Spring skies

Despite carrying my camera around the farm with me quite often, I seem to see the best picture opportunities when my camera is not on hand. Thanks to my trusty mobile all is not lost, here’s a few snaps from my phone taken over the last week.

Spring is such a great time of year around the farm, lots of calves about, lots of grass about, lots of milk in the vat and lots of great cloudy skies.

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Weather obsessions

Heifers grazing a pasture that would have been cut for silage if the weather was a bit more conducive to silage making.

It’s easy as a farmer to become obsessed with the weather. At times, I even envy those who have careers which are not so dependent on the weather. I’d love to be able to enjoy a cold, rainy winters day without out thinking of the implication to our farm. I do my best to enjoy whatever is served up on the weather front. Like so many others I’ve got to admit it I’m a little obsessed with the weather. I’ve got my fair share of weather apps on the phone and ‘just a few’ weather sites bookmarked.

Normally at this stage of the season silage is underway in our district, this year things are a little different.  Spring is definitely in the air and our pastures are beginning to really put on some growth but the ground is still too wet to be trafficked by harvesting equipment. This creates some challenges…

Like so many other farmers, my weather obsession reaches new levels during harvest season.

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Making life on the farm a little less shocking

One of my favorite gadgets around the farm is my remote control electric fence tester. We spend a bit of time messing around with electric fences. Most days we put up temporary electric cords to ensure the cows have just the right amount of pasture to eat and all the stormy windy weather we have had of late means fence repairs are a regular task.
imageThe remote control electric fence tester enables us to turn the electric fence on and off from anywhere on the fence network around the farm. No needing to head back to the sheds to turn off the fences to do repairs and less zaps while fixing live fences.

It aint rocket science but it’s another example of technology assisting in agriculture.

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This soil is alive!

There is little doubt healthy soil is critical to a productive farm. Once you ask the question what constitutes a healthy soil and what is the best way to build soil health the debate begins. Soil health has become a buzz area, full of ‘experts’, snake oil salesmen and a lot of diverging views.

The soil surface under the pasture cover is always a good reminder to me of one aspect of the health of our soils. At this time of the year when our soils are moist the worms rise up to near the surface and really get to work, the surface of the soils is littered with worm casts (the smooth lumps of soil).

During the winter our pastures get over 50 days rest between grazing so roots have time to rise to the surface into the moist micro-climate created under the pasture, that’s what all the white lines are.

In order to maintain healthy soils we regularly test our soils to monitor things like the pH and the nutrient levels. Our cows are constantly harvesting grass and lots of what they eat is returned to the pastures in their manure but some of the nutrients are removed from our farm in the milk we sell.  It’s critical we don’t mine our farms nutrients so we replace the nutrients which are sold in our milk with fertiliser.

We grew over 15 tonnes of pasture dry matter per hectare on our farm last year and if the old line of ‘there is as much of every plant above the ground as below’ that’s a lots of organic matter added to our soils.

So with lots of organic matter, the nutrients in balance, no wonder those worms are so prolific and busy.

But as with anything in farming, there’s always more to be done. The soils in our area are naturally very acidic so we have a regular long term program of liming, applying lime to a section of the farm each year.

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Rare frost.

We often get frost in the gullies and lower areas of our farm but only 3-4 times a year do we get frost over all our rolling hills. The morning was a good one, with frost lingering until about 9am. With a strong coastal influence over our weather we don’t get the harsh frosts of inland areas and are happy to take the reward of a sunny day after a frosty morning.

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Busy season.

Hiding in grass.
New calves can be masters of disappearance.

It’s a busy time of the year at Montrose Dairy, like most dairy farms in our district it’s calving season. I haven’t had much time for blogging of late, I’ve been flat out looking after our stock. 

We are enduring our second wet winter in a row. Whilst we have ample fodder on hand, at times it is very difficult finding suitable places to feed out hay. Years of tree planting means we have plenty of shelter around the farm to provide windbreaks.

A new mum giving her brand new calf a lick dry.

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Pea Souper at Montrose Dairy

A foggy morning to finish off a soggy Autumn.

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Setting up pastures for winter

Heading into winter it is critical we have lots of high quality pasture on hand, pasture growth rates decline as the days shorten and our soils cool down.

