Roger and Jane own and run a 700-cow dairy farm between Okaihau and Kerikeri. The original farm was purchased by Roger's parents in 1960 and over the years the purchase of three neighbouring farms has increased the total area from 130ha to 470ha, which includes large areas of native bush and wetlands.
The effective milking platform is 282ha and they run a system 3 feeding programme, producing up to 1033 kgMS/ha and 420 kgMS/cow. 500 cows are milked TAD and the other 200 (including all the 2-year-olds) are milked OAD.
No significant rain has fallen since December 15, 2019 (as at February 20).
Roger and Jane were the drought monitor farm for the 2009/10 drought and hosted farmer field days on farm to discuss options around drought management.
3 April 2020
Since our last report we have had very little rain (now 86mm since early March). The farm is green but we are still quite dry, a bit like a green drought. The forecast looks promising for the coming week, so here's hoping.
We have now sprayed out the remaining three chicory paddocks and the two sacrifice paddocks. We have started drilling to hopefully catch the coming rain.
We have completed a full round of urea on the farm now and the farm has a bright green colour, ready to pounce when we get the next lot of rain. We are about to start applying our autumn fert which will also have some N in it.
Our farm water supply is struggling. We do have bore water, however the pumps are working overtime due to the low water table.
We are still milking around 480 cows OAD.
Feeding 6kgs of maize silage, 2kgs meal in the shed and the balance is pasture.
- Continue re-grassing.
- Start applying autumn fert.
- Keep a strict eye on water leaks.
- Watch cow condition, which is good in the milkers. Some of the dry cows are lighter and require a bit of extra feeding. Moving them to the run-off.
- Slowing the grazing round down to 35 days, currently around 28 days.
- The plan is to use this coming rain (+N) to build cover going into the winter.
- At this stag we are still planning to milk the remaining cow through to the end of the season. Monitoring feed cover and cow condition along the way.
- It may appear the drought conditions have fallen under the radar due to Covid-19, but look on the bright side - farmers are allowed to continue farming which keeps the income flowing. We are so lucky that we have our whole farms to self isolate on. Imagine being cooped up in a house in the middle of Auckland.
- As I mentioned last week, it is a great time to be proud of being farmers. NZ needs the rural sector to help pull the country through this period. So keep up the good work.
- Remember to keep talking to everyone - staff, family, neighbours, RPs.
- Keep positive and stay safe.
27 March 2020 update
- We have had a total of 81mm of rain since the 2nd of March. No big downpours, the largest amount being 16mm (24/3), three lots of 10mm and the rest ones and twos. The farm has greened up and is growing now. I know other parts of Northland are still struggling as the rainfall has not been widespread.
- Feed-wise, we are running out of baleage so have reduced this as more grass has become available. Feeding 6kg of maize silage, 1kg of baleage, 2kg meal (in shed) and around 6kg of pasture. Also grazing the last of our chicory before spraying out and re-grassing. Chicory has recovered well with the rain.
- Have put urea on half the farm and seeing a good response.
- Cow condition is holding well.
- Still milking 470 cows OAD. Cows have lifted in production over the last 10 days to 1.1kg MS.
- As pasture growth increases plan to drop out baleage, and reduce maize down to 4kg.
- All going well, we plan to milk this number of cows right through to the end of the season.
- Our water table is still extremely low. Water supply is bore water and the pumps are working hard. Yes there is still water there, but it is critical to keep an eye out for leaks, to reduce any added pressure on the system.
- Staff morale has improved with rain, however the new turn of events has put more pressure on everyone. Keep talking to staff, neighbours and friends. We are all in this together. It will rain and the grass will grow.
- As for our current lockdown situation. Hang in there everyone. As dairy farmers we need to take pride in the fact that we are a big part of the primary sector that our country will heavily rely on to pull the country out of this situation. The primary sector is the back-bone of this country and it is times like this when we shine through.
13 March 2020 update
- Sent 13 more culls away.
- Harvested the rest of our maize crop.
- Still milking 470 cows OAD.
- Had 15mm of rain - more in the forecast.
- Farm looks green - grass starting to grow.
- Continuing to feed balage, maize silage and meal.
