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.

Autumn Celebrations – Noldy Rust

My calendar seems in a bit of disarray at the moment as we work ourselves through 2 weeks of days on, days off, days on, days off, causing me to struggle a bit trying to remember what day it is. I do know that it’s ANZAC day today as this is such a well-advertised and poignant time in the life of our nation, and Easter has just been and gone, as is evident by the ever-diminishing basket of Easter eggs sitting in the middle of our dining room table. I am also aware that today is our wedding anniversary, many years of wedded bliss behind us now, the number a bit too scary to mention! I look back with a certain amount of smugness however, as the day we picked to get married is always going to be a national holiday, which is great in itself, but the real advantage in having an ANZAC day wedding is that it’s virtually impossible to forget our wedding anniversary. Haven’t forgotten yet, and long may it continue! To date, Bev has never missed out on being showered with all sorts of reminders of that memorable day, many years ago!! She certainly is a lucky woman!

As I wrote my last blog, we were celebrating some much-needed rainfall and looking forward to positive growth rates, and, if I remember correctly, I may have mentioned autumn silage, bloat, and the absence of facial eczema. I was right on one count, but one count only. Fortunately, we have seen no evidence of eczema to date which is great news. However, growth has been slow as the rain was sporadic at best, and only in the last few days have we seen some really decent rain, and this, coupled with cooler days, is giving us hope that we still have time to lift covers going into winter while we carry on milking. No sign of bloat, which is great, but certainly no surplus grass to even think of autumn silage.

We were discussing milking frequency in my last blog as well. I wasn’t sure whether to consider 16-hour milking, or even once a day, and I was thinking that I must bring this up with Sam at some stage. That ‘some stage’ actually eventuated rather quickly owing to Sam reading my blog and front-footing the conversation! At least it means he reads it I guess! After much discussion, we decided that the only way of finding out is by trying, so we bit the bullet and went onto once a day milking. Now this is a big decision for me as we don’t normally do this until we are drying off. However, the cows were down to about 1.15 kg MS/cow/day so we thought that we wouldn’t lose much. I heeded some great advice I heard years ago from Pete Morgan. They always go onto OAD milking sometime in December, but they time it with a period that the cows go into really good grass, usually silage paddocks or the like. This gave me the confidence to make the decision, as we had been on basically a non-grass diet for a month or so but were just speeding up the round again as we had reasonable cover in front of us. Feeding grass again, plus maize and a PKE blend with a bit of canola, seemed to do the trick. We’ve been on OAD about a month now and although there was an initial drop in production, they did lift again and are still doing over 1 kg MS/cow/day. And boy are they in good condition! And is Sam happy! He’s got a bit more time to do other things on and off the farm now, and that’s got to be a good thing. We’re sitting on about a 65 day round and still feeding plenty of maize while we try and build the cover some more in anticipation of the heifers coming home shortly.

The long dry has resulted in a scarcity of winter grazing so we made the decision to buy a bit more maize in, as the heifers will be home earlier than usual and there may be more cows on at home prior to calving. We already had 250 tonnes of maize silage on hand after the harvest but another 50 tonnes came up nearby, so I just couldn’t resist. Maize on hand is like money in the bank, you can never have too much! And I don’t even work for Pioneer anymore! We used to always bring in some grass silage in spring but with the extra maize now I’m thinking that this won’t happen this year.

On the home front, we had an impending wedding when I wrote my last blog. I can happily say that this is now behind us and we have a happily married couple that were so fortunate to have a fantastic wedding day with all going extremely well. A big tick for that day to all involved.

Two down, one to go, although the ‘one to go’ has just today made the big move and left the nest for the second time, heading down to Wellington as she follows the ‘interested vet with the big dog’ (see previous blogs) and begins a new life down there. Never a dull moment in life especially when you have kids, no matter what age! Speaking of kids, daughter number one is about to produce grandchild number two, so it’s all a bit of a waiting game as to when this will happen. Nana is on standby for childminding and meals and all that stuff that nanas do, and I’ve made sure there’s a beer in the fridge, and a tipple in the cupboard, for when the need arises to celebrate the arrival of junior!

On that happy note, it’s about that time now, as the shadows lengthen and dusk draws near, for us to consider our plans for the evening. Seeing as I brought her a coffee in bed accompanied with an Easter egg, I’m guessing that my loving wife will no doubt have plans to take me out to dinner to celebrate and commemorate, both the ANZACs and our wedding day.

