This cow is over the moon!

The grass was greener on the other side of the fence.
We opened up the fresh paddock.
The cow was over the moon!

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Hoarding hay while the sun shines at the solstice

June

On the first day of winter, I wrote about the threat of a super El Nino. Since then, the warning signs have faded although the Bureau of Meteorology still says there’s a 70 per cent chance of an El Nino developing later in the season.

This far into winter, it’s been a bumper. A “bumper winter” is traditionally an oxymoron but I have more grass now than in most autumns. Here we are at the winter solstice bathing in sun!

This morning's view across the swamp

This morning’s view across the swamp

It’s a chance to hoard the precious stocks of silage we conserved last spring. A deliciously dry, warm winter is often the silver lining to a desiccating dry summer.

DropletsOnWire

 

 

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The farm on the first day of winter with a super El Nino on the way

On the first day of winter
On the first day of winter

 

“Monday morning feels so bad
Everybody seems to nag me
Comin’ Tuesday I’ll feel better
Even my old man looks good
Wednesday just won’t go
Thursday goes too slow
I’ve got Friday on my mind”

It’s winter’s first morning.  I’ve got spring and summer on my mind.
    The calves are arriving thick and fast now, with six healthy newborns yesterday. The days are a blur of hay, silage, calvings and colostrum but, mercifully, not mud. In fact, up until a week ago, the ground was so dry that the grass was growing at the same rate it does in summer – just one leaf per plant every 18 days.
     We’ve since had rain, with more forecast, and the grass has sprung into action again.  Winter’s shorter days, lack of sunlight and cooler soils will bring growth rates back again almost immediately – it’s one of Mother Nature’s few guarantees. Her moody El Ninos, however, are generally far less predictable but we’re being warned to prepare for one “out of the box” this year.
     All the tell-tale signs of an El Nino event are shaping up at a time when it would normally be far too early to forecast one of these protracted dry spells. So early, climate experts are predicting a Super El Nino. Drought with a capital “D”, the likes of which we haven’t seen since 1998, the hottest year on record.
     What am I doing to prepare? As little as possible; you won’t see me opening my cheque book again this season for anything other than the necessities.
     The truth is that we are already doing a lot to adapt to a drier climate: shifting the calving pattern, planting trees for shade and pasture shelter, sowing more resilient pasture species, reusing effluent and kitting out the dairy yard with sprinklers.
     Fingers crossed.

 

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MG capital raising program raises plenty of questions

Farming is all about taking risks. Our businesses rise and fall largely on the backs of increasingly volatile international commodity price cycles, exchange rates and the weather. Plenty of really good farmers have come unstuck through no fault of their own, other than taking a good risk at a bad time.

On the other hand, our co-op, Murray Goulburn, has always been considered a pretty safe bet. It was formed more than 60 years ago by a group of Victorian dairy farmers seeking a better deal for their milk and has grown to become Australia’s third-largest food and beverage company – dwarfed only by Coca Cola Amatil and Lion.

Our managing director, Gary Helou, doesn’t want to stop there. At a supplier meeting this week, he spoke about the need to move at “break-neck speed” with new products to capture new markets within the next three to five years, swallowing competitors along the way.

They’re exciting times for this once risk-averse co-operative. The proposal being put to farmer shareholders is to list a chunk of the co-op on the ASX so that anyone can buy a piece of the action. Farmers with excess shares will be able to sell to non-farmers but these external investors, however, wouldn’t have voting rights.

Am I in favour? Yes, if the new capital structure can:

  • Enshrine farmer control
  • Maximise farmer profitability
  • Treat all farmer shareholders equitably
  • Allow the co-operative to provide great opportunities for new generations of farmers

Those are big “ifs” and there just isn’t enough detail yet to know whether any of them are satisfied. It is incredibly heartening though that the MG Board has listened to member concerns that the initial start date of the program of July 1 was far too soon to consider the complex implications of the proposal.

That’s the beauty of a co-operative: members have a real say in their own futures. And that’s why those of us who cherish it must have no fear of asking questions.

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A backyard campfire, sparkling satellites and a simple sunset tell a story

The sunset was fading as the moon rose slowly above the treetops last evening when Zoe remarked, “You know what? Amy was so amazed by the sunset that she took a picture of it on her phone.”.