To manage our pastures we monitor the pasture cover in each paddock every 10 to 14 days at this time of the year.  Pastures are measured using an electronic meter to determine the kg of dry matter (kg DM) per hectare. The sensor is trailed behind our quad bike taking 200 measurements per second and matching the location of the measurements via GPS with the paddocks name.

The data collected from these measurements provides us with an understanding of how much feed we have available for our cows.  A feed wedge graph is created to identifying potential feed surpluses or shortages.

Paddock Name

The sloping line represents our desired pasture cover.  The cows are due to eat paddock 18 next and they have just come out off paddock 11, where they did a great job of eating what was offered to them. Today’s measurements show a slight pasture surplus, the average pasture cover for the farm today was 2413kg DM/ha, right where  we want going into winter.

Pasture growth rate and leaf appearance interval is monitored to ensure our pastures are getting an appropriate rest interval between grazings. For the last 12 days our growth rate has averaged 27kg DM/day and our ryegrass pastures are producing a new leaf approximately every 14 days.  We aim to graze pastures when each tiller has 3 leaves, giving us a desired grazing interval of 42 days.

This may sound like a complex approach to some thing seemingly simple like growing grass. Our pastures are integral to our business, with out grass we have lots of hungry cows, it is a case of look after the simple things and many other parts of the operation fall into place.

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Farm Day

Farm Day is on Sunday!  We are looking forward to meeting the city family we will host for the day at Montrose.

We have taken part in Farm Day for several years and really enjoy helping an interested city family understand what goes on behind the fences of a modern farm.

In the past, many city dwellers had an immediate family member in the country who they visited regularly to experience life on the land.  With farmer numbers declining this is not so common now.

We enjoy the questions, squeals of delight and watching the kids run through the grass (often mud!) or interact with our animals.  It is always interesting to find out what was expected and what surprises the visiting family about our farm – the latter is often about the technology we use or how similar the family we host is to our family!

884 aka ‘Old Mama’ has been welcoming Farm Day visitors to our farm for the last 5 years. She has been feeling a little down in the ears this week with a case of mastitis. Hoping she is back in good form to welcome this years visitors on Sunday.

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Milk now and mud later??

Gateway mud is a reminder of what can happen to the entire farm if pastures aren’t protected

Recent heavy rains have forced us to evaluate how we approach the next six weeks on our farm.

Our herd is due to start calving on the 12th of next month and in order to give the cows a break before they calve we stop milking cows around 55 days before their due date. This means each week for the next 8 weeks a mob of cows is removed from the miking herd and placed in a mob of cows away from the dairy. This is what dairy farmers call ‘drying cows off’, these cows with return to the milking herd once they have given birth to their calves.

We calve our entire herd down over a 10 week period, this is a very busy time for us, this is called a ‘seasonal calving’. Some farms have two calving periods that’s called ‘split calving’. Some have many calving periods that is commonly called ‘batch calving’ and some calve all year round.

We choose to have one calving period so we can match the cows feed requirements with our grass growth, we have a strong focus on feeding grass to our cows.  One calving period also means we can focus on one main activity on the farm at a time, our calving period is busy and very intense but we can see the end of it and we get a short quieter period before we focus on the next task.

Farms which have one calving period have tradionally had a lower cost of production and are often farms which have part of their production exported. Whereas farms which supply milk to the domestic market need to maintain supply throughout the year and often calve year round or batch calve.

So due to our recent heavy rain, instead of drying off a few cows a week over the next seven weeks, during the next 10 days we will dry off our entire herd. This will also enable us to protect our valuable pastures around our dairy.  The dry cows can be moved to drier  pastures at the far end of our property which aren’t grazed by the milking herd. Drying the remained of the herd off in one go will mean the cows due to calve late in our calving period will get the bonus of a longer holiday. 

This will also mean we will have a period of no milk production in late May early June when milk is worth the most for us to sell.  This plan is not set in concrete yet and we will evaluate how our pastures dry over the next few days. It is critical we do all we can to protect our soils and pastures, we don’t want to make the mistake of chasing  high value winter milk at the detriment of next season.

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