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Wet summer sets a Coast record
A little ray of sunshine after wet and challenging season dropped production but the cows have recovered.

Wet summer sets a Coast record

Chris and Carla Staples

As we wind down on season 2016/17 and summer has come and gone literally within a week, we now focus on moving forward to next season, with this season’s rainfall on the West Coast one of its best ever

For those of who were around farming in 1998 we beat the record. There certainly has been some challenging times.

With little-to-no sunshine before February production was tracking well behind last season and our focus has now moved on to cow condition rather than production with the addition of some palm kernel. Our production got down to 1.3kg milksolids (MS)/cow in the worst of the wet spell but now we’re up to 1.6kg MS/cow.

On the upside autumn arrived and the cows have a new lease on life, producing more than 1000 litres a day on average more than this time last season. Slowly we claw back some lost production. OAD was alluring a few months back, but with the hiring of a new full-time staff member and a few sunshine rays we are still twice-a-day.

Pregnancy testing went slightly better than expected, with 13% empty rate and 2% empty heifers, not quite on target but under the circumstances a lot better than we had been predicting.

It’s understandable that some farmers are under pressure and some even exiting the industry. Sharemilkers, lower-order sharemilkers and contract milkers do have this option, (it’s a lot easier to sell cows than a farm) and I’m sure it’s one not taken lightly.

We also condition-scored our cows at this time to make drying off and feeding-level decisions sooner rather than later for some of the girls. Winter crops went in really late due to the weather and being unable to get on paddocks without making a big mess.

We usually grow swedes for the winter but only one of our swede paddocks survived the wet so we now have two paddocks of rape and one of swedes instead of originally three of swedes. Now that the weather has sorted itself out the crops seem to be going great guns and we hope this continues till the end of the season.

We have been flat out heavy-rolling the farm now things have dried out as well as getting the spring super and lime on. This has made a huge difference to how the farm looks. It has finally gone from the yellow with stalky-looking grass it has been all season to green and lush, which is the one of the main reasons for the big increase we’ve had in production in the last month.

Near the end of March we will host our region’s round of DairyNZ’s farm systems group which will focus on setting the farm up for the rest of autumn and through to balance date next season.

It has been very timely to work through the feed budgets associated with this topic as after the season we’ve had there’s a real need to know where we are and where we need to be to set up for a great start to next season and to “hit the ground running”. It’s great to have all this information along with our pregnancy testing results to plan the winter feeding regime and who will stay home for winter and who will be away “on holiday”.

With GlobalDairyTrade results yo-yoing we are now back to where we were in November. It’s understandable that some farmers are under pressure and some even exiting the industry. Sharemilkers, lower-order sharemilkers and contract milkers do have this option, (it’s a lot easier to sell cows than a farm) and I’m sure it’s one not taken lightly.

But with many of us trying to reduce farm working expenses and staff wages it leaves a lot of farmers increasing their own hours to save costs and at what cost? This will eventually come to their own fatigue/health issues and family troubles, and for what? To break even?

I’m sure most will say they are passionate about their jobs and the industry but, let’s face it, we all need a wage to live on. Nine-to-five, five days a week, four weeks’ holiday a year and stats sounds bloody great. In saying all this I do believe there are finally some very realistic farm prices out there.

Although there have been some movements in farms lately not too many have sold on the Coast, why you may wonder? Maybe it has something to do with Westland Milk Products’ pay-out falling so far behind Fonterra’s and the uncertainty of where its future lies. But with a new chief executive and chairman they seem to be getting the company back on track. As Chris says every year: we’ll give it hell next season. Hopefully you’ll all enjoy some well-deserved time off-farm this winter, a break away with family and friends and a few ales.