How you can tell winter is coming

New pastures are flushed with growth.

New pasture soaks up the sun

New pasture soaks up the sun

The ground is still warm and dry enough for bare feet.

TractorWork

The cows are ebullient.

ButterHeads

The brilliance of our wildlife is unmissable.

The marvellous moorhen

The marvellous moorhen

But, there’s this.

Is this the beginning of the end?

Is this the beginning of the end?

Winter is inevitable and so are rubber boots. In turn comes twisted, slithering southwards socks – enough to test the patience of a milk maid at the best of times, let alone when struggling through mud.

My trusty ones from last season have had it, so now I’m on the hunt for socks that will stay true all day long. There are plenty of great work socks for blokes but their wide toes mean uncomfortable bunches at the tips of my boots. Any recommendations?

A month after the fires

The view from the house after the fire

The view from the house after the fire

One month and 30mm later

One month and 30mm later

Over there in the foothills, things are still tough. Stoic 84-year-old quarry-man, Jim, is still coming to terms with what he’s lost. Thankfully, his son and workers got out just in time but nearly a lifetime’s work went up in smoke that day.

Here on the other side of the valley, we’re just grateful to have been spared.

A couple of dumps of rain have brought summer (and the threat of fire) to an end and while the grass is yet to get moving, it is greening. Groups of cows are being sent on maternity leave, seed is being drilled into tired pastures and we’re cleaning out the calf shed again.

In five years, our little valley has seen fire twice, devastating floods, drought and plagues of grubs. It’s all a bit biblical.

“May you live in exciting times.”
– ancient Chinese curse

A very special present from a dairy farmer’s son

Our new pastures were sown in the rain into lovely moist soil the first day after Easter. Nothing’s come up yet and although the farm is pretty green, it’s stopped raining! I can’t help checking in on the forecast every day hoping that a deluge is on its way.

Even one-year-old Alex seems to know how exciting a trip to a full rain gauge is during Autumn and, this afternoon, he arranged a special present for me.

"Mama! Mls!"

“Mama, Mama! Mils!”

Alex ran up with the “rain” he’d prepared, shouting “Mama, Mama, mills!”.

“How much?”

“Four!”

“Great work, Alex, keep it up!”

Our farm is rain-fed rather than irrigated and I must admit that I often look enviously across the valley towards neighbouring farms soaking in water during summer and critical times like these.

Typically, Aussie dairy farmers also daydream of the seemingly perfect New Zealand climate. While Australia’s dairy exports stagnated during our 12-year drought, Kiwi exports soared. This year is different. The Kiwis have had a drought of their own and without a grain industry to help them maintain their cows’ diets, milk production has plummeted.

It’s a cruel irony that the misery of our Kiwi counterparts has already begun to see the international milk prices rise and with it, our hopes for the next season.

Is autumn really here? No, it’s coming, so cows are going

AutumnLeaf

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?

New season has us rushing around like squirrels

It’s autumn and our dairy farm is buzzing with activity before calving starts and winter sets in.

We have sent about 50 cows off to the other side of the farm for their annual two-month holidays. Before they go, they are given long-acting antibiotic therapy and teat seal to reduce the risk of mastitis when they calve.

Dry cows go on holiday

"Yay! Holidays!"

New pastures have been sown. Those (like this one) that were too rough have been fully cultivated with discs, power harrowed and rolled. This paddock has also had lime because its pH needs to be lifted a little higher. I’ll keep a photographic log of the paddock’s progress.

Newly sown paddock April 1st

Here it is, one day after sowing on April 1

We’ve invested in new stone and gravel for sections of the cow tracks and gateways.

New gravel

La la lush new gateway gravel!

And, last but not least, a new pair of boots.

New rubber boots

How long 'til the pink turns khaki?

By the way, how do you know when your boots are too tight (especially when they were too loose the day before)?
“When you can’t do what you used to do with your boots.”
“What’s that, Zoe?”
“Put your big toe on top of the toe next to it.”
Obviously!