A new season begins – Noldy Rust

It’s June 1st, the start of the new dairy season. It’s an exciting time on the farm for many as cows are generally dried off by now in spring calving herds, farms change hands, sharemilkers move, staff changes occur, and we say goodbye to the last season and look forward to a brand new season ahead, wondering what the big influences on our farming business will be this year. Will it be a wet spring, or a dry spring? Will we get a summer drought? Will the payout be as good as early indications are? Will we have animal health challenges above the norm? Do we contract PKE now or wait and hope that the price comes down a bit????? So many things to look forward to, both opportunities and challenges. So many unknowns ahead. For me, this is one of the thrills of being involved in this great industry. Roll on 2018/19!

NR contract milking Jun18

On that note, this is the first day for us employing a contract milker. Uncharted territory for us all as Sam has earned his stripes, so to speak, and been employed as a contract milker in partnership with his wife, Alice. The transition has been reasonably seamless as basically nothing has changed so far, seeing as he has done his apprenticeship here for the last couple of seasons. The main difference to date is in the cashflow going forward, as we have cancelled his fortnightly pay, owing to Fonterra taking over that responsibility and paying him on the 20th of each month….just not the first month or two that’s all!

NR new grass Jun18The couple of months since my last blog have been one of those periods that we need to remember with gratitude when things are a bit difficult in the future. Last year in autumn it didn’t stop raining. What a contrast to this year! We experienced such lovely warm weather, punctuated by the odd spell of warm rain, so that in many cases growth exceeded what we experienced in spring! Our new grass, both annual and perennial, just leapt out of the ground and has been grazed three times already. This unprecedented autumn growth, along with copious quantities of maize silage, meant we could feed our cows to the level they needed to keep them milking right to the end of May and still gain weight in order to hit condition score targets. Sam had a month off overseas and, try as I might, I couldn’t justify going on once a day, let alone drying off, while he was away! I had to rise to the challenge and keep everything ticking along; but there was no way he was coming back from extended leave to dry off straight away. Karma occurred as he had to milk for 10 more days in frosty conditions upon his return……

NR cows feedpad Jun18

Our dry cow treatment policy is to use penicillin and a teat sealant on any cows that have had a SCC over 150 throughout the year, and just a teat sealant on the rest. The ones with just teat sealant make me nervous. Even though we wiped each teat meticulously and took all due care, did we introduce bugs up the teat? It seems that if we use penicillin as well as teat sealant there is more tolerance for error. I always wonder if it is worth the risk of getting sick cows by not using penicillin on the cows that don’t need it, or should we just use a combo to be safe and defy best practice? Is best practice minimising penicillin use or is it using penicillin as insurance against sickness? I think that weather conditions play a huge part. We had fine frosty weather over our drying off time, so the cows were relatively clean to start with, plus we didn’t have to stand cows off to avoid pasture damage during and after the drying off process. And last, but not least, I put my glasses on while we were doing the job, which meant I could see a bit more clearly!

NR passport Jun18

Going forward, the focus now is on maintaining covers and cow condition, plus getting all those pre-calving chores done, such as organising machine checks, going on holiday, getting calf sheds ready, going on holiday, winter farm maintenance, going on holiday…… Unfortunately, Sam has had his holiday already so I guess it’s up to me to fulfil that part and he can do the rest. Sounds like a good plan to me!

I look forward to calving and seeing the results of our mating programme coming to fruition. Sexed semen heifer calves, more beef calves, Wagyu calves and AI calves from the heifers. Our record keeping and calf identification will need to be top notch. Roll on spring, let’s hope it’s a good one. I know Sam can’t wait to get started as well, although I suspect the main reason is not because he loves getting up early, but because that’s when he’ll start getting paid again!

Enjoy the season, have some time away, get to the fieldays, watch a bit of rugby when you can! I know I will be doing all of the above as time allows! See you!