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!!

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…

Epic grass growth – Noldy Rust

Waitangi Day, 2018. Yet another day off! Yay!

The long, lazy, hot days of January have been and gone, along with the bliss of social holiday gatherings with food and drink, day trips and holidays with food and drink, unstructured and unplanned days around the pool with food and drink, family gatherings with…… And so the list goes on.

Yes, the thing I love about the Christmas/January period is that it provides a chance to be less driven by time commitments, agendas and appointments, and more able to follow a whim. Crosswords, swimming, reading, games……so the list goes on. I love my bumper new year’s crossword from the Waikato Times. Gives me hours of pleasure and learning. By the way, did you know that in 18th century Ireland a potato was called a pratie? And a baby eel is called an elver? And if you jump into a pool a certain way it is called a manu?? I didn’t know that! Had to ask the kids that one – it was one of the few they knew….

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A manu.

In December we were all facing an uncertain summer with extremely dry conditions. Crops were struggling, cows were overgrazing in some cases, and the soil moisture deficit was severe. I wrote in my last blog that we had seen conditions like this before but usually had some decent rain early in the new year. I must say that I was getting a tad nervous as we got into January and no rain was in sight. Fortunately cyclone “what’s his name” came along on the 4th bringing some much needed respite in the way of 80 odd ml of rain. Since then we have had several other rain events that have kept the grass growing at epic proportions for the last few weeks. When cyclone “what’s his name” came along, we went out to an 80+ day round for two weeks to give the grass a chance to recover, as learnt from our friend Will Henson from Agriseeds. Will has told us, at several fieldays, that new shoots grow from root reserves, and if we nip these off too early (prior to more leaves growing), we risk the demise of the ryegrass plant. I have a graphic image in my mind of Will sharing this at our SMASH fielday late last year in Tatuanui. And I quote (in a South African accent…..) “The poor little plant sends out a shoot and is trying to grow. Next minute, the farmer comes along, opens the gate and lets in a whole herd of big, hungry cows that nip the little shoots off, thus severely restricting, if not murdering the poor little ryegrass plant”. We fed heaps of grass silage and no more than 4 kg PKE per cow to keep the cows content over this period and I believe it paid off.

The heat has been a challenge to man and beast. Thankfully, since we got to February it has eased back a bit. The cows just eat so much less when it’s hot. We try to give them most of their pasture at night in these conditions and only give them a small break during the morning, after which we bring them onto the pad for silage and PKE before putting them into the standoff shade paddock for the afternoon. I was on cow duty during some of this time while Sam was away, so it was a case of getting the cows to the shade before I could go do a big manu into the pool…. Lucky I learnt that word!

Sam has entered the Dairy Industry awards in the Farm Manager category. This is a super way of him being able to articulate our farming system and the reasons that we do things. He has put a lot of hard work into getting his presentation prepared, not to mention getting the dairy floors scrubbed (they’re so clean you could eat your dinner off them!), the dairy diary up to date, and catching up on all those “nice to do” aesthetic chores that are sometimes difficult to get to…..imagine if he gets to the second round and the judges come back again… our place will be eligible to be listed on “TripAdvisor” as a place you must visit!

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Clean enough to dine off.

 

Current on farm challenges include pasture management and getting the feed balance right. I am tempted to close the silage stack as we are only feeding a small amount out now. We are struggling to get across the face fast enough to avoid heating, which is causing me concern. Could this lead to a thermoduric grade? What about the waste and decline in feed quality? The forecast looks like there is more rain to come, it may be cyclone “what’s her name” this time so we can probably bank on consistent growth going forward. If we close it up we can always feed a bale or two in time if needed, as we wait for the maize harvest in about a month’s time. We started our undersowing programme last week, aiming to get a head start repairing and rejuvenating paddocks from the aftermath of the terribly wet winter/spring. I know it’s early, but moisture seems to be no issue now so I figured it was worth a go.

It’s now 25 deg and the cows are looking for shade, so I will sign off and go and open the gate. They will appreciate the shade, and I will relish the opportunity to go and relax by the pool with a beer and maybe some pratie chips before I do a few manus into the pool prior to milking. Hope there’s no elvers in there! Yep, food, drink and relaxation, after all, it is still summer!!!

