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!

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.

Rain, rain go away. Come again mid-summer! Brian Frost

BF biscuiting Nov blogIt feels like all we talk about each month is the rain, but the reality is it has been extremely detrimental to our farm this year. We so need the sunshine, the wet weather has continued to keep coming back to hurt our farm, and has been compounded by the extreme lack of R&M done by the council for many, many years – we are over it. Trying to keep our chin up has not been easy for anyone and the rain is wearing thin! Our manager has done an amazing job to get through the wet so well and has pulled himself up when the weather has been so depressing.

It also feels like the end of the year is rushing towards us with Christmas decorations in the shops, the bbq and patio heater coming out (not that we have had the chance to use them) and children on study leave with exams starting this week! Our children are also so desperate for the weather to get better that the first day we had weather that was better than continual rain they got the boat out and went for a ski (Frostie dragged them around, Mrs Frostie sat in the van watching, and the dog thought it was Christmas already – running in and out of the water!).

BF water skiing Nov17

On the farm

There are currently 339 cows on farm – all grazing 3 ha/day (20 – 21 day round). Production to date is 61,586 kg MS, compared with 62,974 kg MS at the same time last year, current production is 7.9 – 8 kg MS/ha/day and 1.75 – 1.85 kg MS/cow/day. The cows’ BCS is 4.2 – 4.3. The calves are going to the runoff as soon as they have been weaned. At the runoff 22 dry cows + 126 R 2 yr heifers are grazing 2 – 3 days per paddock.

Feed

The average pasture cover is 2,359 kg DM/ha. Our pasture cover targets for the next eight weeks are 2,400 – 2,500 kg DM/ha in late November and 2,600 – 2,700 kg DM/ha in late December.

Because of the terrible wet weather we have been feeding more in the shed at times. The mix is still 85% PKE, 12% soya hull and 3% minerals, and the aim is to hold this at around 7 kg/cow/day through the next two months.

Fertiliser

We will apply urea following behind the stock on the runoff over the next full grazing round before skipping the following round. Two tonne has been applied on the milking platform at 90 kg urea/ha. We will keep applying urea at 75 – 90 kg/ha through the rest of the grazing round and then miss the following grazing round.

Cropping/new pasture

With the flooding we have had to shuffle our cropping plans around a little. Some paddocks were sown in turnips but with the flooding there are very few turnips coming through. These paddocks will be power harrowed again and drilled into 30 kg/ha of Bealey, with different paddocks now to be put into turnips instead.

17 ha at the runoff is to go into maize – hopefully it will be planted soon!

The chicory/annual paddocks have been sprayed out and sown into a Bealey (22 – 25 kg/ha), chicory (3 kg/ha) and clover (4 kg/ha) mix on 13th October.

4.5 paddocks are shut for silage and should be ready to cut in the next two weeks.

Mating

The heifers were pregnancy tested on 1st November; 120 of them were in calf. The cows started AB on 22nd October and will go for 8 weeks – finishing before Christmas.

We keep telling ourselves that the sunshine will turn up soon, but now with the snow arriving in the South Island again yesterday the sunshine might still be a way off.

Farming through the ups and downs – John van der Goes

For those who thought I had disappeared off the face of the earth I am still here, just turned into a bit of a hermit. I thought I had better update you on what’s been happening.

Things have been plodding along since I last wrote. Seems like all I’ve done is the basic things that need doing every day. Milking, feeding cows, and the seasonal stuff – making silage, mating etc. The type of stuff we do every day and don’t see as having done anything.

Spring seemed to be a real challenge this year with all the rain we had. Trying to get jobs done, like getting the rest of the fodder beet planted and silage made, was a real battle. Meanwhile, the cows, who were just starting to hit their straps at 2.2 kg a day, crashed to 1.8. They seemed to be getting enough grass but just couldn’t produce on it. I was talking to a friend who said they heard from another farmer who tested his grass that the ME was only 8 during that time. No wonder they didn’t fire on it. We ended up being down about 2000 kg solids on last year.