- Will be another week or so before any significant amount of grass will be available.
- Keep feeding supplements.
- Be patient, the grass will grow.
- Consider using nitrogen.
- Talk to seed reps about repairing any pasture damage.
- Keep positive - we are nearly there.
6 March 2020 update
- Another 13 culls went this week.
- Still another 25 culls to go.
- Still milking 470 cows.
- Have had 27mm of rain this week - a good start and more in the forecast.
- Still need more to get things growing.
This week's comments:
- Remember, once it has rained, the cows will need additional feed for the next two weeks.
- The grass needs time to grow.
- Looks encouraging, keep our fingers crossed.
- Consider re-grassing areas of the farm now that have been damaged during the dry. Even consider annual ryegrass to give a quick boost.
- If we do get good growth now, the cows still in milk may be able to milk on into the autumn – providing a bit more income to help pay for all the extra feed.
- Keep vigilant: watching water, cows and people.
- Let's hope the rain keeps coming.
28 February 2020 update
This week's actions:
- Very little rain to speak of this week.
- Have dried off more cows, now down to 470 cows milking. Concentrated on light and high SCC cows.
- 28 culls went this week, still another 30 booked.
- Stopped using dump paddock, was creating a bit of mastitis.
- Three of the crop paddocks are quite sick so drilling with Tama this week. Seed will sit until rain arrives.
- Now feeding two loads of maize silage and 10 bales of balage. Also some meal in the shed. Dry cows also getting a couple of bales of balage.
This week’s comments:
- The longer it stays dry the bigger the decisions are to be made around feed, drying off and culling.
- As I said last week, keep talking to people, friends, family, staff, neighbours, bankers, farm consultants, who ever can help around coping with this drought.
- Remember to keep an eye on cow condition, water, staff well being, and general morale.
- We are all in this together.
- It will rain!
20 February 2020 update
Have had a few snips of rain. Nothing to do any good. Not much on the horizon.
- Harvesting two more ha of Maize today.
- Ten days of pit silage left. Then into baleage.
- No more culls have gone. Have 60 booked in.
- Cell count is becoming a problem.
Decisions this week:
- Drying off another 40 cows (high SCC and thin cows)
- Harvesting another 2 ha of maize
- Cart silage bales home from runoff
- Irrigate effluent onto chicory to try and boost growth
Things that are ongoing:
- Keep an eye on cow condition
- Monitor stock water closely
- Have some time off (you and staff)
- Keep talking to others
- Keep bankers informed how you are doing. No surprises.
17 February 2020 update
Decisions already made on farm are as follows:
- Drying off low producers - 10% of herd.
- Moved to whole herd OAD in late January.
- Use of chicory as a summer crop.
- Use of pasture silage.
- Meal fed in cowshed.
- Use of a sacrifice/dump paddock to feed silage after milking, move onto crop in afternoon, then moved to a new paddock for night feed. This works well as it avoids over- grazing the pastures. The dump paddocks will be re-grassed in the autumn.
- Crops now struggling with the dry so early this week harvested 2ha of our maize crop allowing us to feed maize silage instead of the crop.
- Cow condition is OK at present.
- Recently have done final pregnancy test. Booked another 40 cows in works.
- The plan is to try and keep a core group of the herd in milk, to milk through to the end of the season to take advantage of the feed once it does rain.
- Getting stock away to works. Very little option but to wait.
- May have to consider drying of more cows in the meantime.
- Milk production is now 8% behind for the season and 30% behind for the month.
- Estimating a drop of 40,000 to 50,000 kgMS on last season.
Things to consider:
Try to restrict the cost of this drought to this season and don't allow the impact to flow through to the next season. Things like cow condition, winter feed supply, re-grassing to fix damaged pastures, all need to be considered so next season is not compromised.
Water supply is critical. Monitor what is happening for your stock water. With the heat, and dry/extra feed going in, the cows’ water needs are high. Watch your water every day, and every shift. One leaking trough can cause major problems.
Talk to your friends and neighbours, as we are all going through this. You are not on your own. We are resilient, and we will get through this. It will rain and recover, it’s just when it will happen.