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


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?

Parched pastures and potassium

Red clover

Gorgeous feed like this can be more water use efficient with potassium

Despite the last few days of searing heat, we still have some nice pasture on hand. It won’t last forever but I am hoping that we can make the spring pastures stretch longer into summer with some judicious fertiliser choices.

I’ve bitten the bullet this year and invested in soil testing for each and every paddock on the farm. It’s shown that our fertiliser regime is working but we still have a way to go in some cases. The main issues we must address are potassium and pH.

Potassium (K) allows plants to use water more efficiently, making them more resilient to both waterlogging and drought. Some of our paddocks only have half the potassium levels they should, especially the rises that dry off first, so I’m hoping that regular applications of potash will allow us to make much better use of those paddocks.

Unfortunately, potassium is readily leached from the soil, so even my extra doses (70kg of MOP behind the cows throughout autumn/winter/spring) simply maintained rather than make a significant improvement in K levels last year.

For a neat technical explanation of the role of potassium in agriculture, see this: Potassium in Agriculture.