Even where it’s not wet, we manage to get nice and dirty
Today was one of those days.
Zoe fell over in the yard and got her left side covered in muck. Then she fell into a drain and got her belly muddy. Then this!
Save me, Mama!
Apparently, a good daily diet of dirt is good for you, innoculating you with beneficial bacteria. If so, Zoe is already set up for life!
It’s been another busy day. Aside from the normal milkings and feeding, this typical winter’s day on our dairy farm brought:
- Four new calves and one assisted birth
- The job of sorting heavily pregnant cows from those who are on “holidays”
- Repairs to a quad bike after its electrics were savaged by hayshed rats
- Feeding our 47 new calves
- Moving young stock around to eat new pastures
- Mucking out calf sheds
- A little drama
A little drama? Yes, while we were sorting out the “springers” (cows about to calve) from the mob of dry cows, somebody decided to try out for the Bovine Olympics and crash over/through a six-strand barbed wire fence. The culprit was a cow who’d clearly had enough of Romeo the Bull. Unfortunately, she – and Romeo in turn – blundered into a paddock of yearlings, who found the whole affair incredibly exciting.
The whole scene must have looked rather comical: cow desperately zig-zagging through the paddock hotly pursued by Romeo, visibly equipped and amorous, followed by a roaring Bobcat staffed by a giggling 6 year old and white-knuckled mud-spattered farmer, plus a teen on another quad, Patch the yip-yapping pup and 60 bucking yearlings.
Thankfully, the besotted Romeo didn’t latch onto any of the yearlings and the cow seemed relieved to be out of there, so the carnival was over almost as quickly as it began.
You have to laugh!
The entrance and exit to a dairy yard is often a miserable place. If you have an average herd of 250 cows, it gets trodden on by 1000 hoofs each day and bearing in mind that each cows weighs about 550 to 600kgs, that’s an awful lot of work. It also gets heavily “fertilised”!
Here’s how ours looked in summer.
Already boggy in January
I wasn’t looking forward to seeing it in winter! The rain has set in early and the feeling I have in my waters is that it’s going to be another nasty wet winter this year, so fixing up the bog-hole quickly became a high priority. Mud like this is a recipe for disaster in the form of lameness and mastitis – two things every dairy farmer tries to avoid at all costs.
Every season, we put loads of gravel in there and, every season, it seems to disappear before our eyes. I decided we had two problems: first, a concrete lip designed to force the cows to lift their hoofs, depositing the gravel back outside the yard had the twin effect of forcing each cow to step in precisely the same spot. Second, the legacy of loads and loads of gravel is that you end up building a mountain that, in our case, drained right back to the bog hole with nowhere for the water to escape.
So, we’ve taken a deep breath, got the excavator in to remove the mountain and the concreting crew in to provide a firm footing at the end of the yard.
Bog hole be gone!
Several seasoned characters have since wagged their heads, saying “You’ll only move the problem, you know…” but I don’t think it will be as bad. There’s now no need for the cows to so precisely follow in each others’ footsteps and the watery muck drains away from the track instead of into it. (Duh!) Wish us luck!
The day did not start well. Wayne arrived outside the office window while I was feeding Alex in the pre-dawn gloom and tossed a boot onto the verandah, rubbed at it with some grass, uttered an expletive, pulled on his Blundstones and roared off into the fog once more.
Bemused, I snapped this photo.
Papa's lonely left rubber boot
Daylight revealed a sorry picture. Wayne had been ushering bulls into their rest paddock when he stumbled into the Mulch Mud Morass, a deep slurry with the gumboot-gobbling capability of quicksand. We’d spread the last few metres of the track near the dairy with stringy mulch during the big wet to make it nice and soft underfoot for the cows. It worked well but it does have the disadvantage of trapping a lot of mud and manure. I asked the grader to scrape it away now that Spring is here but some of it became lodged near the bull paddock gate.
After becoming stuck, Wayne reportedly toppled over sideways into the Morass and found one foot had been freed from the goo. Alas, it was only due to the sacrifice of his right gum-boot (or Welly as some call it). And here it rests.
Right boot's sacrifice
Partial view of the flood from the house this morning
The rain came…again. Yesterday, Yarram airport received 48.5mm and today, all the roads to town are closed, a third of the farm is cut off with at least another four paddocks underwater and the car is still sitting bogged in the driveway. Thankfully, the house is nice and high, so no sand bags needed (but thanks for the offer, Julie and Doug)!
Most of this is a temporary inconvenience. The good news is that the local rivers are short and empty into the sea quickly, so the roads should be open again in the next day or so. More important is the longer lasting issue of saturated pastures and muddy tracks.
Saturated pastures (they were already saturated before this jolly east coast low pressure system decided to pay us a visit) are very vulnerable. The damage done now by cows’ hooves will cause compaction of the soil so that, come summer, water will run off rather than soak in and roots will find it harder to penetrate the soil, exposing them to heat and denying them sub-surface moisture. If you’re a gardener, you’ll understand!
Muddy pastures and tracks are also a perfect recipe for lameness and mastitis, both painful conditions that are difficult and expensive to treat.
Of course, sopping wet soil is also no good for growing grass, which means we must step up our imported feed. This means more cost, long days and heavy tractors on fragile pastures.
Those weather gods need an urgent performance review so they can refocus on their KPIs!
The track with one fence moved in and one more to do
“Where there’s mud, there’s money,” is the old farming adage but I’m a bit of a contrarian. Where there’s too much mud, there’s also lameness and mastitis.
Muddy tracks to and from the dairy hit cows with a double whammy: they soften the hoof and then coat it with the perfect breeding ground for nasty bugs. It’s heart-breaking to see a cow hobble along, so we rest lame cows and, if their hoofs become infected, treat them with antibiotics.
Mud also contributes to mastitis, a painful infection that afflicts cows and women alike. Dairy farmers have been tackling mastitis for decades from practically every angle. We can choose sires based on the resistance of their daughters to mastitis, have learned that being quiet around cows makes them less prone to infection and developed new detection and treatment techniques. We know exactly how much mastitis is in the herd: the milk processors give us daily test results as part of their stringent milk quality standards and if our milk shows evidence of too much mastitis, we are paid less.
Dairy Australia’s web site offers some great tips on combatting both lameness and mastitis. One of the recommendations is to get cow tracks in order.
Ours aren’t bad but they could be better. One 400 metre section in particular has the fences set too far back from the gravel of the track and some cows like to walk along the sides, which quickly turn to slosh. Today, we’re moving the fences in. It’s a pretty simple job that should save us a lot of grief when winter comes.