrations. On 16th December we flew to Israel with our extended family to enjoy a wonderful trip touring Israel, Palestine and Jordan, and then stopping in Hong Kong on the way back to NZ. This is a trip we had been planning for a long time and it definitely did not disappoint – so much to take in, learn and enjoy in these amazing countries. We had 18 in our group and feel very privileged to have enjoyed such a fabulous life experience together.

BF Middle East Feb18 resized.jpg

On the farm

Wow, 2018 has certainly been interesting so far, with droughts, floods and storms! Early January was incredibly dry, dust was everywhere and in everything, and then the rain came – nice, but it didn’t stop – again, so in came the flood – again! Thankfully not bad, as it brought great grass growth over the farm. Here’s hoping this is a sign that this year will be a better balance of all these things, compared to last year when it seemed we had 10 months of rain, then 2 months of dry.

Currently we have 311 cows on farm – all grazing 1.5 ha/day (38 – 40 day round), plus 5.5 kg/cow/day of meal, plus 5 – 10 litres/cow/day of P8. Nineteen autumn calvers have been dried off and taken to the run off.

A zinc mineral mix is going in the water and causmag plus salt are being added as well.

Production to date is 106,347 kg MS compared with 113,353 kg MS at the same time last year. Current production is 5.4 – 5.5 kg MS/ha/day and 1.6 – 1.65 kg MS/cow/day.

Cow condition is 4.2 – 4.3 – after the fatter autumn calvers have been dried off.


The average pasture cover is now over 4,000 kg DM/ha. It was 2,128 kg DM/ha in early January and 3,085 kg DM/ha around 20th January; this just shows the amazing response to the rain. The pasture cover targets for the next eight weeks are 3,100 – 3,200 kg DM/ha in late February and 2,300 – 2,400 kg DM/ha in late March.

We started the turnips at 5 m2/cow/day on 9th January. At this rate the crop will last through until mid- March.

Unfortunately, a lot of the paddocks are very weedy with summer grass so it seems the grass spray was done too early to get the kill that we would have liked.

The grazing round held at 18 – 20ish days through December and into the start of January. After the rain and the turnips started, the round was extended to 40 days where it will hold now through the next 2 – 3 months.


Mating finished for the heifers on 1st December and the cows on 15th December. A pregnancy test has shown just four heifers are empty (including two of the biggest) and there was a 21% empty rate in the herd (68 cows), this compares to 21% (71) last year, so there are less empty cows this year – just!

New grass

Our aim is to get the new permanent pasture sown as soon as possible after the turnips have finished. We are also targeting the paddocks that have had annual undersown into them. We are going to try a mix of Trojan (20 – 22 kg/ha), Kotare and Weka white clover (2 kg/ha each), plus 3 kg/ha of Puna 2 chicory this year. Finding the right pastures that will last is still a major problem and we are taking the advice of our farm advisor. Again we are undersowing any paddocks we will put into turnips.

Run off

At the run off we have 40 dry cows and 126 R2 heifers grazing together, and 133 calves. The grazing round is extended as the pasture keeps building in front of them.

The 17 ha of maize is looking amazing and should be ready for harvest in late March.

Some more photos of our trip

BF Middle East combined Feb18

Our children being the statues. Frostie on a camel at Petra.

BF Middle East combined2 Feb18

Slightly different style of farming to New Zealand.