It seemed Mother Nature had played a classic nasty trick on us: the false break.
Each autumn, we take a punt on when the first downpour that heralds regular rains has arrived. Too early and some seed just won’t germinate costing us thousands in fresh seed and fertiliser, too late and we could miss out on autumn growth altogether, costing us thousands in replacement feed.
We get it right most of the time but when the early rains aren’t followed up with more, we end up with the worst of all worlds: seedlings shrivelling in the sun. That’s the way it was shaping up this season until we got 26mm of rain just the other day. Wow, what a relief and what a difference it makes.
The rains have come and the farmer and her cows are ecstatic!
Oddly enough, this means the cows will get less rather than more grass in the short term. This follow up rain was our signal to pile on the fertiliser across a huge slab of the farm to ensure the grass gets ahead before falling temperatures and longer nights slow growth once more. While the fertiliser does its job, we have to keep the cows away, limiting them to a smaller than normal area for grazing.
Just another couple of weeks to go, moos – until then, it’s a smorgasbord of grain, hay and silage.
Golden leaves carpet the farmhouse driveway. Yes, it’s autumn at last but I’m not sure whether the ash are superbly tuned into the seasons or simply too water stressed to hold onto their leaves any longer. The crisp autumnal mornings are yet to arrive – it was already 26 degrees Celsius when Alex and I checked the weather outlook just before six this morning – and the farm is again desperately dry.
But a dairy farmer is always planning ahead. Last weekend we sent a handful of cows on their annual two-month maternity leave, with a dozen or so more to join them in a fortnight.
The summer millet crops are getting their final grazing today and tomorrow so we can prepare for sowing new perennial pastures when the “autumn break” finally arrives. We’re testing the soils of each paddock so we can apply just the right levels of nutrients – enough to maintain fertility without risking leaching into the river or water table.
In anticipation of rain (and mud), our cow tracks are also about to get a makeover to help prevent two of the most troublesome afflictions for dairy cows: lameness and mastitis.
Autumn is the time when dairy farmers lay the foundations of a successful season and it’s strangely exciting. I wonder what will mark this year?