As we moved further into spring the farm turned more and more yellow with buttercup. I have now decided to make it next year’s priority to spray the farm to try and get rid of it. I’m sure that it will take more than one year. But I’m determined to start. I will also have a go at the Californian thistles. The aim is to grow more grass and less weeds.

jvg-buttercup

Mating came and went without too much drama and the usual results. We started five days earlier and still hit our targets about a day after we were supposed to. I’m quite happy with that and it looks like the empty rate is about the same, 9% so far and they are gone now. We’re going to only do one whole herd pregnancy test in mid-July this year so will pick up the surprise cows then.

My big plan to make only quality silage this year has failed miserably. Every time I thought it was just about ready the weather would crap out and by the time I got to make it it was past it. So I consoled myself by saying I needed fibre to go with the fodder beet. This year we baled all the silage which seemed to work well. One of our neighbours has a one-man band trucking company and he carted the bales for us. He’s a really easy guy to work with so we will be using him again. We ended up having 200 bales at home with another 90 at the runoff. Some of those can come home if needed.

jvg-baleage3

We never managed to get a holiday between calving and mating this year so we went away for week not long before Christmas. On our first full day Cathy managed to fall over and hurt her foot. When she went to the doctor after Christmas she found out she had broken 3 bones in her foot. She was told not to put weight on it for four weeks. This meant that it was all up to me as far as farm work went. Consequently, quite a few things haven’t been done. Weeds being the major one. The upside is the enforced sitting has meant that we now have a health and safety plan. And are probably close to being compliant.

We made the decision to go on once a day a few days early this year as I was doing the last of the silage, as well as everything else, and getting a bit frazzled. The idea was to give me more time to get things done. It hasn’t really worked out all that well as feeding out and fodder beet have taken up more time. We started the fodder beet as planned in early January. I have been really pleased with the result. We are milking more cows and have nearly caught up the production we lost in the spring. The cows are getting about 8 kg DM from fodder beet, 2 kg meal, 2.5 kg silage, plus whatever grass is in the paddock. They seem to be quite happy with their lot.

Although there have been very few cases of mastitis this year the cell count has been all over the place. Ranging from below 100,000 to 355,000. I got sick of it so I decided to check individual quarters on the high count cows identified by the herd test with a RMT test. I found that it was six quarters that were causing all the problems. I then got samples from each quarter and had them tested to see what sort of bugs we were dealing with. Turned out they were all Strep. so could be cured with dry cow when the cows are dry. To keep the cell count in check I thought I would use a quarter milker on the infected quarters and milk the rest normally. It’s a bit of a pain but means a better cell count. I did think of culling them but when I checked their history I found that last year their counts were all below 100,000 so it is worth trying to clear them up over the dry period.

jvg-quarter-milker

One of the success stories of this season is changing the size of our milk droppers. The foaming problem has all but gone making milking easier when the cows are in full milk.

jvg-no-foam

During his holidays my brother came down and managed to get a few little jobs done that have been waiting for a while. One of them was to build a new mounting pole for the cow brush. The cows knocked the brush over about 18 months ago. We put it back up and I thought that it may take a few days for them to get used to it. I was wrong, they must have remembered it and got straight into using it on the first day.

jvg-cow-brush

Looks like things are looking up as we have had 80mm of rain and the brown landscape is turning green. Hopefully this is the start of things to come and we have a good autumn grass wise. Hope everybody has had the same.

Summer is coming – the countdown is on! – Brian Frost

bf-keep-calmIt’s the end of November already and we have welcomed some stretches of sunshine – a fabulous change from what felt like constant rain (much to the kids’ frustration, wanting to get the boat out for skiing). The cows have certainly needed the sun and the great lift in the GDT has also been a very welcome boost!

On the home front Frostie has been counting down to a long-awaited knee op for cartilage damage – 28th November could not come early enough (he was looking forward to coming off all the pain killer meds), but unfortunately this was not to happen as he was struck with a head cold the weekend before, and so after much waiting and pre-op checks etc it was decided not to operate and for us to come back in two weeks. The countdown is on again!! The countdown to Christmas is also on in the Frostie household and absolutely nothing is done yet!!