Moon

Not long ago, when the moon was but a slip, Zoe’s city cousins came to visit. They didn’t go much beyond the confines of the garden but it was an experience of “country” all the same.

We built a little fire on the driveway to toast marshmallows and nurse steaming hot drinks. Normally languid teens who had never before struck a match crashed around in the darkness under the eucalypts for old branches to feed the flames. Uncles and aunts remembered childhood camping trips at Cockatoo and the whole group came alive with sightings of satellites drifting among the stars.

You don’t need to be from the country to see what makes life on the farm so invigorating but you do need a taste of it now and then. We’re lucky to have relatives from the city who love to visit but not everybody’s in the same boat – after all, less than 2 per cent of working Australians call themselves farmers.

It’s a real shame then, that Farm Day, which brings farmers and other Australians together once year, is in recess due to OHS liability concerns. Best of luck to Deb and her team in finding a solution.

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Cows are gentle herbivores, right?

I like to think I’m in charge around here but the truth is that I’m way down the pecking order. Mother Nature is Numero Uno, followed closely by the kids and the cows.

A couple of hours ago, I turned up to check whether the cows had enough feed for the rest of the day and this is the greeting I received:

I didn’t need to look at the pasture. I just did as I was told and stuck a prop up under the fence wire.

Don’t worry – they weren’t actually starving but had eaten the pasture out nicely, leaving the 4 to 6 cm residual we dairy farmers are drilled to achieve by our “Professor of Crapology” leading DEPI’s Feeding Pastures for Profit program.

Crapology is the study of cow poo. We need to be sure the cows haven’t eaten too close or too far from pats and conscientiously survey the consistency of their manure. Not too loose, not too firm, not too smelly and as little grain as possible in each gooey pie. “Just firm enough to stand your credit card up in it,” our farm consultant reminds me (and he wonders why I refuse to bring my purse on the farm tour).

Despite the protests, I think we got it pretty right but would you argue with a mob like that?

What kicked it all off: doing the Professor proud.

What kicked it all off: doing the Professor proud.

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Why Landcare matters

It’s one of my earliest memories. Mum, Dad, my little brother and I took a tiny tree wrapped in paperbark down the paddock and planted it by the bank of the gully. It was a big affair that must have taken an hour by the time we got there, assembled the guard and wandered home again.

But that’s what “tree planting” meant back then and here is the very same tree today.

How we planted trees 40 years ago

A tree just about as old as the Milk Maid

Everything changed in my teenage years when we joined 20 or so of our neighbours to visit a nearby farm criss-crossed with healthy young stands of trees. John and Gayle had created an oasis on a windy flat. It was the first Landcare event I can remember and Dad and I came away totally inspired. He set about planting trees.

An aerial photo of the farm in 1994 shows young trees emerging around the dam but little else. It was still a blank canvas but there was a sniff of success.

The centre of the farm in 1994

The centre of the farm in 1994

Can you see a few trees along a rough line in the centre of the picture? It’s a denuded gully that now looks like this, thanks to Dad’s hard work and a Landcare grant that went towards his costs:

The gully 20 years later

The gully 20 years later

During my six-year-custodianship, we’ve planted nearly 10,000 trees and re-fenced our 11 hectares of forest with the help of Landcare, the local catchment management authority, the shire and Greening Australia. Although the funding sources are diverse, it’s all happened because of Landcare as the group acts like a triage service, matching funding sources with farm projects. The funding doesn’t cover everything but it does make it possible, especially with practical help from other Landcarers.

Landcare continues to inspire. In the last few years, our local Landcare group has created a grand vision that brings together the work of individual farms: creating wildlife corridors that stretch from the forest to the river to the foothills across farms, linking precious remnants to provide a network of habitats. And it’s working. Together, we can see that it’s not just our own farms that are changing, it is the entire landscape.

In this, the 25th Anniversary of Landcare, the Commission of Audit has recommended halving its funding – just as this powerful grass-roots volunteer movement has really begun to make a difference. Do you care? I do.

Bruce and Zoe planting in late October

Bruce and Zoe planting trees in October 2011

Progress: peeping through the same trees two and a half years later.

Progress: peeping through the same trees two and a half years later.

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