We had a long dry spell our region leading up to this winter, our fodder supplies were low and our pastures were struggling. The pastures needed rain and time to get their roots down and build reserves, the farm looked tired.
We’re now half way through winter and our pastures are booming along.The pasture cover on the farm is just where I’d like to see it at this time of year. Yes, we have had some cold days and some wild weather but hey if you farm in South Gippsland you have to expect that.
The motivation to get back on the horse, blow the dust off MontroseDairy.com & start blogging again came from a recent trip to Melbourne. I go to Melbourne often for meetings and usually enjoy the contrast of the city, to life on the farm. This visit was different, it was a weekend off in the big smoke, a few nice meals and a slower pace to my normal city visits.
A few things struck me eating out at places like Supernormal & Manchester Press;
- There appears to be a shortage of chairs in Melbourne, stools seem to be all the go and lining up in the street before you are seated on your stool is not uncommon.
- The disconnect between food producers and food consumers continues to grow.
My first point may just say I need to get out more often and my second point is no new revelation.
I am concerned that in an environment where a sector of our society and media is obsessed with gourmet food and engaging with a very small number of boutique producers, the vast majority of Australia’s farmers who produce amazing, safe and clean food and feed the nation are increasingly disconnected with consumers. Yes this is nothing new and something the Australian agricultural sector often discusses, but it was my reminder of why I started MontroseDairy.com.
Sun breaking through this morning after a few days of rain.
MontroseDairy.com is all about life on our dairy farm and how we go about producing food & caring for the environment. So follow MontroseDairy.com, Like our facebook page and follow @Hoddlecows on twitter learn about how we do things at Montrose Dairy.
Some of our bull calves all grown up
I enjoy checking in on cattle after I have sold them to other farms, it’s good to see how they have grown up and how they are going with their new owner. Recently I went to see how some of our 2012 bull calves are going and how they have grown up.
Each year we rear lots of calves at Montrose Dairy, the heifers are kept to grow up and join our dairy or beef herd and the bull calves are sold when they are 6-10 months old.
The dairy bred bull calves grow up more ‘leggy’ than traditional bred beef cattle and are slower to fill out but given the right conditions they are great at converting feed to body weight.
Some of our dairy cows are joined to Angus and Angus/Simmental bulls most of these calves come out black, they grow up looking like big, long legged Angus cattle.
Waking early most mornings to collect the cows for milking I sometimes head off in the dark thinking here we go again, ground hog day. But what I love about my job is each day is different and as much as we do plan days, weeks or years there are so many variables in dairy farming. Plans sometimes need to be changed. The planning is still very valuable as it provides us with a base line to work from.
Grass is cut and wilted before it is collected and fermented to be stored as silage
This year we planned to harvest as much silage as we could. In early September it looked like the perfect year to build some fodder reserves, the grass growing well and we had a strong milk price to pay for lots of fodder conservation. Pit silage (wilted green grass stored in a compacted stack covered with a plastic tarp to keep the water and air out) can last for years and provides valuable reserves for years when fodder is in short supply.
Like so often the best laid plans…..
Pasture growth rates through late September and early October have been around a 75% of our average for this time of the year. As a result we don’t have as much surplus fodder to make into silage as we would like. Nevertheless we have kicked off our fodder harvesting season this week making a small stack of silage.
This year we are picking up our silage with a jumbo sized silage wagon, so far so good.
There is still plenty of time this season to build some reserves and we will continue with our plan to harvest as much fodder as we can. Conserving surplus fodder aids with risk management and helps to make our business more resilient .
Winter can be hard work on a dairy farm, wet, muddy, cold, windy and short days. It’s not all bad though, I love the crisp winter days and I must admit part of me enjoys the cold fronts which blast through our farm off Bass Strait, just so long as they don’t last too long. Mud is my big hate, this is probably not a good thing as a South Gippsland dairy farmer as we usually have a bit of it! It’s not so much the mud, it is that I hate seeing our pastures and soil getting damaged.
This winter has been kind so far and we have lots of grass and not too much mud, just the way I like it.
Once winter sets in I have a series of milestones to pass the time and to see winter through. First is always winter solstice, it’s really usually only the start of winter for us but once this day is passed I can look forward to the days getting longer.
Second usually is mid winter July 15-16, the calender mid point of winter, surely we are on the down hill run to spring now.
The most spectacular milestone is the Silver Wattles flowering, the golden display of these native trees is a bold sign the bush is heralding spring. Unfortunately the flowering of the silver wattles often coincides with cold, windy, wet blasts of weather. With the buds just bursting on these trees now I fear we may be in for cold front this weekend.
Over the last few weeks we have had a black shouldered kite and a white faced heron feeding out our kitchen window.
Productive agriculture and biodiversity cohabitate at Montrose Dairy. Providing habitat for native wildlife is something we really enjoy, with lots of dams and treed areas, there is plenty of space for reptiles, mammals and birds as well as our cows.
It is not uncommon for us to hear and see koalas. Once we were having breakfast only to look out the window and see a koala casually wandering down the garden path, through our garden gate and off towards nearby trees.
Long necked turtle in one of our dams
Montrose is visited by echidnas, possums, wallabies, many frog species, lizards, snakes, wedge tailed eagles, turtles and much more. We have put together a list to help us track what species visit us here on the farm – to date we have counted 133 different native creatures!
Sun setting on another season
The Montrose Dairy farming calender revolves around our herds calving date. Our herd is a seasonal calving herd, which means all the cows calve in one batch over a few weeks. This calving period is timed to match the seasons and when our farm grows grass. Before each cow calves she has a break from milking so at the moment almost all the herd is on ‘holiday’. For the next few week we will only be milking a few cows, these cows remaining in the milking herd will begin their ‘holiday’ soon and they will calve at the later end of the calving season. Cows that are (on holiday) not currently in lactation or being milked are called ‘Dry Cows’.
With the first of the new season calves soon to arrive we are busy preparing for the start of a new season. Planning for the new season this year has been particularly difficult, with very poor autumn rains. Like most dryland farmers across southern Australia we are short of grass. The feedwedge on our farm is well below the magic blue line where we want it to be.
Pasture cover on our farm yesterday.
Fortunately we still have some silage on hand and some hay reserves. We have had good rain in the last few days so now we need some sun shine and mild weather to get the grass growing.