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R ‘n R

Enjoying the festive season – Noldy Rust

December 21st, it’s the longest day of the year as far as my limited knowledge on this subject goes. And I must say, I’m really pleased that it is because it means that I finally get a chance to sit at my computer and type a few bloggy words. Kinda makes sense doesn’t it? These last few weeks have been reasonably busy, as I’m sure they have for everyone, so it takes the longest day to come around to give us the chance to catch up on where we should be. We need as many hours as we can get to get by these days!!

It’s now 8.30 pm and the sun is still casting a glow on us from the west. I have had a chance this evening to go and watch Hayze play touch, not before time might I add, as it’s his last game of the season. Phew, that was close. And once I finish writing this I will go and wash the house down and do my Christmas shopping. That WAS my plan……however, a few days ago Bev could see that the writing was on the wall, so to speak, as was all the dust, bird poo, slime and mould…consequently she gave up waiting for me to clean the house down in preparation for the influx of Christmas visitors and invited Chemwash to come and do the job, which they quite efficiently did I must say. What is it with wives? I said I’d do it, but oh no, she has to go and call in the experts!

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And I bet if I go and ask her now, she’s probably done the Christmas shopping too!! Wait there, be back in a minute…. (1 minute later)… yep as I suspected, all the shopping has also been done, except my gift to her, although she just yelled out that she will take care of that as well, as long as I give her my credit card so she can get to the jeweler at some stage tomorrow! Well, that won’t be happening I can assure you! Seeing as I have left the purchase of her gift to the last minute (through no fault of mine of course) I may execute my emergency gift buying plan and login to the Farmsource dollars rewards website at the end of this ramble to order some fancy cheese, or vouchers, or the like. Now that’s what I call efficiency in shopping, doing it from the comfort of your computer screen and not having to hand over any cash!!

NR weather Dec17 resize.jpgConditions on the farm are a stark contrast to where we were a mere couple of months ago. I’m sure it’s the same for most of you? I remember my mum baking when I was a kid. She would mix up all this stuff in a bowl and have a big runny mess, then pour it into a big flat dish, chuck it in the oven, then half an hour later we had a dark brown crisp dish of chocolate slice or something similar. Well, I’m no chef as you may gather, but I do see a similarity with baking food and farming. We had a wet, sloppy mess of a farm for around 6 months, then the sun came out and baked everything to a dry brown crisp! In a matter of a few weeks! It was certainly pleasant for a while not having to wear wet weather gear or worry about pugging paddocks, but this prolonged dry is getting a bit extreme don’t you think? The last decent rain we had was on November 5th, 70 odd ml falling in a day. Now the tap has turned off and we’ve had very little lately. Our situation is not too dire yet as we got a good cut of silage off the maize block and have contracted PKE for around $215/t landed. We still have maize silage on hand that will see us right for a couple of months yet.

Speaking of maize, it would be remiss of me not to mention the fantastic looking crops around. The last few weeks have been so well suited for maize growth. Warm soils, moisture early on and then heat. And it’s not just me that’s noticing all the great crops. People from all walks of life are commenting on the rapid growth and dark green leaves waving in the breeze. Mind you, even maize needs a drink from time-to-time, so some rainfall in the near future would be very welcome for the maize, as well as the pastures and other crops.

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Our mating went well, we did five weeks AI this year, then another four with bulls, and now we are inseminating any late returns with short gestation AI bulls again. We didn’t want to risk putting up cows that may not be on heat so opted to put scratchies on all the cows again. Seems a bit over the top, but I suspect we may have put a few up last year that weren’t on heat and this may have resulted in these cows aborting. Our empty rate last year was higher than normal so we wanted to eliminate this risk. Any thoughts on this? The challenge now is when to stop mating all together?? We have had 5 on in the last 3 days, so worth mating them. I guess when I’m giving Sam some much needed time off over Christmas it may be a good time to give up, although a short gestation mated cow on Christmas day will still calve in late September. Depends how tight we want our calving to be I guess.

Looking forward, now that the longest day is almost over we can say winter is coming! Sam has worked hard to get the cows out to a 30-day round and I’m pleased to say it has certainly helped push grass ahead. What will January and February bring? I remember in 1994, 2004 and 2010 (and I’m sure there were others), we had very dry conditions pre-Christmas, but the rains came early in the new year resulting in very good late summer/autumn growth. Will this season be the same? Who knows? All I know is that just as the extreme wet passed eventually, this period of dry too will pass.

