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’!

And Exhale

And Exhale

This is one of my enabling actions from my Holistic Decision Making context.
I feel as though I can exhale now.
The last week I’ve been lying awake from 4:30 am, but not with the usual anxious thoughts which plague you at that hour, WHAT IF EVERYTHING GOES WRONG! No, lying awake with excitement ready to get up and milk!

It’s been a long journey to get here; milking my first cow with the next generation bounding around, everyone happy and healthy. I certainly would not be here without the support and generosity of people throughout my life. Some fleeting and some lifers. There was no single defining moment which lead me here, but here is most definitely where I’m meant to be.

One of those many defining moments was last year when I first met Berta. I’d spent much of the past few years dreaming of how my future dairy was going to operate. It’s easy to dream of the insignificant details when the time is not upon you; how much detergent will I need, not, how exactly will I create enough hot water for washing and pasteurisation without costing the earth; financially or environmentally? Then last winter I went to meet a local farmer who was selling his house cow. What a cow! They don’t come better than this lady! Triple score: temperament, body genetics and udder/milk quality. Meeting Berta I felt; no matter how hard things get, if I get to spend my days with this cow, everything will be worth it. At the time I was on a 6 months working study tour of dairies up the East coast and only home for a week. I would have had to pass on Berta if it hadn’t been for this farmer going above and beyond to help me get on my feet. Getting her in calf, drying her off, holding onto her until my return and then selling me the magnificent milking machine to accompany her. Overwhelming generosity.

For 9 months we’ve been with Berta, watching her get wider, becoming besotted with her. However she did take her loneliness out on us in the form of constant licking. Then two months ago a friends two jerseys came to join us; Daisy and Millie along with Daisy’s four month old calf, Rocket. Perfect, Berta has her herd. Wait… disaster! Berta’s maternal instincts kick in and she abducts Rocket! ‘Who is this neurotic cow I don’t know chasing me around and redefining the cow lick’. Separated by a fence, everyone settled back into their own rhythm.

As Berta’s calving date got closer, I was sure she would drop early. The reality of our future started to sink in, accompanied by panic of how far off ready our processing factory was. The milk flood-gates where about to open!

The days kept passing and on her due date, like clockwork, her waters broke. Oli and I were able to watch the very efficient and focused breech birth; a chestnut heifer from a dairy short-horn sire. I named her Iggy; a tribute to my father, my inspiration to farm.

A friend told me that when you plan things you should always work out how long it will take, then double it. With the milk flowing and no factory, we decided to adopt another calf to help us drink the milk and raise a future milker. And so Norma came to join us last Friday, an angelic jersey. One lick across her face and Berta took to her.

Now that I’ve got a herd of 6 and I’m milking, it’s making all those dry Food Safety and Organic Management Plans seem worth the hours at the computer.

Things are moving.

So in times to come, when I’m waking at 4:30 anxious about what could go wrong, please remind me to go and sit and breath with my herd, ruminate a while. It may not change whats going on but it may help me to recenter and connect with all which is above and below, to move forward with a clear head.