The best job in the world – Noldy Rust

The end of May is nearing and we are looking forward to a new season starting shortly. It’s 6am, still dark outside (except for the glow of the dairy shed lights, where Sam is joyful in his work) and squally showers are hitting the window pane every once in a while. A few nights ago these showers were accompanied by a really dazzling display of lightning accompanied by rolling bouts of thunder and some tremendous wind gusts. Yes, the weather has changed and the soils around here have finally been replenished with adequate moisture and a bit of free nitrogen from the heavens. After a somewhat frustrating long period of autumn dry, this “green” drought has ended, and in spectacular fashion might I add. Grass growth in the last few weeks has been nothing short of incredible, the warm temperatures combined with rainfall and some nitrogen have meant that pasture covers in our region have lifted significantly. I have seen some good growth in May before, but this one is right up there as one of the best in memory.

The heifers have been home for three weeks now and have settled in well, getting used to life on a dairy farm, getting fed on a feed pad and mixing it with some dry cows. It takes a while for them to get to know the rules mind you…..first attempts to get them to walk to the pad can be quite frustrating! Stand at the gate and call, well yeah they come for a look but no, not too keen to come out onto the race…..ok then, let’s go behind them I think to myself…..yep, you guessed it, I feel like the Pied Piper must have as they all decide to follow. Plan C, yes, get the dog, that will help!! A dog?? What’s a dog?? Now they have something else to follow so it’s round and round in circles for a while, not sure who’s leading who. No amount of yelling can stir up any reaction from the support crew inside the house so it’s just merry chaos for a few minutes until a truce is reached, we all calm down and I am able to coax two or three leaders out the gate which ultimately “siphons” the remainder out and they all head happily for the feed pad. Luckily this scenario only occurs for two or three days, as once these animals realise the benefits of the nutritious high quality maize silage that awaits them it becomes difficult to stop them from running home! These heifers all got Teatsealed yesterday, a non-negotiable in my mind, before they go grazing to the maize block for six weeks. I had a meeting yesterday, so Sam and the able team from Vetora took care of it. Always works that way for some reason, teatsealing clashes with meetings…..

NR heifers

I caught up with Marty, a guy I know well, the other day and we chatted about his change three seasons ago to autumn calving. There are many benefits of this system including: easier calving in dry conditions; less metabolic issues; months of “good” grass ahead without seedhead challenges; and winter milk premiums that are very attractive, especially in this period of lower payouts. I had toyed with the idea of a switch a few years back after we built the feed pad but quashed the idea as I do like a bit of time off in winter to go to SMASH conferences etc. However, now that I have a full time manager it is looking a bit more attractive again!! Or should I say WAS looking a bit more attractive!! When Marty and I were chatting about this system it was a lovely 21 deg day, grass was bolting and all was well. Now that it’s suddenly got a lot colder, and wetter, and darker, I am having second thoughts about the attractiveness of milking through the winter. Plus I’d need to convince Sam of the benefits….. Haven’t mentioned anything to him yet, I guess I’ll soon find out whether or not he reads my blog!! I’d be interested to hear from others who may have transitioned to autumn calving recently??

A good farming friend of mine, Greg (I’m sure he won’t mind if I mention his name), recently lost his dad to aggressive cancer. This guy had been a farmer all his life, and now Greg is running the farm. Greg had the pleasure and good fortune of farming together with his dad during the last couple of seasons. These guys are smaller herd farmers, and at the funeral Greg spoke of his dad’s unwavering passion for dairy farming and the love of his cows. Greg’s dad would often say to him, as they milked, that they were so fortunate and blessed to be doing the best job in the world. Working with animals on the land, being your own boss, doing what you love and having family all around you. What an inspiration this man was. He impressed upon me the true value of what we as farmers often take for granted. Let us appreciate these sentiments in our own situations and be grateful for all the opportunities our farming lifestyles offer us in both good and challenging times.

June will be a month of catching up on chores and getting prepared for calving. It’s always over before you know it and once July hits it’s a downhill run to the start of calving and all the delights and challenges that go with it. I am looking forward to what June has to offer, how the All Blacks go, conferences and field days that lie ahead, what calving may bring, the first signs of spring and of course the hot porridge I am about to go and make!! See you all next month!!

