Aaaa haah haah haaaaahhhhhhh! We’re only a handful of kilometres from the sea but, even here, dawn temperatures of -4 degrees Celsius are enough to test a Milk Maid’s mettle.
This morning’s frost was even heavier than yesterday. It’s a cold, dry winter.
But why is it so dry and cold even though the El Nino watch is now officially over? Well, as the Bureau explained in its Climate Influences report associated with the three-month outlook, there are two main problems aside from climate change:
“…the sub-tropical ridge over Australia shifted southwards, and the Southern Annular Mode—or SAM—forecast to be positive at least for much of July. When SAM is positive, the global belt of high pressure in the southern hemisphere mid-latitudes shifts southwards, pushing cold fronts and moisture to the south of Australia.”
– Bureau of Meteorology
Too technical? Whether you’re an old hand or new to all the meteorological jargon, the Climate Dogs videos explain it all beautifully in less than two minutes. Give them a go.
This wretched season is all down to rotten Ridgy and silly Sam playing up. With Sam not driving enough cold fronts up here from Antarctica and Ridgy doing his best to block them, we’re in a spot of bother with not enough moisture for clouds to make rain or blanket us at night. Now, if only we could take them to dog obedience class!
- 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”
We are now up to 178mm in four days. Alex summed it up perfectly for us as we shivered under some trees during rounding up yesterday.
I thought we’d “only” had 93mm but it was actually more like 144mm (that’s more than 5 and half inches) in three days. Normally, that would have been a massive disaster. Instead, it’s moderate flooding and, so long as the weather gods hold their tempers for a while, we’ll have dodged a bullet.
Such a relief.
I put our narrow escape down to the lingering effects of the exceptionally dry summer and autumn of 2012/13. While the pastures were green last week, you only had to dig down a few inches before the soil became very dry. The catchment sopped up most of this rain like a giant jade sponge before it got to the waterways.
The weather bureau is forecasting a warmer and wetter than average winter and although it has very little confidence in that seasonal rainfall outlook, the forecasters are actually very good at predicting temperatures. A warm winter would be welcome indeed. Fingers crossed!
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, Mama! Mils!”
Alex ran up with the “rain” he’d prepared, shouting “Mama, Mama, mills!”.
“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.
Although I was just a tween during the 82/83 drought, I remember it vividly. That was the year the school bus was overwhelmed by a dust storm and the year my parents cancelled the newspaper deliveries just so they could be sure they’d saved every dollar they could.
It was also the first year we fed our cows grain and, gosh, it taught us a lot. Cleaning up, I stumbled across some notes written by my father’s farm consultant (and even a farm consultant was a new concept) that December:
“Feed grain, increasing slowly to 4kg, watching carefully for signs of grain poisoning.”
Grain poisoning is not funny but that little sentence make me laugh out loud. These days, cows start the season on 4kg, which is seen as pretty much a minimum supplement level, even in the flush of spring. No risk of grain poisoning there.
We manage dry spells so much better now than we did then and the cows, the farmers and even the environment are the winners. No longer are paddocks stripped bare, exposing the topsoil and all the life in it to the cruelties of the Australian summer. We graze just enough to keep the grass from becoming stalky.
This modern way of farming also means the pastures are quicker to respond to the rains when they do come. Just look at it.
Just add water…
Modern farming attracts plenty of critics but I think that, in many ways, the way we farm now would make our early environmentalists very proud indeed.
Remember yesterday’s 41 degree Celsius heat? Now, imagine you were standing outside in it being blasted by 250 1500-watt hair dryers. How do you feel now? Ready to do athletics?
Icy poles for cows
Believe it or not, each of our dairy cows gives off body heat equivalent to a 1500-watt hair dryer on a hot day. Yet, incredibly, each still made an average of 29 litres of milk for us yesterday. We nursed them through with some very careful planning based on the principles of the Cool Cows program.
- Wayne got up an hour earlier to milk before the sun’s rays began to sting and milked two hours later than usual. This meant that the cows spent less time in the sun on the concrete yard waiting to be milked.
- We hosed the whole yard down about 45 minutes before the afternoon milking. It’s amazing how much cooler the yard felt afterwards.
- The yard sprinklers were activated as the cows came towards the yard. (You remember the fun of dancing through sprinklers on the lawn!)
- The cows’ diet changed a little for the day. The cows got a little more grain, a little more green crop and a little less hay yesterday. It takes more energy to digest high-fibre foods, which adds to heat stress. Rather than feeding out the hay during the day, Wayne stayed up late and offered the cows a “night-cap” in the relative cool of the evening.
- We chose the coolest paddock on the farm, ringed by the deep shade of mature willow trees.
- On a hot day, dairy cows can slurp up a staggering 250 litres each. Our extra-large troughs ensured they had plenty of fresh, cool water to drink when they chose to emerge from their hideouts.
Poor girls. According to the Cool Cows program leader, Dr Steve Little, dairy cows start to seek out shade when it gets to about 25 degrees C. I think the farm’s cows, dogs and humans all felt the need to go into summer hibernation yesterday.