People say farmers are always complaining about the weather. When it’s supposed to be sunny farmers say it should be raining and when it’s supposed to be raining it’s supposed to be sunny.
So when I got a call from the local radio station wanting to do a story on the weather with the opening line “ Surely all you dairy farmers must be happy this rain will be making the grass grow” you can imagine little Ms #Agvocacy thinks to herself the last thing I want to do is a “whingeing farmer story”
But I thought no this is a good story to tell – there are many very good reasons for farmers’ preoccupation with the weather.
Farmers after all are no different to anyone else in business. Everyone likes to feel they are in control and the weather is one of the key things farmers want on their side but it is the very thing they have no control over. But whilst you can’t control the weather you can certainly control how you are prepared for it.
Rain is topical this year right across the country. In our region we had our so called 1 in 50 year flood in March when 500 mm or 20 inches of rain fell in 48 hours. So what does that look like?
Well here is a typical sunny day at Lemon Grove Research Farm for the cows
This is what it looked like in the same place at 10am on March 21st during our 1 in 50 year flood
The same spot one hour later. The water rose in front of our very eyes. So fast we almost didn’t get cows onto higher ground quick enough and five cows washed away and sadly one drowned.
And what was happening at the home farm?
This is our neighbour Viv determined to get “that shot”.
This was almost repeated two weeks ago when we had 8 inches (200mm) in 8 hours
This year we have had at total of 110 inches (2500mm) of rain. This is 65% more rain than our average good year but it is a “drought” compared to 1950 and 1974 when the farm had a whopping 140 inches (3500mm)
So what about all that green grass you ask?
Grass for cows (or should I say pasture) is all about quality not quantity. Cows are discerning diners as my good friend Milk Maid Marian says. They like grass that is short and sweet.
It doesn’t get much better than this
Short. sweet grass is full of sugar. For plants to produce sugar they need plenty of sunshine.
Chocolate for cows
In fact growing grass is a fine art that all good dairy farmers have perfected to a tee and there is a saying in the industry that the difference between a good farm and the rest in just two weeks.
In fact we are doing pasture trials at the Lemon Grove Farm just to prove the anecdotal evidence.
Michael is a bit of a pasture guru as you can see
There is a great little story on how we grow grass at Clover Hill Dairies as part of the Jet and Emma Farm Management Series here if you would like to know the nitty gritty.
This is also time of the year when farmers often take advantage of the excess of grass to store some fodder for winter by cutting high quality pasture to make hay and silage.
It isn’t a myth. You do need to make hay while the sun shines but for that you need a 48 hour window of dry weather
Making Hay on Jamberoo Swamp (Photograph courtesy of Linda Faiers copyright)
As I said earlier dairy farmers can’t control the weather but we can prepare for it and often that is just simple things.
For example cows are no difffrent to people when it comes to wet feet. Just like standing in water makes your feet soft and wrinkley so does standing in wet soggy paddocks for cows. So we do things like add extra zinc to the cows feed to help harden their hooves which helps reduce the incidence of sore feet.
Each cow gets fed a specially formulated ration in the dairy at every milking. This is a perfect way to fine tune the diet when weather conditions and pasture growth aren’t ideal for cows.
We also make sure our laneways are super smooth highways and the team are very mindful of the cows and move them at very gentle pace during the wet especially on the home farm where the hills become very slippery.
The mountainside that looks so pretty can be turn into a cow slippery slide nightmare in a couple of hours
The perfect place to dairy
Jamberoo is the birth place of the Australian dairy industry and its still a great place to dairy for all the right reasons. We have great volcanic soil, which means despite all the rain the drainage is still excellent and the water moves away very quickly. Our cows aren’t whingeing as you can see.
There is always plenty to eat Rain Hail or Shine
What about the radio interivew you ask? Well except for managing to move the flood back a whole month ( cant believe I said that) it went off okay. You can decide here