Frostie and Mrs. Frostie had a stint milking together again during November (and we survived) while Grant and Leigh had a much needed break in Oz; it was nice to see them back. The Frosties will be back in the shed again for a time over the summer break so this was good practice.

On the farm

As at 10th November we had 343 cows on farm – all grazing 3 ha/day (22 – 23 day round). 340 milkers are grazing 3 ha/day + 6 – 6.5 kg/cow/day of meal + ½ kg/cow/day of molasses. 3 sick cows are also on farm. The current meal mix is 69% PKE + 27% soya hull + 4% minerals and we will continue to feed 6 – 6.5 kg/cow/day through the next 6 – 8 weeks at least. We will also continue to feed ¼ – ½ kg/cow/day of molasses through the next 2 months.

Production at 10th November was 66,881 kg MS, compared with 66,000 kg MS at the same time last season. Current production is 8.5 – 9 kg MS/ha/day and 1.85 – 1.95 kg MS/cow/day with cow condition at 4.3 – 4.4.

The average pasture cover at 10th November was 2,756 kg DM/ha with the pasture cover targets for the next 8 weeks being 2,700 – 2,800 kg DM/ha in late November and 2,800 – 2,900 kg DM/ha in late December.

The grazing round has held nicely at two paddocks/day and should hold at this level through to when the chicory starts being grazed. We have done some mowing over the last couple of weeks to maintain the quality. When the chicory starts, we will go to one full paddock of pasture at night and ½ paddock of chicory during the day to make the chicory paddocks last for 10 days. When the chicory finishes, the plan is to stay on ½ paddock of pasture during the day so the round will actually end up on around 30ish days when back on all pasture. The plan will then be to extend to 24 hours/paddock when the chicory starts for the second time or when the turnips start – whichever is first.

Fertiliser

8 tonne of ammo was applied at 100 kg/ha from 29th September to 20th October. The SustaiN started again on 4th November and has been applied over the whole farm at 55 – 60 kg/ha during November. From 15 – 20th  December we will start another round of SustaiN at 90 kg/ha.

Mating

Mating started on 25th October and the plan was to go for 6 weeks but we have since changed this plan. With the later mating start and the aim to have good numbers milking through the winter we have decided to do AI for 8 weeks and not use any bulls this year. 29 non-cyclers were checked and treated on 17th October. As of 10th November 264 cows have been mated in 16 days = 77% submission rate.

Cropping

  • Turnips – 10.5 ha (7 paddocks) are in turnips. A weed and insect spray will be done 3 – 4 weeks after sowing and then 200 kg/ha of SustaiN will be applied 1 – 2 weeks later.
  • Chicory – 7.5 ha (5 paddocks) were sown into Puna 2 chicory at 10 kg/ha. The aim is to get 2 days feed/paddock out of the chicory when it has reached red band gumboot height, hopefully around 10 –20th December, the second grazing will be around 25 days later and will coincide with when turnips are also being fed.

Run off

The 130 R2 heifers still look great and are grazing in 2 lots on all pasture. Unfortunately, the calves have been a bit stagnant over the last few weeks with some health issues but this has been cured now so they are growing again!

16 ha has been cut 3 times for grass silage and taken back to the dairy farm, any surplus paddocks from now on will be targeted for hay.

14 ha has been sown into maize. The area in Winter Star has been sprayed and cut for silage and will get cultivated and then sown into 10 kg/ha of Puna 2 chicory.

Ammo was applied over the runoff in October with SustaiN being applied over November at 60 kg/ha and then again from 20th December onwards at 90 kg/ha.

bf-pasture-silage

Spring is on its way! – Brian Frost

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

BF calves

On the Farm

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

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

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

BF cows Aug16

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

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

Run off

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BF heifers

Feeding lessons learned – John van der Goes

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

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

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

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

JVG cows on fodder beet

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

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

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

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

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

JVG milk plant3

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

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