Farming till the cows come home

PETER WATSON
Last updated 13:00 13/08/2013

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You won't hear Ted and Clare Ford complaining about getting up early in the morning to milk the cows and feed the calves.

They have been doing it for more than 40 years, still enjoy it and have no plans to stop.

"What else would I do," says Mr Ford, a fit-looking 66-year-old who, with his wife, has been at the forefront of promoting dairying in the Nelson region.

"You've got to have a reason for getting up in the morning and I firmly believe retirement has killed more farmers than farming."

In a rare concession to age, they have downsized their jersey herd in recent years from 170 to 125.

Along with most of the region's 150 dairy farmers, they began milking on their Appleby property last week as the new season got under way in benign conditions.

Mr Ford said they were coming out of winter with plenty of grass and the cows in good health after a dry and mild July.

They had regained the condition they lost in June when it was so wet they trampled grass into mud, he said.

Calving, which was about halfway through, had gone smoothly.

It's Mrs Ford's job to look after the calves, a "full on" role that's become second nature to her.

"I love it and have been brought up with it all my life," she says.

She hand rears about 60-70 of the heifers, half of which will become herd replacements while others will be sold.

This year most of the rest, including the bobby calves, will be sent to the works to be killed because of a lack of demand. Mr Ford said the market for calves was "very fickle" and friesians and crossbreds were preferred to jerseys.

The collapse of the lucrative Chinese market, which had taken everything from weaned calves to 15-month-old heifers, had also had a big impact.

The Fords rear calves a bit differently than many, taking them off their mums after 24 hours and hand feeding from then until they are weaned about 7-8 weeks later.

They get fed 2 litres of milk, which includes stored colostrum, twice a day and are tied up in individual pens where they get specialised treatment. After two weeks they progress to a paddock and their diet is supplemented with a muesli mix, and then pellets.

Mrs Ford said handling calves right from the start made them easier to deal with later.

If she is milking, she calls on her sister to help out, while neighbouring children also lend a hand, particularly if they want a calf for the annual A&P show. They also host school groups and tourists wanting to get a taste of farm life.

Mrs Ford said it was surprising how many children and adults didn't know where milk came from.

Meanwhile, dairy farmers have been warned that winter could still have a sting in its tail.

DairyNZ Nelson Marlborough consulting officer Stephen Arends said the good run of weather during the past month could lead farmers into a false sense of security and there was still the potential for some rough stuff before spring arrived.

The mild temperatures had meant some parts of the province had experienced their highest winter grass growth rates. For example, Murchison and Maruia hadn't received hard frosts and daily growth of 15-25kg of dry matter per hectare had been recorded, he said.

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With plenty of feed and little mud, cows were in excellent condition and calving, which was under way on about 75 per cent of farms, had been problem free.

Mr Arends said he had seen only one herd with a condition score under 5 and that was because the farmer's crops had failed in autumn.

Farmwise consultant Brent Boyce said it had been an "awesome" winter and farmers were in an optimistic mood given the higher payout forecast and a fall in fertiliser prices.

- The Nelson Mail

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