Always expect the unexpected in dairy farming

Farming is a job high in responsibility and commitment, Lyn Webster says.

Farming is a job high in responsibility and commitment, Lyn Webster says.

OPINION: Farming is not easy but it is enjoyable especially when your plans come together.

Things are often connected in farming and a decision made today can have a huge impact on what happens in the future. Get it wrong and the consequences can be huge losses in profitability and, worst case scenario, life itself.

Farming is a job high in responsibility and commitment. The contractor who usually does my mulching at this time of year unfortunately had a machinery breakdown.

He said he would get it fixed but the opportunity of mulching the paddocks and re-seeding was missed because I waited for him to get it fixed instead of getting someone else in.

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As time went on unprecedented autumn growth saw the paddocks grow mountains of kikuyu the like of which I had never seen. As a result, I made an on-the-fly decision to lock three paddocks up in order to retain some sort of quality control over the rest of the farm.

Last season I had added chicory and plantain to the pasture sward, not as a crop but as an addition to the existing ryegrass and clover. Upon inspection, the herbs were flourishing in the locked up paddocks even among the burgeoning kikuyu grass.

If I was farming anywhere else in New Zealand, I would not have this situation and be glad to push longer paddocks through to winter. But this is the Far North, and past experience has shown you cannot push kikuyu ahead.

You lose the quality as its base turns to wood and even worse, one frost and it all dies overnight in a shocking manner.

So I rang the contractor and asked him to make about seven hectares of silage for me. So 101 bales of herbaceous silage were baled, standing me in good stead for winter.

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The mower cut it really low and got rid of all the kikuyu base and I jumped in and broadcast sowed an annual ryegrass seed which will be great for winter and spring pasture production.

All I could see a few days after the silage was taken off was an abundance of chicory and plantain plants regenerating already.

The farm owner is coming at me for a rent rebate, which he is now classing as arrears in light of the improved payout.

These unexpected financial demands at a time of year when dairy farm income is at a low has forced me into a desperate situation where I need to get income from somewhere.

I advertised on Facebook for in-milk empty cows, offering to milk these through the winter on behalf of owners unwilling to cull or hold them over.

The spirit of the dairy farming community came to the fore as complete strangers put their animals on trucks and sent to them to me on trust that I will look after then over winter and send them back once the owners start calving again.

So by milking these extra cows plus some of my own empty cows over winter I hope to generate enough income to keep the landlord at bay.

If the winter is mild that will help but typically with farming there are no guarantees. The 101 bales of extra silage will certainly be like an insurance policy to keep the milk flowing here over winter and keep those cows' bellies full.

I am also looking for a new position for the 2018/2019 season either as a lease or 50/50 position of about 200-300 cows so get in touch if any readers know of an opportunity available.

  • Lyn Webster is a Northland dairy farmer.

 - Stuff

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