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We need to stay positive and make sure we get some rest and recreation off the farm. Get away from it all and recharge the batteries. It may be wise for us to emulate the humble maize crop. Just as a maize plant reaches down far into the soil with its roots in order to get all the energy and sustenance it needs, we should also reach out to get all the energy and sustenance we need. We mustn’t be afraid to reach out to others if we need help or advice. Family, friends, faith or food; whatever it is that gives us the energy and encouragement that we need to stay positive and enjoy the abundance, the pleasures and also cope with the challenges.

Have a great festive season and enjoy some time away. Enjoy your family and all the thrills of being a dairy farmer, whether it’s  wet or dry. And remember, if you still need some Christmas gifts, Farmsource dollars offer some simple solutions. In saying that, I wonder if I can use my Farmsource dollars to get jewellery shop vouchers….now there’s a thought!! Gotta go!! Now, what’s that website??? http://www.fonterra.co.nz?? or is it fencepost.com???

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Learning about trees – Graham Smith

Although the cows are milking well not all things are going to plan. The submission rate was 85%, close but no cigar. I still have two cows that are reluctant to cycle and as I do not intervene, I will just have to be patient. The girls are holding at 1.8 to 1.9 kg MS per day, but a lack of rain may see that change quickly. We had an hour and a half thunder storm and got 1 mm, whilst over the hill they received 65 mm, bugger! So, I plan to move to a 36 day round in the next two days so that I have cover to capture every drop of rain. I will use silage to get there over 10 to 15 days. I already have two cuts in the pit, using dedicated paddocks which I cut every five weeks. Next cut is due between Xmas and New Year, but I think the volume will be down due to the early dry weather.

GS Hot day, cool cows shaded by 4yr old Paulownias

Hot day, cool cows, shaded by four-year-old Paulownias. Credit Tess Smith, Te Awamutu Camera Club.

Moving on, I have yet to talk about trees, a subject I knew nothing about until I started planting to stop erosion. I have a number of species, but the main plantings are the easy to sell pine tree. With about a 30 year cycle to harvest, they also have quite a high cost structure up front, by the time you have paid for seedlings and planting, and then three pruning lifts. Lastly, they need thinning to final spacings, before you can draw breath and watch them grow. I also found that the first harvest was not problem free, with a hell mess to clean up. Also fences need replacing, races need repairing and water pipes always seem to be too close to the surface. So, four years after harvest things are getting back to normal. If I live long enough to see the next harvest I will be able to offer sage advice on where the skid site should be and the time of year to harvest.

Back in 1992 when the first plantings of pine went in I also received good advice to diversify a little. This resulted in lusitanica (Mexican Cypress) being planted. They have a 40 year cycle (roughly). So I could look at harvest in five years, but I will probably just watch the market and when I need some cash harvest then. That is the good thing about trees, they don’t stop growing, so harvest delays can mean more growth and more value long term. Lusitanica is a straighter version of macrocarpa, that is less prone to canker, which can severely affect growth. The market for this timber will be in garden furniture, sleepers and cladding. But the way uses for timber are developing I would not be surprised to see other value-add uses for this versatile timber.

GS 25 yr old Lusitanicas, turning rough ground into money

Twenty-five year old lusitanicas. Turning rough ground into money. Credit Tess Smith, Te Awamutu Camera Club.

The last type of tree I will talk about is the black walnut. This tree has its origin in the eastern USA, and is of high value as gun butts and furniture, due to its colour qualities and strength. It is quite fussy about site and prefers free draining, highly fertile soils with low to no wind. Wind breaks the branches quite easily, and in its initial stages it is quite slow growing. This does have the benefit of keeping up with pruning quite easily. Like most trees there is value in pruning, and in this tree’s case exceptionally so. If you have the patience to nurture them for 30 years then they can be a retirement fund on their own. At harvest they can be worth up to $20,000 per tree. So, in 20 years I will have 25 trees ready to fell, I hope. I will let you do the calculations, but I will try not to get excited until closer to the time!

GS 5 Yr old Black Walnuts

Five year old black walnuts. Credit Tess Smith, Te Awamutu Camera Club.

Next time I will start on my Paulownia plantings, another interesting story.

Got questions? Happy to answer queries.