Finding a rhythm

Well, following the euphoric first few weeks of life post Iggy’s birth; the milks flowing and the calves are playing, the systems you’d assumed would work start showing cracks.

Farmings all about learning. Planning is important, but being adaptable is critical. Changes need to happen fast.

A few weeks in I had a few down days, things just didn’t seem to being going quite how I’d planned. It was wet and miserable, the calves had bad guts from drinking to much milk and the feed outlook wasn’t looking great.

Being feed secure is one of the greatest problems livestock farmers face and at the end of the day is often what makes it a slightly profitable career or a black hole to sink your money and time into. I have lots of great long term ideas for securing feed within the farming system, however many of those plans take time. We’re currently in a very rough season, the rains came too late to get much Autumn growth in the paddocks. I have the benefit of being on land which has only been kangaroo grazed for the past decade so I have more feed available than most, but planning ahead is key. A wise farmer told me if you don’t have a months worth of grass in front of you, panic! Currently I’m looking ok but staying on top of your rotational grazing plan is crucial.

I’ve been only one week ahead of my self with fencing, finding a middle ground between portable electric fencing and permanent fencing. The kangaroos run straight through and knock over the former while the latter is costly, both in labour and financial terms, and leaves little room to change the shape of paddocks later.

Keeping the herd moving so as to leave no bare ground behind is very important to me. Overgrazing and leaving exposed ground has been a major contributor to Australia’s soil carbon dropping by up to half pre-colonial Australian levels. Soil health and fertility is the back bone of food security.

I’ve been supplementary feeding oaten hay and a concentrate mix in the milking bale consisting of chaff, bran, seaweed and a handful of barley. At some times of year this will mainly be as an incentive to come in for milking, however in this season it’s definitely needed as a food source. It’s one thing to be buying in feed, but to be requiring certified organic is another story. For very good reason as it aligns with the principles of organics, many organic farmers are small and self supporting, not growing excess feed to sell but having a closed loop system where they grow what they need. This combined with the large amounts of dairies moving towards organic certification, as well as the season, make it very hard to source certified feed this year. Many farmers are buying up loads to get them through the next 12 months. I’ve been so lucky to have the support of local organic farmers who’ve helped me source feed to get on my feet. I definitely feel the drive more than ever to strive for a closed loop farm, growing as much of my feed as I can on farm, which in turn will require me to maintain a low stocking density.

Our herd has now grown to 7 with the addition of Olive, a beautiful Jersey who was walked on a lead from around the corner. It’s doesn’t get much better than that! We’ll be getting her in calf very shortly ready for an Autumn calving.

As of this weekend we will be dropping back to 6, with Rocket going to live with a lovely family in Woodend (I promise this is the truth, not the cover up for something more sinister). Her mother daisy is now learning to be milked and will hopefully regain some condition before calving in the second half of the year.

Everyone’s doing well, Iggy and Norma are growing into giant ratbags with a love for a good neck scratch.

Things are constantly changing, there’s ups and downs and just when you think you’ve found a rhythm another cow’s needs change. Never in my life have I had so many wins and losses in such a short time. Waking up can be hard and some times I feel I can’t do anything right, but most mornings I arrive in Harcourt to a pink sky, fog laying in the valley and while milking in the paddock I think, ‘how bloody lucky am I that I get to do this for a job’!

4 thoughts on “Finding a rhythm”

  1. sounds great. Milking in winter…mmmm…but yes, out early, lovely and quiet and beautiful dawn light….lovely cows….Joel Selaton (?) maybe doesn’t have the problem of kangaroos crashing down his electric fences…Where does your milk go? It’s a while since I “signed up” to you and din’t realise you were so close. I’m in Castlemaine…

  2. Hi Chris. We’re currently just keeping the milk for ourselves while we get the factory finished. Hopefully we’ll be licensed and selling by Spring.

  3. Good afternoon Tessa.
    Well done on making a start, and getting in to do the work!
    I recently undertook the Regrarians farm design course and one of the presenters is Graeme Hand of Hand For the Land. He advises on grazing, grass cover and best types, and profitability. If I were doing what you are doing, I would give him a call.
    Link is . Good luck with it!

    1. Hi Terry.
      Yes I’ve done a couple of courses with Graeme. Holistic grazing practices are definitely a bit part of managing my herd. I’m sure as I get more experience and refine my system I’ll have more to write about it.

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