NR porridge combo

Autumn ruminations – Noldy Rust

As I headed off on my early morning walk around the block this morning I was struck by two things….firstly the chill in the air as we hit single figures on the thermometer for the first time in a long time, and secondly, a scattering of leaves lying on the drive. The weather to date has belied the fact that autumn is here, but these two signs reminded me that we are indeed heading towards winter and all the joys and challenges that go with it. Less flies around will be a welcome blessing, as will the fact that cooler nights should start having an impact on the growth of eczema spores. Yes, time rolls on; I reckon that it was high time that daylight saving ended last weekend as the long dark mornings we were experiencing certainly weren’t much fun for farmer or “round the block walker”. I guess Bev would argue with this owing to the fact that staying in bed while it is dark is a firm belief of hers, these long dark mornings of late giving her every excuse to get maximum value out of the new sheets she bought recently. However, now we have daylight a little earlier in the morning, and nightfall a little earlier in the evening these habits may change, although I won’t hold my breath!!

NR Bev bed

Bev excelling at her favourite pastime.

Getting back to the eczema subject, there have been some very high spore counts around in this area and farmers are experiencing clinical cases in all classes of stock on many farms and grazing blocks. We have one cow with a mild outbreak and one more suspect, in spite of having zinc going in the water via a Dosatron since early January. I know that they say zinc in a Dosatron is a bit hit and miss, but it works for us on most occasions providing we start supplementation early in January. The worry is that there may be a number of cows that haven’t broken out and are still suffering from liver damage. Feeding a good part of the diet in supplements also helps as it dilutes the effects of the spores that do get ingested. In extreme years, such as this, we also add some zinc oxide to the maize silage as a backup. The youngstock have all had a zinc bolus carefully inserted down their throats, as you do, with the calves having had two lots. It’s not cheap and not much fun to do, but sure beats the old days when we had to drench them at least 2-3 times a week.

NR Jeff guilty or not guilty cropped

Jeff – guilty or not guilty?

Lameness has been a bit more of an issue for us this year. Poor old Sam is having a steady trickle of cows coming in lame, white line and footrot being the common issues. I don’t know why it seems to be worse this year. Does anyone else have it worse than normal? Can’t blame Sam for pushing the cows up the race as they always come home from the Battlatch. Sam’s dog, Jeff, was a prime suspect in being a part of the problem, but no, Sam has a tight rein on him around the cows…..plus he’s usually off chasing hares, rabbits, rats and the odd hot air balloon! I was going to send Sam to a lameness seminar a few months back, but there’s no need for that now as all these cases have given him heaps and heaps of practice and experience as he watches and supports me trimming and snipping and digging and cursing and getting crapped on! I always had buying a decent lameness crush thingy in mind but the payout has taken care of that for the time being! Luckily Stu from ‘Hoofit’ lives reasonably handy, as he has been called on several occasions to trim some feet to prevent further issues…and to fix a few of my half-pie hatchet jobs!!! It’s not my favourite job on the farm but needs prompt attention when it rears its ugly head!

NR lame cows

The new grass has been sown for a couple of weeks now; it’s up but needs a drink. The rainfall has been sporadic for 2 months now; it is still very dry although we are greener than we have been at this time in the last four years. I have undersown annuals into next year’s maize paddock and stitched up another one or two paddocks that were full of summer grass. I have also planted one lower lying paddock with Aber high sugar grass, even though it only has AR1 endophyte. I am keen to see how it goes as it should do well in that environment with its high root mass. It all depends on black beetle pressure and what effect that may have. This was a paddock that was in maize so hopefully any black beetle pressure should be minimal. Has anyone had any experience with this grass in the past?

Going forward, we need some good soaking rain to try and lift our cover while we still have a bit of warmth. SustaiN is going on in the very near future, which should help our cause. It will be May before we know it and the heifers will turn up for a while, long enough to get used to the feedpad and dairy before we Teatseal them and send them on to the maize block for 6 weeks.

Good to see a small lift in the Fonterra auction this morning. If we get a lift of this magnitude at every auction for the next 12 months, we may get close to breaking even and making a bit of money again! Won’t that be nice!! On that positive note I will sign off and bid you all goodbye. Stay positive, stay focused and remain grateful for all the good things we have on the land in this wonderful country of ours, even though the flag that we fly has remained unchanged!!